A HISTORY OF REPRESSIVE LEGISLATION

 

The passage of the Patriot Act occurred 45 days after September 11th, and less than 2 years later Patriot Act II is now in the works. As shocking as these two bills are, a look at our history reveals a pattern of repressive legisltion.

 

The Alien and Sedition Act of 1789 was one of the earliest comprehensive attacks on free speech and the rights of immigrants in times of supposed crisis.

 

World War I offers a striking precedent to current fear campaigns and attacks on civil liberties. The war was initially unpopular with the American people, but one million soldiers were needed. Only 73,000 enlisted, and the draft soon followed. Repressive acts poured forth from Congress as follows:

 

        The Espionage Act of June, 1917

        Trading with the Enemy Act, October 1917

        The Sabotage Act of April, 1918

        The Sedition Act of May, 1918 (see reverse)

 

At the same time, a massive propaganda campaign was launched. A prominent newsman founded a Committee on Public Information. It sponsored 75,000 speakers who gave 750,000 four-minute speeches in 5,000 cities and towns. The Wilson Justice Department sponsored an organization known as the American Protection League with a membership of 250,000 volunteers. One historian wrote, "These patriots watched their neighbors, ostrasizing, insulting or reporting those deemed insufficiently ardent in their support of war." German music was banned and sauerkraut became "liberty cabbage."

 

World War I provided an early model for anti-immigrant and racist practices in World War II and other periods of repression in the 20th century. Unlike World War I which was called "the war to end all wars," we now have what is being called "an unending and permanent war on terrorism," with the prospect of an "unending" erosion of civil liberties and freedom of speech.

 

 

Sources:

 

A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn

An American History, by Merle Curtis

American History--A Survey, by T. Harry Williams

 

 

 

Civil Liberties Committee

San Francisco Gray Panthers

10-20-03