249 U.S. 211 (1919), 714, Debs v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 714
Citation:249 U.S. 211, 39 S.Ct. 252, 63 L.Ed. 566
Party Name:Debs v. United States
Case Date:March 10, 1919
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 211

249 U.S. 211 (1919)

39 S.Ct. 252, 63 L.Ed. 566

Debs

v.

United States

No. 714

United States Supreme Court

March 10, 1919

Argued January 27, 28, 1919

ERROR TO THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO

Syllabus

The delivery of a speech in such word and such circumstances that the probable effect will be to prevent recruiting, and with that intent, is punishable under the Espionage Act of June 15, 1917, c. 30, § 3, 40 Stat. 217, as amended by the Act of May 16, 1918, c. 75, § 1, 40 Stat. 553. P. 212.

Such a speech is not protected because of the fact that the purpose to oppose the war and obstruct recruiting, and the expressions used in that regard, were but incidental parts of a general propaganda of socialism and expressions of a general and conscientious belief. P. 215.

In a prosecution for obstructing and attempting to obstruct recruiting, by a speech in which defendant expressed sympathy with others, imprisoned for similar offenses, the ground for whose convictions he purported to understand, held that the records in the other cases were admissible as tending to explain the subject and true import of defendant's remarks and his intent. Id.

In such prosecution, held that a document -- a so-called "Anti-War Proclamation and Program" -- expressing and advocating opposition to the war was admissible against the defendant as evidence of his intent in connection with other evidence that, an hour before his speech, he expressed his approval of such platform. Id.

Semble that persons designated by the Draft Act of May 18, 1917, registered and enrolled under it and thus subject to be called into active service, are part of the military forces of the United States within the meaning of § 3 of the Espionage Act. P. 216.

Affirmed.

The case is stated in the opinion.

Page 212

HOLMES, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is an indictment under the Espionage Act of June 15, 1917, c. 30, Tit. 1, § 3, 40 Stat. 219, as amended by the Act of May 16, 1918, c. 75, § 1, 40 Stat. 553. It has been cut down to two counts, originally the third and fourth. The former of these alleges that, on or about June 16, 1918, at Canton, Ohio, the defendant caused and incited and attempted to cause and incite insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny and refusal of duty in the military and naval forces of the United States and with intent so to do delivered, to an assembly of people, a public speech, set forth. The fourth count alleges that he obstructed and attempted to obstruct the recruiting and enlistment service of the United States and to that end and with that [39 S.Ct. 253] intent delivered the same speech, again set forth. There was a demurrer to the indictment on the ground that the statute is unconstitutional as interfering with free speech, contrary to the First Amendment, and to the several counts as insufficiently stating the supposed offence. This was overruled, subject to exception. There were other exceptions to the admission of evidence with which we shall deal. The defendant was found guilty and was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment on each of the two counts, the punishment to run concurrently on both.

The main theme of the speech was Socialism, its growth, and a prophecy of its ultimate success. With that we have nothing to do, but if a part or the manifest intent of the

Page 213

more general utterances was to encourage those present to obstruct the recruiting service, and if, in passages, such encouragement was directly given, the immunity of the general theme may not be enough to protect the speech. The speaker began by saying that he had just returned from a visit to the workhouse in the neighborhood where three of their most loyal comrades were paying the penalty for their devotion to the working class -- these being Wagenknecht, Baker, and Ruthenberg, who had been convicted of aiding and abetting another in failing to register for the draft. Ruthenberg v. United States, 245 U.S. 480. He said that he had to be prudent, and might not be able to say all that he thought, thus intimating to his hearers that they might infer that he meant more, but he did say that those persons were paying the penalty for standing erect and for seeking to pave the way to better conditions for all mankind. Later he added further eulogies, and said that he was proud of them. He then expressed opposition...

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