Free Speech in Time of War

May 10, 2010

Free Speech in Time of War

In the first decades of the twentieth-century, Americans were sent to prison for obstructing the government during wartime not because of what they did but because of what they said. By the end of the war in Vietnam, this was no longer the case. Three Supreme Court cases help show this change in judicial opinion:

In his dissent in Gitlow v. New York (1925), Justice Holmes cited the Fourteenth Amendment to argue for limiting state power by the first amendment and argued that the standard to justify suppressing speech should be that the speech posed a “clear and present danger” of bringing about “evils that the state has a right to prevent” (quoting Schenck v. United States and referring to his opinion in Abrams v. United States). In Yates v. United States (1957) the Court decided that advocating overthrowing the government by force was protected speech as long as what was advocated was the abstract idea of forcible overthrow and not a particular specific act. Abstract advocacy did not represent a clear and present danger. By the time of Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), the Court, according to one scholar, ruled in effect that speech posed a “clear and present danger” only if there was express advocacy of violating a law, if the advocacy was for immediately violating the law, and if the violation was likely to occur under the circumstances in which the speech was uttered and heard. Under this standard, it is difficult to imagine any speech that might pose a clear and present danger and thus lack constitutional protection.

David Tucker, Associate Professor of Defense Analysis, Naval Postgraduate School


Lesson Plans on Anticommunism in Postwar America, 1945-1954: Witch Hunt or Red Menace?

Another perspective on free speech issues is offered in this set of lessons plans at EDSITEment. Authors John Moser (Ashland University) and Lori Hahn (West Branch High School, Morrisdale, PA) provide a set of three lessons that help students understand the reasons for anticommunist sentiment at the outset of the Cold War, the formation of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and the rise and fall of Senator Joseph McCarthy.


Earn a Master of American History and Government at Ashland University

Ashland University’s masters program in American History and Government is designed with high school teachers in mind. Courses are offered only during the summers, and you may earn the degree in as little as three summers of intensive coursework. You may also attend specific courses for continuing education graduate credit. Uniquely, the program engages in the substantive study of history and government, with no courses limited to teaching methodology.

All courses emphasize the use of primary historical documents.

Registration is ongoing now for this summer’s six one-week intensive sessions. Over thirty seminars, taught by noted scholars drawn from universities across the country, will be offered. For more information, visit: mahg.ashland.edu.


A Sample Course in the MAHG program: The Reform Tradition in America

Professors Jeff Norrell and Natalie Taylor introduce a new course to the MAHG curriculum this summer during Session Four, The Reform Tradition in America. They will examine three important eras in American history when movements to reform the political and social life of the country dominated the public debate: the decades preceding the Civil War, the decades preceding the First World War, and the two decades following World War II. During each period, great efforts were made to advance the rights of two segments of the population: African Americans and women.

The two instructors bring different areas of expertise to this study. Professor Norrell has long studied race relations in the Southern United States and the civil rights movements that took place there, not only the movement after World War II, but also the efforts of earlier reformers in the period following Reconstruction.
Most recently, he has published a highly acclaimed biography of Booker T. Washington, Up From History (Belknap/Harvard University Press, 2009). Norrell will lead seven sessions in the course, primarily covering the abolition movement, post-Civil War efforts to educate African-Americans, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Professor Taylor, who researches American political theory and feminist theory, will lead seven sessions dealing with efforts to expand women’s rights, in movements that owed a large intellectual and practical debt to the abolition and civil rights battles that preceded them.

Students in the course on the Reform Tradition in America will have an opportunity to examine the strains and disagreements both within the ongoing civil rights movement and within the movement to expand women’s rights. Norrell will lead the seminar in discussions of the struggle between assimilation and separatism in efforts to lift the status of black Americans, and will direct attention to the current debate over affirmative action. Taylor will examine the tension felt by contemporary women, as they respond to the pull of both private and public spheres, asking such questions as “Is it possible to be a feminist and a mother?” and “Does feminism have a political future?”

Listen to a podcast of Professor’s Norrell’s Saturday Seminar on Booker T. Washington.

Professor Norrell’s Up From History: The Life of Booker T. Washington champions the long neglected accomplishments of the black leader who founded the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and did much to build opportunity for fellow freedmen during the era of repressive “Jim Crow” laws. In this Ashbrook Saturday seminar, offered to social studies teachers in 2009, Norrell puts controversial moments in Washington’s career–such as his 1895 speech at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta–into the context of his era. Norrell explains that Washington spoke at a time of widespread racist pessimism about the capacity of African Americans to assimilate into American society. He argues that, rather than compromising the fight for civil rights, Washington was conducting a public relations campaign in an effort to create more possibility for black empowerment.


May is Asian-Pacific Heritage Month—Do you know why?

EDSITEment explains that it was established to mark the arrival of the first Japanese immigrant to the United States on May 7, 1843, as well as the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The first Japanese national to set foot on American soil was a young man named Manjiro. Part of a fishing crew cast adrift during a violent storm and washed ashore on a desert island, he had been rescued by an American whaling vessel, adopted as a son by the American sea captain, and taken on a journey around Cape Horn. Eventually making his way home to Japan, he helped to end centuries of isolation for the island nation. This month, EDSITEment honors Manjiro Nakahama, also known as John Mung, by telling his story and offering students an interactive map of his voyage around the Pacific as well as a survey of EDSITEment lessons relating to Asian culture.


May is also Jewish-American Heritage Month

Learn about George Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, the first time in history any head of state had addressed the Jewish population of his nation as equal fellow citizens. Read another letter Washington wrote at about the same time, this one to the Hebrew Congregations of Savannah, Georgia.


Constitution Booklets Available

A pocket-sized booklet that holds key texts of the American founding, including the Declaration of Independence and the entire text of the US Constitution and its amendments, as well as key primary texts interpreting these. Copies of the booklet are available for $1.00 each. A 10% discount is available for purchases of 25 or more.

To order, call (877) 289-5411 or visit our website.

Get Email Updates

TeachingAmericanHistory.org is a project of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University

401 College Avenue | Ashland, Ohio 44805 (419) 289-5411 | (877) 289-5411 (Toll Free)

info@TeachingAmericanHistory.org