Education

Request for Names of Alien Enemies in Syracuse, December, 1917


Historical Context
Shortly after the entrance of the United States into World War I, the government passed a series of laws known as The Alien Act (1917), The Sedition Act (1918), and The Espionage Act (1918). As part of the mobilization process, the government relied on propaganda and patriotism to rally funding and support from the American people for the war effort. As a result, dissent was suppressed and foreign-born citizens were targeted as spies or subversives.



Thousands of aliens were rounded up and deported or, as in the case of the letter to the governor of New York, names and addresses were published to identify and ensure the loyalty of aliens around the country. Two thousand total prosecutions occurred and nearly half were convicted.



The laws were purposely broad based and became the centerpiece of the American civil liberties debate. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes issued the famous “clear and present danger” quote that upheld the laws and gave the government wide ranging limits to curtail free speech during war time.
Essential Question
How did national defense issues impact ethnic individuals?
Check for Understanding
Explain why the newspaper wanted to publish the names of these individuals.
[click to enlarge]
Request for Names of Alien Enemies in Syracuse, December, 1917, New York State Archives, NYSA_A4234-78_B2_F14_Syracuse_enemies
Document Description
A request for the names of alien enemies in Syracuse, December, 1917.
Questions
  1. What exactly is the newspaper editor requesting? From whom?
  2. Why does the author say it is “wise to publish these names?”
  3. What might be the purpose of publishing the names of Aliens during a war?
  4. What indicates how seriously the paper takes this task?
  5. How might the people of Syracuse react to the publishing of the names?
Historical Challenge
Compare this time period in American history with the War on Terror, specifically The Patriot Act. Is this “profiling” and discrimination? Or is it necessary during a time of war?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Write a Supreme Court dissenting opinion to Holmes’ in which you challenge the legality of “clear and present danger.”
Resources
  1. http://www.fff.org
  2. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1916espionageact.html
  3. Kennedy, David. Over Here: The First World War and American Society. NY, Oxford University Press, 1980.
  4. Murphy, Paul L. World War I and the origin of civil liberties in the United States. NY, Norton, 1979.
  5. Paxson, Frederic L. American Democracy and the World War. NY, Cooper Square, 1966.
  6. http://www.wilsoncenter.org