Montana pardons 78 for WWI sedition
By Charles Johnson
HELENA, Montana (Reuters) – Before a packed crowd in the
state Capitol, Gov. Brian Schweitzer signed pardons on
Wednesday to clear the names posthumously of 78 Montanans
convicted of sedition during World War One.
The 78 people — all but one were men — were arrested and
convicted of violating a restrictive state Sedition Act for
criticizing the U.S. role in World War One or for refusing to
buy war bonds.
Some of the people, many of whom were immigrants, expressed
support for Germany in the war.
Critics, including Democrat Schweitzer, said those laws
trampled the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution.
“Across this country it was a time in which we had lost our
minds,” the governor said. “So today in Montana, we will
attempt to make it right. In Montana, we will say to an entire
generation of people, we are sorry. And we challenge the rest
of the country to do the same.”
Montana passed the Sedition Act in 1918 amid an anti-German
fervor, and it became the model for the Federal Sedition Act of
1918. The Montana Legislature created the Montana Council of
Defense, which banned the use of the German language, even in
church pulpits, and barred a number of books about Germany.
About 50 relatives of eight of the men convicted traveled
to Helena for the ceremony. As each person’s name was read,
family members approached the governor. Schweitzer signed their
ancestor’s pardon and handed it to them.
“It’s not the American way for neighbor to spy on
neighbors,” Schweitzer said. “And today, we ask that we never
forget the mistakes that we’ve made so that we don’t make them
“For those of who are to honor your ancestors, I say to
you, they were patriots,” Schweitzer concluded as the crowd
rose to applaud.
ONE IMMIGRANT BACKED GERMANY
One of those imprisoned for 28 months was Herman Bausch, a
German immigrant and farmer, who was convicted of sedition for
his comments made when he refused to buy Liberty Bonds or help
the Red Cross.
“I don’t care anything for the Red, White and Blue,” he was
suspected of saying, and added, “I would rather see Germany win
than France (or) England.”
His daughter, Farida “Fritzi” Briner of Tahoe City,
California was on hand to see her late father pardoned. “It was
very exhilarating,” Briner said. “It’s a bright and shining day
for all of us.”
As a child, Briner said she sensed “something dreadful had
happened” in her family’s history. Finally, her mother told her
the details, although her father did not broach the subject.
A book, “Darkest Before Dawn,” published last fall by
Clemens Work, a University of Montana journalism professor
launched the effort to clear the names of those convicted of
sedition in Montana.