Free Speech

Much has been made of President Barack Obama and his colleagues’ assault on free speech through his IRS and apparently through his FEC and SEC.  It’s important to understand that, reprehensible and dangerous to America as these assaults are today, Obama and his are simply channeling one of their Progressive forebears.

Here’s President Woodrow Wilson on the usefulness of government censorship, during another war in which the US was, at the time, participating only peripherally.  He wrote this letter to Congressman Edwin Webb in May 1917.

My dear Mr. Webb:

I have been very much surprised to find several of the public prints stating that the administration had abandoned the position which it so distinctly took, and still holds, that authority to exercise censorship over the Press to the extent that that censorship is embodied in the recent action of the House of Representatives is absolutely necessary to the public safety.  It, of course, has not been abandoned, because the reasons still exist why such authority is necessary for the protection of the nation.

I have every confidence that the great majority of the newspapers of the country will observe a patriotic reticence about everything whose publication could be of injury, but in every country there are some persons in a position to do mischief in this field who can not be relied upon and whose interests or desires will lead to actions on their part highly dangerous to the nation in the midst of a war.  I want to say again that it seems to me imperative that powers of this sort should be granted.

Cordially and sincerely yours,


The “recent action of the House” concerned a provision for explicit Federal government censorship of the press that Wilson had demanded be included in The Espionage Act of 1917, then under debate in both houses of Congress.  In the event, the Act was passed in June without the provision (the Senate having removed it by a one-vote margin) and signed into law by Wilson, even though he continued to protest the necessity of the “right” to commit censorship.

Authority to exercise censorship over the press is absolutely necessary to the public safety.

While Wilson didn’t get that power of censorship in the Espionage Act, he did get it in the Sedition Act of 1918:

Whoever…shall willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States…shall be punished….

The added invention of the Obama claque is that “some persons in a position to do mischief” are conservative persons who criticize the Obama administration.  Such criticisms are viewed by today’s Progressives as “disloyal” and “scurrilous.”  And plainly “abusive.”


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