American Political Prisoners: Prosecutions under the Espionage and Sedition Acts

American Political Prisoners: Prosecutions under the Espionage and Sedition Acts

American Political Prisoners: Prosecutions under the Espionage and Sedition Acts

American Political Prisoners: Prosecutions under the Espionage and Sedition Acts

Synopsis

This book is the first account of the personal lives of the nearly 1,000 long-term political prisoners arrested under various sedition laws for their opposition to World War I, their trade union activities, or their unpopular political or religious beliefs. Based on the author's exclusive access to the uncensored prison files of many of these prisoners, and information obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act, Kohn relays the powerful prison experiences of some of America's most famous and colorful labor, socialist, and peace leaders. With over ten years of research, and access to tens of thousands of pages of never-before released U.S. Department of Justice records, Stephen Kohn has been able to recreate the actual prison experiences of these political prisoners.

Excerpt

In the pages that follow, the reader will be confronted with enormous crimes against the constitutional principle of free speech in a country that prides itself on its freedom and declares itself a model for democracy all over the world. The result of those crimes, for thousands of Americans, was persecution, imprisonment, sometimes torture and death. For many more, the result was to create an atmosphere of fear, the fear of expressing one's honest opinions, the kind of fear we usually attribute to totalitarian states.

In this case, however, the crimes against free speech and against human beings were committed by the U.S. government and various state governments during the first World War. They were crimes made legal by acts of Congress, by Presidential affirmation, and by Supreme Court decision--a troubling commentary on the much-praised "separation of powers," which is presumably a hallmark of our presumably democratic government.

What Stephen Kohn has done is to document what happened, with the kind of specific detail--names, places, punishments, the feelings of prisoners, the rationales of wardens and politicians--that brings history alive in the most immediate way, that goes behind statistics to individual human beings. He has been able to do this by an extraordinary feat of research, extracting from a reluctant government the records that are published for the first time in this book.

It is important to know exactly what motivated these thousands of vocal dissenters and their hundreds of thousands of sympathizers (half a million Americans were subscribing to the anti-war Socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason). They were protesting against the horrors of a war that had been going on in Europe since August 1914, in which young men on both sides were being sent to their deaths in huge numbers for reasons which, after . . .

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