1917 November 2

Post Office Ban on Anti-War “The Masses” Upheld; Repression of Dissent Expands


In Masses v. Patten, decided on this day, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the District Court decision by Judge Learned Hand (July 24, 1917) and upheld the Post Office ban on the radical magazine, The Masses.  The Masses was the leading radical magazine in the U.S. before the war, and it became a vocal opponent of U.S. involvement in the war beginning in April 1917. Several of the anti-war cartoons published in the magazine are among the most famous political cartoons in American history. Hand’s District Court decision offered a brief respite from Post Office suppression of anti-war publications during World War I. Following the appeals court decision, the suppression of dissent during World War I resumed.

The Justice Department twice prosecuted the editors of the The Masses under the Espionage Act, but both cases ended in hung juries (see April 27, 1918). 

The Masses went out of business in December 1917, and the editors established a new magazine, The Liberator, in March 1918, in which the editors carefully refrained from publishing anything that might offend the government.

Read about the civil liberties crisis in World War I: Paul L. Murphy, World War I and the Origins of Civil Liberties in the United States (1979)

Read all the issues of The Masses, including the offending one (NOTE: individual issues are slow to load; be patient): http://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/masses/index.htm

Learn more about Max Eastman, editor of The Masses: Christopher Irmscher, Max Eastman:  A Life (2017)

Learn more about the Masses: William L. O’Neil, Echoes of Revolt: The Masses, 1911–1917 (1966)

Read about Postmaster General Burleson: https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbu38

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