Target Grades/Classes: Sixth through Eighth Grades Language Arts and Social Studies
Author Visit Fee: No fee
Presentation Title: Democracy and Truth
Two class periods:
Note: In both visit options, students will be provided copies of the Friends of the Constitution letter, Charles Schenck's pamphlet, and mock hearing instructions prior to the visit. (See letter below).
FRIENDS OF THE CONSTITUTION
December 12, 1918
As you know the important case of Schenck v. United States will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on January 9, 1919. In every case there are facts and law that must be considered. Here are the facts and law in this case as I understand them:
World War I began in 1914. The people of the United States saw the war as a problem for countries in Europe only and did not want to get involved. Finally on April 16, 1917, the United States Congress voted to declare war on Germany and the United States entered the war. One of the reasons for the United States entering the war was the sinking of the British liner, the Lusitania, by a German submarine torpedo on May 7, 1915. 124 Americans were aboard and died. The United States government claimed the Lusitania carried no military cargo and was unarmed, and therefore the torpedoing was a terrible and unjustified act by Germany. This helped persuade Americans to be in favor of entering the war.
When the United States entered the war, the government decided that a million American soldiers were needed, but in the first six weeks only 73,000 volunteered. Many Americans thought the United States should not have entered the war and did not volunteer. The government feared it would not be able to get the needed soldiers from volunteers only. Because of this, Congress proposed and voted for the Selective Service Act of 1917 which allowed the government to draft men to force men to become soldiers. Many Americans protested the draft and the war. The government feared this public opposition would hurt the war effort. So Congress passed another law called the Espionage Act in June of 1917. The Espionage Act allowed the government to punish “Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty in the military or naval forces of the United States, or shall willfully obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service of the United States.” The Espionage Act also said that “nothing in this section shall be construed to limit or restrict…any discussion, comment, or criticism of the acts or policies of the Government.”
During that period, Charles Schenck like many Americans felt the draft and the war were wrong. He printed and distributed fifteen thousand pamphlets that denounced the draft and the war. Mr. Schenck believed he was exercising his right of freedom of speech.
Mr. Schenck was arrested, convicted under the Espionage Act, and sentenced to six months in jail. He then appealed his conviction to the United States Supreme Court on the grounds that the Espionage Act was unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment of the United States Constitution’s Bill of Rights. One of the rights that the First Amendment guarantees is that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech and the press.” As you know to “abridge” freedom of speech means to diminish, lessen, or curtail freedom of speech. Mr. Schenck and his attorney believe the Espionage Act abridged his freedom of speech and therefore the Espionage Act is unconstitutional. If the Espionage Act is unconstitutional, then Mr. Schenck’s conviction should not stand.
Please consider the facts and law in this case. Let me know how you think the U.S. Supreme Court will decide this case and give your reasons.
John Doe, Esquire
© 2005-11 by Robert Hager. Seaworm Press and Saurcana are service marks of Robert Hager.