During World War I, Montana instituted the harshest sedition laws in the United States. You could not speak out against the country, the president, the military, or the flag.
Showing signs of German ethnicity could get you in trouble too. Speaking or writing in German was banned. People took it upon themselves to find these traitors and sometimes public displays of loyalty were extracted from those of German dissent.
1918 was a particular dark time when accusations were loudest. In all, 79 individuals were convicted during that dark time. 41 went to prison. Their sentences ranged from one to twenty years in jail with fines as high as $20,000. Although the law expired at the end of World War I, only one individual was pardoned.
Governor Schweitzer of Montana wants to make things right. He has decided that all 79 individuals will be pardoned posthumously. Their will be a special ceremony and family members of those being pardoned will be on hand.
A special website explores this period in Montana’s history. The website includes information and photographs of those convicted. Some were convicted on conversations overheard in a bar or store. One person was Janet Smith, a 42 year old native of Iowa. She and her husband were both charged under the sedition laws. Janet was accused of making disparaging comments against the United States and the Red Cross. She denied the charges but still received a 5-10 years in prison. Her husband’s sentence was 10-20 years. Visit the Sedition Project website for more information on the law and those convicted.