World War I and the Crusade for Conformity


The Free Speech Cases

The anxiety over dissent during WWI, coupled with the unprecedented language of the Espionage Act, led the Supreme Court to review freedom of speech in a number of landmark cases. Three are excerpted here.

Schenck v United States

Schenck, a socialist, was convicted of violating the Espionage Act by distributing anti-war literature. Oliver Wendell Holmes gave a famous justification for limiting speech in time of danger.

Abrams v. United States

Similarly, Abrams and a group of radical activists were convicted of conspiracy under the Espionage Act--again for distributing pamphlets criticizing the war effort. In this case, Holmes dissented from the majority, arguing that unpopular ideas should be protected.

Gitlow v. People

This excerpt from Holmes's famous dissent appears to argue for broader protection of free speech