"No More Soap-Boxes"

ONE OF THE CHIEF TASKS OF OUR FEDERAL AUTHORITIES DURING World War I was to make certain that eloquence did not set fire to reason. In an earlier chapter we have seen how the individual, the mob, and the various states proceeded against persons who uttered sentiments that were not entirely patriotic. There yet remains the story of the First Amendment in its relationship to freedom of speech, as conceived by federal officials and federal judges during World War I. Whether those authorities made the suspected speaker aware of the Espionage and Sedition Acts depended upon the past history of the speaker, his audience, and the occasion upon which the statements were made. Official action in those instances varied from mild reprimands or requests that certain utterances cease, to penitentiary sentences of twenty or thirty years.

For a speaker who wished to keep out of jail, time and circumstance had to be considered carefully. James Harvey Robinson, the historian, explained this situation in the Atlantic Monthly for December 1917. He said that one could always criticize and attack the policy of all government officials. They could safely be denounced as knaves, fools and traitors. According to Robinson, one could even pick flaws in the Constitution, and question the expediency of the state itself-- "but one would better not be associating with supposed anarchists when so doing."

And sponsors of speaking engagements exercised precautions in their selections. To safeguard an anticipated audience, the secretary of the Y.M.C.A. of Elkins, West Virginia, wrote Creel to inquire about the patriotism of Mark Sullivan, then editor of Collier's. The secretary had heard that Mr. Sullivan was misleading the people and the Elkins' Lyceum Course

-190-

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Censorship, 1917
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Our Censorship Heritage 3
  • The Seed of Censorship 24
  • Laws against Spies and Traitors 39
  • The Censorship Board 55
  • Cables and Telegrams 73
  • Soldiers, Sailors, and Censors 94
  • Protective Custody in the Post Office 110
  • Banned Books 153
  • Scissors and Films 172
  • No More Soap-Boxes 190
  • Aftermath or Prologue 213
  • Notes on Sources 233
  • Index 241
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