After Montana enacted its Sedition Act in 1918, an array of ranchers, farmers, loggers, butchers, cooks, and bartenders--people scratching out a living in fierce winters and scorching summers of the rugged West--was convicted of making anti-government statements. Some of the remarks were little more than profanity-laced tirades uttered in saloons.
For example, [attorney, journalism professor, and author Clemens] Work unearthed the case of Adam Steck, a 53-year-old German immigrant bartender in the Trocadero Saloon in Helena who was sent to prison for calling the American flag a "dirty rag" and saying that "this damned country is bankrupt already and do they expect to lick Germany? No, they never did and they never will."
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"Montana's law was the broadest, most repressive anti-speech law passed by a state in the history of the country," Work said. Three months later, Congress passed a national sedition law, "largely due to the influence of Montana politicians and legislative leaders," he said.
Except for three words, the federal law was a copy of Montana's law. About 2,000 men and women would be convicted under the national Espionage and Sedition Acts, including Eugene V. Debs, who organized the American Railway Union, the nation's first industrial union, in Chicago.
It is not lost on those involved in the clemency effort that much of today's unpatriotic speech from the anti-war Left would have been severely punished under the World War I-era sedition statutes. As one of the Montana law students noted, "If [Montana's sedition] law was around now, I probably would be in jail myself--relating to Iraq". Indeed, when one compares them to the Bush-as-Hitler/Stalin/Satan vitriol produced on a daily basis by left-leaning blogs, the seditious statements for which Montanans were jailed in 1918 seem quaint: "These damn fools still think they can lick Germany, but all they get is a good licking in France every day." "I would sooner fight for the Kaiser than I would for the United States." "Americans are no good, and I hope that Germany will win."
I'm proud that we're more politically enlightened than our forebears; the criminal punishment of unpatriotic speech is abhorrent and, despite our present circumstances, we have not made any meaningful effort to criminalize or substantially curtail anti-administration or anti-war speech. Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer's comments are, I believe, representative of the sentiments of the overwhelming majority of politicians from both parties: "I will defend our right to call a politician a son-of-a-bitch at any time, even when they are calling me a son-of-a-bitch."
There is a difference, however, between having a legal right to loudly denounce your country and it being acceptable or advisable to do so. Those Americans who criticized our war against the German Empire in 1918 should not have been imprisoned for their speech; neither should anti-war speakers today, however belligerent, be jailed when their speech does not constitute treason. Notwithstanding, Adam Steck and his fellow pro-Kaiser Montanans would have been well-advised to pipe down once our doughboys went "over there". It's never too late for those Americans who favor our enemies to learn from Steck's lack of common sense, even when there is nothing resembling a federal sedition law to teach them.
As an American, you have the right to root against your own nation in time of war, but doing so does not make you a good American.