Censorship Heavier Than Prussian Muzzle

The Espionage Act of 1917 remains one of the most controversial laws ever passed by Congress in American history. Signed into law in June 1917, it was used almost a century later to charge Edward Snowden and convict Chelsea Manning for releasing classified intelligence information. Defenders say the law protects national security, while opposers claim it violates the First Amendment and free speech.

In April of 1917, the bill was still being debated in Congress. Republican Senator William Borah of Idaho opposed the measure, claiming it was more restrictive than the forces we had just entered World War I to fight against:

“The things they are allowed to say and write and publish in autocratic Prussia today will be prohibited in this democratic America by the terms of this very law,” continued the Idaho Senator, “and we propose to enact it as one of the preliminaries to our entering this war to rid the world of Prussianism.”

Alas, Borah’s fight was a lonely one. The measure passed the Senate 77-6. While the House vote attracted a much higher percentage against, it still passed handily 260-107.

Censorship Heavier Than Prussian Muzzle: Senator Borah Characterizes the Espionage Bill — Senator Cummins, in Voicing His Opposition, Criticises President Wilson

From Sunday, April 29, 1917

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