Woodrow Wilson


What laws did President Wilson sign during the time of World War I that limited First Amendment freedoms?

President Wilson signed into law the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. Though parts of the Espionage Act of 1917 are still law today, some of the provisions were applied to punish antiwar, dissident political speech. Individuals faced lengthy prison terms for circulating leaflets critical of the U.S. war effort and the draft. The U.S. Supreme Court began to develop a body of law explaining the meaning of the First Amendment free-speech clause (“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech….”) in response to cases that involved convictions of Socialists, anarchists, and other political dissidents.


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