1917 October 6

“Free Speech in Wartime” Defended by Senator Robert M. LaFollette


A fervent opponent of American involvement in World War I, Senator Robert M. “Fighting Bob” LaFollette of Wisconsin gave a strong defense of free speech in wartime on the Senate floor on this day. As a result, some other senators considered having him impeached, a move that indicated the level of intolerance of dissent during World War I.

LaFollette was one of the leading Progressive reformers during his Senate career from 1906 to 1925. He was succeeded by his son Robert LaFollette, Jr., who led a Senate investigation of the violations of the civil liberties of working people and labor unions in the 1930s (see June 6, 1936).

Senator Lafollette: More than all, the citizen and his representative in Congress in time of war must maintain his right of free speech. More than in time of war must maintain his right of free speech. More than in times of peace it is necessary that the channels for free public discussion of governmental policies shall be open and unclogged. I believe, Mr. President, that I am now touching upon the most important question in this country today — and that is the right of the citizens of this country and their representatives in Congress to discuss in an orderly way frankly and publicly and without fear, from the platform and through the press, every important phase of this war; its causes, the manner in which it should be conducted, and the terms upon which peace should be made.”

Read the full speech: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/robertlafollettefreespeecninwartime.htm

See ““Bob” LaFollette in 1924: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5plfw9dV24

Learn more: Richard Drake, The Education of an Anti-imperialist: Robert La Follette and U.S. Expansion (2013)

His legacy lives on: http://www.fightingbob.com/

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