Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether a political candidate’s speech that was considered to obstruct the United States’ war effort in violation of the Espionage Act deserved First Amendment protection.


The Supreme Court held that the defendant was properly convicted by the lower court and that his speech without First Amendment protection.


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.

Importance of Case

Public speech by a political candidate was held to be without First Amendment protection.

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