Key Question: Critique the Supreme Court’s limitation of free speech in wartime in Schenck v. United States.
- The Expansion of Expression – Essay by Ken I. Kersh, Ph.D.
- Schenck v. United States – Case Background
- Documents to Examine (A-I)
- The First Amendment, 1791
- President Woodrow Wilson, State of the Union Address, 1915
- Section 3 of the Espionage Act, 1917
- Masses Publishing Co. v. Patten, United States District Court, 1917
- “Policeman Clearing City Hall Park,” 1917
- Schenck’s Circular, 1917
- “First Number Chosen in World War I Draft Lottery,” 1918
- Unanimous Majority Opinion, Schenck v. United States, 1919
- “As Gag Rulers Would Have It,” Literary Digest, 1920
- The Issue Endures – Schenck v. United States (1919)
The United States instituted a military draft during World War I. More than 24 million men registered for the draft, and over 2.5 million men were actually drafted into the military. Socialist Party member Charles Schenck opposed the war as well as the military draft.
Schenck distributed leaflets urging recently drafted men to resist the draft. He exhorted draftees to resist the draft because the Thirteenth Amendment prohibited “involuntary servitude” in the United States. He condemned the federal government, the war and the draft with very strong language, but he advocated only peaceful resistance. Schenck was charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917, which made it a crime to, among other things, “obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service.”
Schenck challenged his conviction on First Amendment grounds. His case went to the Supreme Court, which had to consider if freedom of speech is an absolute right and, if not, under what circumstances it may be limited in wartime.
What restrictions can be placed on the First Amendment’s right to free speech? This video asks students to explore this question and the landmark case of Schenck v. United States.
Schenck v. United States DBQ
Use this Lesson withThe Espionage Act of 1917 Primary Source to explore how domestic groups who spoke out against U.S. involvement in World War I were treated. Facilitation Notes: Students should know how to approach primary sources, as well as some factual background regarding the events and time period of World War 1.
Schenck v. United States | BRI’s Homework Help Series
Schenck v. United States was a Supreme Court Case that explained some limits to the Freedom of Speech afforded by the First Amendment. During World War I, the US instituted a military draft. Many people released anti-war and anti-government information due to their displeasure with the draft. Charles Schenck, an anti-war socialist, was arrested by the Federal Government for circulating a pamphlet encouraging men to resist the draft and violating the Espionage Act of 1917. The Supreme Court ruled that wartime circumstances changed the rules related to free speech and resulted in the “Clear and Present Danger” rule.