The Espionage and Sedition ActsEspionage Act of 1917 | Sedition Act of 1918

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The Espionage Act of 1917 was a law passed by Congress after the United States entered World War I designed to protect the war effort from disloyal European immigrants. The Act criminalized the publication or distribution of “information” that could harm or hinder US armed forces as well as of “false reports or false statements” intended to promote America’s enemies, and it empowered the Postmaster General to seize mail that it judged to fall within these categories. The Sedition Act of 1918 refers to a series of amendments to the Espionage Act that expanded the crimes defined in that law to include, among other things, any expression of disloyalty to or contempt of the US government or military.




Espionage Act of 1917

Download the public record from The State Historical Society of Iowa.



Sedition Act of 1918

View the full text.



Woodrow Wilson, Third Annual Message (State of the Union), December 7, 1915.

In this state of the union address, Wilson addresses the threat of sedition by disloyal immigrants and asks Congress to pass what would eventually be the Espionage Act.

Read it at the American Presidency Project.





Anastaplo, George. “Schenck v. United States (1919); Abrams v. United States (1919).” In Reflections on Freedom of Speech and the First Amendment. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2011.

Read an excerpt on Project Muse, or Find it on Amazon, or Find it on JSTOR (restricted access).

“Wilson and the Espionage Act.” Lesson Plan from the Bill of Rights Institute.

Download from the Bill of Rights Institute.

Discusses the use of the Espionage Act in prosecuting recent government leaks.