The Illusion of Freedom – Part 4/4

May 10, 2012

The McCarthy era started in the late 1940s and lasted to the late 1950s.

It is difficult to estimate the number of victims of McCarthyism. The number imprisoned is in the hundreds, and some ten or twelve thousand lost their jobs. In many cases simply being subpoenaed by HUAC or one of the other committees was sufficient cause to be fired. Many of those who were imprisoned, lost their jobs or were questioned by committees did in fact have a past or present connection of some kind with the Communist Party.

However, for the vast majority, both the potential for them to do harm to the nation and the nature of their communist affiliation were tenuous. Suspected homosexuality was also a common cause for being targeted by McCarthyism. The hunt for ‘sexual perverts’, who were presumed to be subversive by nature, resulted in thousands being harassed and denied employment.

HBO Documentary of Freedom of Speech in five parts – Part 4

In fact, in 1954, a Gallup poll found that 50% of the American public supported McCarthy, while only 29% had an unfavorable opinion of the senator. In addition, Earl Warren, the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, said that if the US Bill of Rights had been put to a vote it probably would have been defeated.

McCarthy bullied, threatened and abused witnesses while he accused them of Communist sympathies. However, in the late 1950s, public opinion turned against McCarthy.  He was forced out of public life and died several years later an alcoholic.

Then there is sedition—another restriction on so-called freedom of speech in the US.

In July 1798, Congress passed and the President signed, the Sedition Act – a bill that made it a crime to speak or write anything against the government. A person charged under the Sedition Act was subject to a maximum of two years in prison and a $2,000 fine. The 1798 Sedition Act would be repealed in 1801. However, after the US entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson signed into federal law the Sedition Act of 1918.  The law made it illegal to speak out against the government, the war or to discourage anyone from enlisting in the military.

By the time the law was repealed in 1920, more than 2,000 people had been prosecuted.

HBO Documentary of Freedom of Speech in five parts – Part 5

According to Cornell University Law School, today, federal law says, “Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”

What do you consider freedom and does it really exist?

Return to  The Illusion of Freedom – Part 3 or start with Part 1


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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