American West •  History and Politics

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978-0-8263-3793-1

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Darkest Before Dawn: Sedition and Free Speech in the American West


Clemens Work

Two weeks after the United States declared war on Germany in 1917, the town of Lewistown, Montana, held a patriotic parade. Less than a year later, a mob of 500 Lewistown residents burned German textbooks in Main Street while singing The Star Spangled Banner. In Lewistown's nationalistic fervor, a man was accused of being pro-German because he didn't buy Liberty Bonds; he was subsequently found guilty of sedition. Montana's former congressman Tom Stout was quoted in the town's newspaper, The Democrat-News, "With our sacred honor and our liberties at stake, there can be but two classes of American citizens, patriots and traitors!"

Darkest Before Dawn takes to task Montana's 1918 sedition law that shut down freedom
of speech. The sedition law carried fines of up to $20,000 and imprisonment for as many as twenty years. It became a model for the federal sedition act passed in 1918. Clemens Work explores the assault on civil rights during times of war when dissent is perceived as unpatriotic. The themes of this cautionary tale clearly resonate in the events of the early twenty-first century.
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"This is history at its exciting, human best. Clemens Work tells the little-known story of how Americans were punished for what they said during World War I: imprisoned, brutalized, lynched. It is a crucial part of the American struggle for freedom of speech." - Anthony Lewis, columnist for the New York Times and author of Gideon's Trumpet and Make No Law

"Clem Work has written a colorful and engaging account of a rough-and-tumble era when exercising your right of free speech could get you tossed into jail, or worse. Work's description of the frenzied and often irrational reaction to dissent during wartime is truly timeless, disturbingly reminiscent of our own world, post-9/11/01. This book reminds us just how fragile Americans' allegiance to the First Amendment can be." - Jane E. Kirtley, Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law, University of Minnesota

"Work offers a new way of thinking about a broader topic - sedition - and one in which new insights are provided. That, in my mind, is the essence of scholarship." - Charles N. Davis, executive director of The National Freedom of Information Center at the University of Missouri, Columbia, and associate professor of journalism

" Darkest Before Dawn makes an important contribution to the literature of the history of free speech in America. No future study of sedition laws could hope to be complete without
drawing on this well researched and well written work. Clem Work has made his mark - and what a marvelous mark it is!" - Ronald K. L. Collins, scholar, The First Amendment Center


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

Clemens P. Work is director of graduate studies, School of Journalism, University of Montana, Missoula.

ACCLAIM

". . . (a) well-crafted study."

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The Missoulian, MT



" Darkest Before Dawn: Sedition and Free Speech in the American West is a formidable piece of scholarship, a fine and readable history on the wax and wane of free speech, our ability as Americans to say what we believe. Shot through with contemporary resonances, Work's book would make an ideal present for anyone with the least bit of political leanings."

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New West: The Voice of the Rocky Mountains



"Clemens P. Work's excellent new book, Darkest Before Dawn: Sedition and Free Speech in the American West describes in absorbing detail one of the darkest eras in Montana history in which dissenting voices were stifled."

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Montana Standard



"...this book is a must-read."

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Great Plains Quarterly



"An important contribution to the
literature of the history of free speech in America. No future study of sedition laws could hope to be complete without drawing on this well researched and well written work. Clem Work has made his mark, and what a marvelous mark it is!"

--

Ronald K.L. Collins, Scholar, The First Amendment Center




6 x 9 in. 328 pages 30 halftones