By Contributor on May 24, 2013

Way back in 1918, The Progressive published an essay entitled "Muzzling of the Press," criticizing the extraordinary new powers granted to the President under The Espionage Act of 1917.

The law allowed U.S. Presidents to prosecute leakers and suppress the publication of information on U.S. military and defense-related matters. Almost a century later, the Obama Administration invoked the Espionage Act when it prosecuted Bradley Manning and seized the phone records of A.P. reporters.

Here is what the magazine had to say about the Espionage Act when it was young:

"Muzzling of the Press" by Richard Barry, December 1918:

There exists in the United States today a control of the press and a suppression of vital news and public discussion which it Is difficult to parallel in English-speaking countries unless one goes back to the time of King lames. As yet the eclipse is only partial, but unless effective attention is called to the fact, it Is not inconceivable that it may become total.

This condition has developed by such gradual stages that unless the picture of it is fully painted, most people would be Inclined to doubt its existence. However, if one will take into consideration everything pertaining to this condition, including the operation of the Espionage Act, the supervision of the military censor, the orders of the War Industries Board, the apathy of many editors, and will realize that these are supplemented by the special efforts of countless Government agents, assisted by the Department of Justice, the Secret Service, and others, he will realize that the total effect is the practical abolition of the Constitutional guarantees respecting free speech.

Fundamentally, the laws regarding free speech and a free press are the same today as they .were before our declaration of war. It is the general conviction, therefore, that free speech and a free press still exist. Everyone agrees that on the subject of disloyalty there can be no equivocation, and the ordinary mental attitude of the average American toward this problem is that it is better to suffer free speech and a free press to be in some measure curtailed if that is the price necessary to pay for the suppression of all disloyalty. However, the question remains: Are the powers now exerted by various departmental heads at Washington used solely for the generally sanctioned purpose of suppressing disloyalty? It must not be assumed, in considering these facts, that the President in his own person is aware of the full extent of their indirect bearing, or even, in many instances, of their direct bearing. They are largely the result of an assumed authority only partially committed to his appointees.

The President, in the minds of many, symbolizes the sovereignty of the United States. No one will impute to that a wrong intent; but, under its cloak, many wrongs, some unwittingly, some with intent, may be committed.

Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall

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Preserving Our Home on Earth

Preserving Our Home on Earth: 100 Years of Environmental Writing from the Archives of The  Progressive Magazine is now available from Amazon and Barnes&Noble.

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Erik Lorenzsonn is an editorial intern at The Progressive.

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Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.

On November 20 every year for the last fifteen years, transgender people gather for vigil ceremonies to acknowledge...

Yesterday the U.S. Senate narrowly defeated a bill that would approve construction on the Keystone XL pipeline.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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