The Espionage Act of 1917 was passed by Congress shortly after the US entered WWI. It prescribed a $10,000 fine and 20 years imprisonment for anyone found to be interfering with the recruiting of troops or the disclosure of information dealing with national defense. It also set out fines and imprisonment for anyone refusing to perform military duty.

Under the Espionage Act most anti-war newspapers were silenced or closed, and many anti-war activists and pacifists were jailed, including Eugene V. Debs, Bill Haywood, Philip Randolph, Victor Berger, John Reed, Max Eastman, and Emma Goldman. Eugene Debs was imprisoned for ten years for saying out loud that "the master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose - especially their lives." A woman named Rose Pastor Stokes was also sentenced to ten years in prison for saying in a letter to the Kansas City Star that "no government which is for the profiteers can also be for the people, and I am for the people while the government is for the profiteers."

Under the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act of 1918 A. Mitchell Palmer and J. Edgar Hoover arrested 1500 people for the crime of "disloyalty" in 1919 and 1920 alone.

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