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How did the United States respond to the rise in socialism during the Progressive Era and

how did these responses affect American citizens?


During the Progressive Era, different advancements were made in the country socially,
politically, and economically. A growing trend that started to gain some popularity was the idea
of socialism, which slowly built up supporters in the early years of the 20th century and called for
a fierce opposition to Americas involvement in the Great War. As many more Americans started
to follow the ideas of socialism and request the government to withdraw from the war, America
responded with a series of acts and rulings in trials meant to limit the spread of socialism
throughout the country and keep citizens supportive of Americas decision to enter the war and
help the Triple Entente. A rising support for socialism in the United States led to a severe
decrease in the civil rights made available to American citizens, which was caused primarily by
the passage of the Espionage Act of 1917, the passage of the Sedition Act of 1918, and the
formation of the General Intelligence Division of Bureau of Investigation.
The Espionage Act of 1917 was passed by the United States government in an attempt to
quell anti-war movements; however, its restrictions decreased the rights of the Americans who
staunchly opposed the war, which was made clear by the ruling in the Schenck v. United States
case. This act gave all of the current states the right to imprison or fine people who went against
the United States or its involvement in the war. Many socialists were restricted by this, but some,
like Charles Schenck, was still accused of violating the Espionage Act. Schenck published
pamphlets that supposedly attempted to weaken soldiers strict loyalty to the US, and in
response, he claimed that the Espionage Act violated the citizens First Amendment Rights and
thus was unconstitutional. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court ruled that due to the fact that the
US was at war, Congress had the right to stop any potential barriers to the United States political
or economic policies that had a definite danger of being carried out. Such a ruling allowed the

Americans rights to free speech to be compromised and changed the ideas that citizens could
spread to others. While the American government claimed that this Act was passed to preserve
the countrys integrity, it only served as a means to justify the initial declaration of war.
The passage of the Sedition Act of 1918 added on to the previous years Espionage Act to
further limit citizens civil liberties and reinforce American ideologies. It stated that any form of
hatred or criticism expressed through speech against the United States would be considered
illegal and would lead to imprisonment for up to twenty years and fines up to $10,000. Anything
that may have even been remotely considered as a support for the enemies in the war would also
be in violation of the Sedition Act. As such, many pamphlets published by the American Socialist
Party were banned or changed to discuss topics aside from the war. While this act only caused
more restrictions on the ideas that citizens could discuss, few, like Eugene V. Debs continued to
give speeches nationwide that firmly opposed the war and its draft system. Debs was accused of
violating the Sedition Act, and similar to Schenck, he claimed that he was not being given the
right to free speech. As the leader of the Socialist Party of America, Debs was a popular figure
among the other socialists, and when the Supreme Court upheld their decision that these acts
were not actually unconstitutional, America struck a chord within the country that displayed the
seriousness of the issue, which scared many more into keeping quiet about their socialist ideas.
The Red Scare of 1919 led to the formation of the General Intellience Division of Bureau
of Investigation. It was led by J. Edgar Hoover and worked to either jail any potential Americans
involved with socialism or move them back to their country against their own will. Thousands of
supposed socialists were convicted without substantial evidence and at the expense of their own
rights. The Sacco-Vanzetti Case, which involved two Italian immigrants accused of murder,

displayed the loss of rights that many faced. Their position as socialists led to a quick conviction
and resulted in their execution despite many protests.
The acts passed by the government and the division formed in the government led to a
severe decrease in the rights that every American citizen believed they were guaranteed to. While
many socialists attempted to spread their own ideas to gain popularity and oppose the war, the
US firmly restricted them and caused many who were completely loyal to the country to be
imprisoned or fined. While the government may have been trying to keep the country stable, it
only worsened conditions for the American citizens.