Dissent in the Upper Middle West during the First World War, 1917-1918

Robert L Hachey, Marquette University


The topic of the dissertation was the nature of dissent during the First World War in the Upper Middle West, which included the States of Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Minnesota. The declaration of war, conscription, methods of financing the war, and issues of free speech and press during the war years comprised the major issues. The positions taken by the American socialists, the Industrial Workers of the World, the Nonpartisan League, political dissenters, and individuals not associated with any organized opposition to the First World War were discussed and evaluated in light of their relationship to the war effort. The responses of the federal, state and local authorities to the dissenters were likewise explored. The paper also described the positions taken by the major newspapers of the day and how the average citizen viewed and reacted to dissent and dissenters. The nature of wartime legislation and how it was passed and implemented against the dissenters was dealt with in detail. Primary source papers of the organizations and individuals who led the dissenting movement in the Upper Middle West served as the resource material, as did the contemporaneous papers of the various state and federal governmental agencies, departments, cabinet officers, as well as Woodrow Wilson papers. The newspapers of the organizations or individuals who opposed or supported the government's action during the First World War were similarly consulted. The author concluded that the nature of the dissent was within the bounds of proper criticism of the government in wartime and compatible with the American principles of freedom of the press and speech. The dissenters sincerely believed that many of their positions were contributing to the war effort and that their criticisms of the government's war policies could improve the efficiency and equity of the war effort. The dissenters' greatest contribution concerned the financing of the war and the discussion of who should bear the largest burden for the war costs. While the positions of the dissenters were not accepted at first, the American press, people, and government eventually moved in the direction first pointed out in dissent. The major newspapers, patriotic organizations, individual citizens, the state and federal government each demonstrated a low tolerance for dissent in wartime. The major newspapers, patriotic organizations and individuals exerted pressure on the state and federal governments to take progressively stronger action against the perceived disloyalty of organizations and individuals who criticized the war. These actions resulted in the suppression of free speech and assembly unmatched up to that time in American history.

Recommended Citation

Hachey, Robert L, "Dissent in the Upper Middle West during the First World War, 1917-1918" (1993). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9411508.