Study Guide

Terms

Terms

Abrams v. United States

In this 1919 case, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the conviction of Jacob Abrams et al under the 1918 Sedition Act for publishing pamphlets criticizing the war. The Sedition Act made it illegal to "willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the Constitution of the United States." The Court utilized the clear and present danger test established in Schenck v. United States in affirming Abrams's conviction. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, the author of the clear and present danger test, dissented from the majority arguing that not all anti-government speech presented a clear and present danger and Congress "certainly cannot forbid all effort to change the mind of the country."

John Peter Zenger

This New York newspaper owner was acquitted on charges of seditious libel for published criticisms of New York's colonial governor. Zenger's attorney, Andrew Hamilton, argued that the truth of Zenger's statements was a defense against the charges, and that a jury, rather than the judge, should be allowed to determine whether Zenger's statements constituted seditious libel. The legal arguments advanced in Zenger's victory set a precedent for subsequent sedition trials in the colonies.