Wilson and Censorship of the Press
President Wilson hopes the press will observe a "patriotic reticence"
Wilson's position on censorship following the United States' entrance into the Great War was a complicated one. He could "imagine no greater disservice to the country than to establish a system of censorship that would deny to the people . . . their indisputable right to criticize their own public officials," but he also felt strongly that his administration should have the power to censor information in the interest of national security.
The letter to Representative Webb represents Wilson's argument for the inclusion of a censorship provision in the Espionage Act that would prohibit the dissemination of information deemed "to be useful to the enemy" in times of national emergency. An amendment to that effect passed in the House but did not make it into the Espionage Act voted into law on June 15, 1917.
In May of 1918, Wilson was successful in getting the Sedition Act passed as an amendment to the Espionage Act. It became a crime to "utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane...or abusive language" about the United States government or to disagree with its actions abroad. The act was repealed in 1921.View the original document
View the letter in the eLibrary