1923 August 21

President Coolidge Defends Free Speech, Except When . . .


President Calvin Coolidge, in a White House meeting with a delegation seeking amnesty for people in prison for Espionage Act convictions during World War I, said that he believed in free speech (“no man should be held in prison because of opinions he had expressed,” as reported in the New York Times), but that it depended on the circumstances of the speech. He specifically said that freedom of speech did not extend to those who during the war attempted to stir up a general public opinion hostile to the purposes of the Government.”

The delegation represented the Joint Amnesty Committee, organized on June 11, 1922 by the ACLU, Fellowship of Reconciliation, and other groups supporting amnesty for people prosecuted during World War I for their expressed views.

Learn more about the WW I prosecutions: Stephen Kohn, American Political Prisoners: Prosecutions Under the Espionage and Sedition Acts (1994)

Learn more: Geoffrey Stone, Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism (2004)

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