Free Speech and Seditious Speech on the CT World War I Home Front

by Christine Gauvreau, Project Coordinator, Connecticut Digital Newspaper Project
Connecticut State Library

TEACHER'S SNAPSHOT

Historical Background

Speech considered anti-war or anti-American was regulated on the home front during the World War I era. Violations led to arrests and convictions. Pacifists, socialists, and immigrant workers were particularly monitored for disloyal speech. The legal authority for these actions flowed from the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918.

D1: Potential Compelling Question

Does free speech exist in a time of war?

D1: POTENTIAL SUPPORTING QUESTIONS

  • What kinds of “speech” were limited during WWI?
  • Why was free speech restricted?
  • What were the possible penalties for those who violated the regulations?
  • How did different people respond to the limitation on speech at the time?

D2: TOOL KIT

Things you will need to teach this lesson:





D3: INQUIRY ACTIVITY

Start by showing “Extra! Police Take Notice!” (an advertisement for the film The Kaiser, published in the Bridgeport Times and Evening Farmer, April 23, 1918.) Have the class read the advertisement together, identifying:

  1. Facts/things they can know for sure from the source
  2. Inferences/things they can reasonably guess or assume
  3.  Questions they have

Working individually or in groups, have students read some or all of the other three sources. In addition to pulling out facts, inferences, and further questions, students may explore supporting questions such as:

  • What kinds of “speech” were limited during WWI?
  • Why was free speech restricted?
  • What were the possible penalties for those who violated the regulations?
  • Who accused people of “seditious” or anti-American speech?
  • What kinds of people were accused?

Discuss questions that have emerged from the sources and where students could find answers or learn more.

D4: COMMUNICATING CONCLUSIONS

  • Students will select a person mentioned in one of the sources (a “concerned citizen,” law enforcement, protestor/accused citizen) and defend his or her position in a debate with classmates on the question of freedom of speech and censorship during World War I.
  • Students, acting as if they were a resident of Connecticut from 1917 through 1921, will write a letter to the editor of either the Norwich Bulletin or the Bridgeport Evening Farmer/Bridgeport Times in reaction to any of the primary sources provided.
  • Students will investigate events/topics related to free speech today—especially those involving national security—and write a letter to the editor of a contemporary newspaper placing these events into historical context and presenting lessons that could be drawn from the regulation of speech over time in America.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Place to GO
Things To DO

Have students search Connecticut newspapers in Library of Congress, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers for editorials on the state government position, the civil liberties position, and other viewpoints related to free speech

Websites to VISIT

ConnecticutHistory.org: World War I

Connecticut State Library: Remembering World War I

Connecticut State Library: World War I Veterans Database

Library of Congress: Guide to World War I Materials

Articles to READ