American Political Prisoners: Prosecutions under the Espionage and Sedition Acts

By Stephen M. Kohn | Go to book overview

commanding officer at Camp Funston, Kansas, justified the abusive treatment that objectors experienced at Funston. This treatment included starvation-level diets, beatings and water torture (keeping prisoners in cold showers until they were on the verge of collapse). According to Wood, objectors who refused alternative service and urged others to stop cooperating with the military were sowing "dissension in our military establishment and opposing an effective conduct of the war." Continuing his attack on the objectors, Wood wrote:

They are, as shown in their words and acts, avowed enemies of the government and are opposing the government in the efforts which it is making to crush autocracy. Not only are they refusing to play the part of loyal citizens, but they are also, by work and example, spreading discontent among other men. Their conduct is reprehensible in the highest degree, and if men of this character, in fact, enemies of the government, are not dealt with vigorously, their evil influence will be far reaching. Fortunately for the nation and for our institutions, men of this type . . . are rare. If this were not the case our government would soon cease to exist.7

Those who violated the law, but did not publicly oppose the war or resist military authority, suffered little. For example, the War Department estimated that 171,000 people silently evaded the draft. Few evaders were ever arrested or prosecuted. Also, 3,500 conscientious objectors accepted alternative service with the military, and most were treated civilly. The court-martials and mistreatment were primarily reserved for the type of objector who challenged the military--the "absolutists" and the political resisters.

Most of the objectors sentenced between 1917 and 1918 received very long sentences. Almost all the sentences were commuted by the army, however, and the last conscientious objector held in a military prison was released from Alcatraz Island on December 6, 1920.

Except for the conscientious objectors who died while in military prisons or camps, the biographical histories of these persons will be discussed in a forthcoming book.


NOTES
1.
Remarks of Congressman John E. Raker, July 13, 1918, Cong. Rec., 56:528.
2.
Arrests for draft law violations numbered in the thousands. The experiences of the more than five hundred conscientious objectors who served long-term sentences will be treated in a forthcoming book documenting imprisoned conscientious objectors during World Wars I and II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
3.
See Stephen M. Kohn, Jailed for Peace ( Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1986).

-29-

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American Political Prisoners: Prosecutions under the Espionage and Sedition Acts
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Foreword ix
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I- Background to the Sedition Laws and Their Use During the World War I Era 5
  • Notes 22
  • Chapter 2- The Selective Service Act 27
  • Notes 29
  • Part II- Inside Golgotha: The Prison Experience of the World War I Sedition Act Inmates 31
  • Notes 37
  • Chapter 4- Prison Discipline 39
  • Chapter 5- A Transfer to St. Elizabeth's Hospital For the Insane 45
  • Note 48
  • Chapter 6- A Death 49
  • Notes 53
  • Chapter 7- The Most Indolent Man At Leavenworth 55
  • Note 58
  • Chapter 8- Military Justice 59
  • Notes 62
  • Chapter 9- Isolation 63
  • Notes 68
  • Chapter 10- Relief from the Psychopathic Ward 69
  • Note 73
  • Chapter 11- Release 75
  • Part III- The Prisoners 81
  • Notes 141
  • Chapter 13- State Anti-Sedition and Criminal Syndicalism Prisoners 157
  • Chapter 14- Political Prisoners Who Died While Incarcerated in Federal, Military And State Prisons 183
  • Notes 189
  • Chapter 15- Conclusion 191
  • Notes 192
  • Notes 193
  • Index 205
  • About the Author 217
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