May 16 1918, Washington–Antipathy towards Germany had grown strikingly in the United States in the year since the declaration of war, with both the press and private citizens lashing out against many of German origin deemed insufficiently patriotic, and demanding that the US government do the same. On May 16, President Wilson signed a bill, commonly referred to as the Sedition Act, that extended the Espionage Act of the previous year. For the duration of the war, any form of
“disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” about the government, its flag, or its armed forces, or any speech that interfered with the sale of war bonds, was punishable by long terms of imprisonment. The bill passed the House with only one dissenting vote (from the lone Socialist member), but attracted more opposition from many Senate Republicans, who variously thought that the bill was a distraction from Wilson’s inability to use the Espionage Act effectively, or that it compromised free speech to an unacceptable degree. Ultimately, only several hundred convictions were handed down as a result of the Sedition Act–mainly it was used as a catch-all way to prosecute socialists, anarchists, or IWW members who fell afoul of the Justice Department.
Today in 1917: Allies Cancel Nighttime Otranto Barrage
Today in 1916: Sykes-Picot Agreement
Today in 1915: King Victor Emmanuel III Rejects Prime Minister Salandra’s Resignation