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First Amendment Library:
Seymour Stedman


Eugene Debs, a candidate for president, expressed anti-draft and anti-war sentiments at a rally, illustrated by his statement to the crowd, “[Y]ou need to know that you are fit for something better than slavery and cannon fodder.” The Supreme Court, finding “the defendant caused and incited and attempted to cause and incite insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny and refusal of duty in the military and naval forces of the United States and with intent so to do delivered, to an assembly of people, a public speech,” held that Debs’ speech violated the Espionage Act.


The Espionage Act (June 15, 1917, c. 30, Title I, § 3, 40 Stat. 217, 219) provides that: "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 . . . shall be punished." Sugarman was charged with having violated this section on July 24, 1917, by words spoken in an address made at a Socialist meeting which was attended by many registrants under the Selective Service Act, sustained in Selective Draft Law Cases, 245 U.S. 366. He was tried in the District Court of the United States for the District of Minnesota, found guilty by the jury, and sentenced. See 245 Fed. Rep. 604. Thirty-one exceptions were taken to rulings of the trial judge. Instead of seeking review by the Circuit Court of Appeals under § 128 of the Judicial Code, the case is brought here under § 238.