On July 19, 1917, the New York Times printed a story about Germans in Kansas City, Missouri who purposely tainted court plaster with tetanus in an effort to bring harm to the American population. Court plaster was an adhesive bandage used to treat superficial wounds during the early part of the twentieth century. The individuals were arrested and charged with assault with intent to kill, violation of the pure food law, and using the mail unlawfully. The author of this letter, a loyal citizen, had obviously heard about this story and now suspected a local paint salesman of the same crime. Ludwig Jurich may have already been listed as an alien enemy given his country of origin.
In 1917, the United States government passed the Espionage Act to prosecute those who tried to evade the draft. In 1918, an amendment to the Espionage Act, know as the Sedition Act, outlawed making false statements that conflicted with the war effort; using “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” regarding the United States government, Constitution, flag, or military; discourage the production of war-related materials; or the support, teaching or defense of any of the above-mentioned acts. Anyone who violated the law would face a fine, jail time, or a combination of both these punishments. Civil libertarians objected to these laws because they felt that the freedom of speech was being violated. However, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the laws.
Under this law, 900 individuals were convicted and another 249 immigrants were deported without a trial. The law was designed to suppress the ideas of anarchists, socialists, pacifists, and others who disagreed with the U.S. on governmental and foreign policy issues. The Sedition Act was also used to restrict the printing of certain articles and magazines during World War I. If government officials determined that the ideology of a particular publication was disloyal or held the potential to be disloyal, every attempt was made to keep those publications out of the hands of everyday American citizens. Needless to say, many Americans believed their First Amendment rights were being violated by this law.
How do individuals attempt to contribute to their country's safety during times of war?
Check for Understanding
Describe the accusations against Ludwig Jurich and explain why the "loyal citizen" wrote this letter.