World War I and the Origin of Civil Liberties in the United States

By Paul L. Murphy | Go to book overview

5

Faltering Efforts
to Make Civil Liberties
a Legitimate
National Agenda Item

WHILE MANY AMERICANS reacted negatively to wartime excesses in the curtailment of individual freedom, such reactions produced little constructive counter-action to secure the protection of those freedoms. Clearly, there was not, as yet, a sufficient collective consciousness regarding the importance of protecting civil liberties to generate vigorous, broad-based citizen participation programs on their behalf. As Zechariah Chafee, Jr., later observed, "the First Amendment had no hold on people's minds, because no live facts or concrete images were then attached to it. Consequently, like an empty box, with beautiful words on it, the Amendment collapsed under the impact of Prussian battalions, and terror of Bolshevik mobs." 1. To Americans of the World War I era, little was to be gained by active crusades for civil liberties. At a time when government leaders were emphasizing the citizen's obligation to sacrifice certain freedoms in order to secure victory and a liberal society, involvement in a movement which seemed to place people against their government smacked of disloyalty and a lack of patriotism.

____________________
1.
Zechariah Chafee, Jr., Thirty-Five Years with Freedom of Speech (New York, 1952), p. 4.

-133-

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