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IPFS News Link • Free Speech

The World War I Anti-War Movement and The First Amendment

• The National Constitution Center

In October 1917, [Senator Robert La Follette] delivered a blistering address in defense of free speech and dissent. "Since the declaration of war, the triumphant war press has pursued those Senators and Representatives who voted against war with malicious falsehood and recklessly libelous attacks, going to the extreme limit of charging them with treason against their country." There have been many attacks, he went on, against him personally and demands that he be expelled from the Senate. But such attacks were not just aimed at politicians but were also being directed at ordinary citizens in an attempt to coerce them into silence and acquiescence in an unjust war. "The mandate seems to have gone forth to the sovereign people of this country that they must be silent while those things are being done by their Government which most vitally concerns their well-being, their happiness, and their lives." This was deplorable. American citizens must not be "terrorized" in this way. ...