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.
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