…during World War I, as illustrated by Schenck v. United States (1919) . Charles Schenck, the secretary of the Socialist Party of America, was responsible for the distribution of a pamphlet advocating opposition to the draft. For such a heinous crime against American military intervention, the Supreme Court upheld Schenck’s conviction under the Espionage Act of 1917, and he served six months in prison. The case established the “clear and present danger” test, limiting the extension of the First Amendment during wartime . Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) overruled Schenck.
Schenck’s pamphlet, however, continues to powerfully argue against compulsory military service as illegitimate and a violation of individual rights:
Assert Your Rights
The Socialist Party says that any individual or officers of the law intrusted with the administration of conscription regulations violate the provisions of the United States Constitution, the supreme law of the land, when they refuse to recognize your right to assert your opposition to the draft.
In exempting clergymen and members of the Society of Friends (popularly called Quakers) from active military service the examination boards have discriminated against you.
If you do not assert and support your rights you are helping to “deny or disparage rights” which it is the solemn duty of all citizens and residents of the United States to retain.
In lending tacit or silent consent to the conscription law, in neglecting to assert your rights, you are (whether knowingly or not) helping to condone and support a most infamous and insidious conspiracy to abridge and destroy the sacred and cherished rights of a free people. You are a citizen: not a subject! You delegate your power to the officers of the law to be used for your good and welfare, not against you.
They are your servants; not your masters. Their wages come from the expenses of government which you pay. Will you allow them to unjustly rule you?
No power was delegated to send our citizens away to foreign shores to shoot up the people of other lands, no matter what may be their internal or international disputes.
To draw this country into the horrors of the present war in Europe, to force the youth of our land into the shambles and bloody trenches of war crazy nations, would be a crime the magnitude of which defies description. Words could not express the condemnation such cold-blooded ruthlessness deserves.
Will you stand idly by and see the Moloch of Militarism reach forth across the sea and fasten its tentacles upon this continent? Are you willing to submit to the degradation of having the Constitution of the United States treated as a “mere scrap of paper”?
No specious or plausible pleas about a “war for democracy” can becloud the issue. Democracy can not be shot into a nation. It must come spontaneously and purely from within.
Democracy must come through liberal education. Upholders of military ideas are unfit teachers.
To advocate the persecution of other peoples through the prosecution of war is an insult to every good and wholesome American tradition.
You are responsible. You must do your share to maintain, support, and uphold the rights of the people of this country.
In this world crisis where do you stand? Are you with the forces of liberty and light or war and darkness?