Friday, January 17, 2014

The fragile nature of liberty

I showed some folks the very cool site that the local library has been working on, digitizing and creating a searchable database of every Door County newspaper from 1862 through (currently) 1941. It’s a remarkable and fun site for anyone who likes perusing the “first draft of history.”

After the visitors left, I noticed this story on the front page of the paper that I happened to click on to demonstrate the site. It’s a cautionary reminder of how precious the freedom of speech is – because in every generation there will be many, even a majority, who have no qualms about shutting down the right to dissent in the name of “national security.”

You can find the original newspaper here.


Disloyal remarks cost Egg Harbor man $133.47

Refuses to Pay One Hundred Dollars When Ordered to do so by Justice of Peace Meverden

Upon the complaint of H.C. Scofield, chairman of the Door County Council of Defense, a warrant was sworn out against Albert Zettle, a farmer of the town of Egg Harbor, and Zettle appeared in court Friday, the charge being, "That on the 25th day of July, in the year 1918, at Sturgeon Bay in the presence of other did advocate, teach and advise that citizens of this state should not aid nor assist the United States in prosecuting and carrying on the war with public enemies of the United States, contrary to the laws of 1918."

District Attorney Gaede prosecuted the case, and the defendant had no attorney. When brought into court, Zettle pleaded not guilty to the complaint.

Upon request of Mr. Scofield, the complaint was amended so that Zettle was charged with using language tending to provoke a breach of the peace. The reason that Mr. Scofield requested this was that under the first charge the justice court would have no jurisdiction and it would be necessary to hold Zettle over to the circuit court.

District Attorney Gaede agreed to the change of the charge only with the understanding that the defendant would contribute $100 to the Red Cross. Zettle pleaded guilty to the amended charge.

It being the opinion of Judge Meverden that there was no excuse whatever for the remarks which Zettle is alleged to have made, he fined him the maximum, $100 and costs, amounting in all to $133.47, and also ordered the payment of the $100 contribution to the Red Cross.

Zettle paid the $133.47 but refused to make the $100 contribution to the Red Cross, claiming that the court had no right to force him to do so. As there was no law authorizing the court to do so, the payment could not be forced.

This is not the first time that a case of this kind has arisen in this county, and it seems that those with pro-German tendencies would realize that it does not pay to express them to others.

— Door County Advocate, Aug. 2, 1918


Anonymous said...

What a story!
If anyone is interested in reading more about this censorship from a first-hand-account, they can read H.L. Mencken's Biography by Elizabeth Marion Rodgers. WWI and the Espionage Act caused Mencken never to say anything about the war, it completely shut him up.
Today we have the snitch program, See Something, Say something, in WWI everyone was a snitch and you were already a suspect if you were German.

Thanks Warren


Warren Bluhm said...

Ach du Lieber. All I ever read of Mencken made me expect he'd be a little more bold. I suppose he had to balance whether expressing an opinion about the war was worth potentially losing his podium to speak out on other issues. I have added that bio to my to-do list.