Hellraisers Journal: The American Socialist Banned From the Mails, Issues Statement to Readers

You ought to be out raising hell.
This is the fighting age.
Put on your fighting clothes.
-Mother Jones

Hellraisers Journal, Tuesday July 10, 1917
Chicago, Illinois – Official Organ of the Socialist Party Suppressed

From the American Socialist of July 7, 1917:

WWIR, American Socialist Statement, July 7, 1917



WWIR, American Socialist Editor Engdahl, July 7, 1917

THE EDITION of June 30th, of THE AMERICAN SOCIALIST, our Liberty Edition, has been held up by the Solicitor General of the postal department at Washington as to whether it is mailable.

For this reason, many subscribers have not received their paper. We are still hoping to have this issue declared mailable and hope to have this and future issues, in regular form, go out as usual.

Our paper will be published regularly. Every effort will be made to comply with the law and at the same time issue a publication that will be a credit to the Socialist movement. There should be no let-up in getting subscriptions. We must continue to rely entirely on your efforts in increasing our army of readers, now as always.

WWIR, American Socialist BD, July 7, 1917

Our Liberty Edition, so far as we have been able to learn, is being held up by the postal department on the following grounds:

FIRST: The issue of June 16th was declared to be unmailable under the act of June 15, 1917. This decision was not reached until June 30th, two weeks after the offending issue had gone through the mails. There is a ruling of the postal department, however, that when any issue of any publication is held to be unmailable, all subsequent issues are under suspicion, and must be held up until a decision is reached by the Washington authorities. This may not be for several days or weeks. From the ruling of the Solicitor General of the post office department there is no appeal except to Congress.

SECOND: One objection to the issue of June 16th, according to such information as we have been able to get, was that it carried an advertisement of the leaflet, “The Price We Pay”. This leaflet, unknown to us, had been declared to be unmailable under the act of June 15, 1917, known as the Espionage Law. This decision was received by the Chicago post office June 22, but was not communicated to us. We knew nothing whatever about this post office decision, but proceeding on the strength of several opinions from federal district attorneys in various parts of the country, had assumed that they were correct in holding that the leaflet was unobjectionable. Not having been notified that there was anything wrong with the leaflet in the eyes of the government, we have continued to advertise and circulate it. In view of the post office ruling, now that it has been made known to us, “The Price We Pay” will not hereafter be advertised in THE AMERICAN SOCIALIST, and no mention will be made of it.

THIRD: We have also been informed that the whole “spirit” and “tone” of the issue of June 16th is contrary to the “spirit” of the act of June 15th. This act, insofar as it applies to the mails, is herewith reproduced:

Sec. 2. Amendments to Postal Laws and Regulations.

Washington, June 16, 1917.

Order no. 431.

The Postal Laws and Regulations of 1913 is hereby amended by the addition of the following as Section 481½.

1. Every letter, writing, circular, postal card, picture, print, engraving, photograph, newspaper, pamphlet, book, or other publication, matter, or thing, of any kind, in violation of any of the provisions of this act (Act of June 15, 1917, Espionage Bill), is hereby declared to be nonmailable matter and shall not be conveyed in the mails or delivered from any post office or by any letter carrier: Provided, That nothing in this act shall be so construed as to authorize any person other than an employee of the Dead Letter Office, duly authorized thereto, or other person upon a search warrant authorized by law, to open any letter not addressed to himself. (Act of June 15, 1917, Sec. 1, Title XII).

2. Every letter, writing, circular, postal card, picture, print, engraving, photograph, newspaper, pamphlet, book, or other publication, matter, or thing, of any kind, containing any matter advocating or urging treason, insurrection, or forcible resistance to any law of the United States, is hereby declared to be nonmailable. (Act of June 15, 1917, Sec. 2, Title XII).

3. Paragraph 1 above relates to mail matter of any class which is in violation of any of the provisions of the Act of June 15, 1917, known as the Espionage Bill, and applies specifically to all matter which is intended to interfere with the operation of success of the military or naval forces of the United States or to promote the success of its enemies, or which is intended to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United States, or which is intended to obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service of the United States. (Act of June 15, 1917, Sec. 3, Title I).

4. Whoever shall use or attempt to use the mails or Postal Service of the United States for the transmission of any matter declared by this title (Title XII, Act of June 15, 1917, Espionage Bill) to be nonmailable, shall be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both. Any person violating any provision of this title may be tried and punished either in the district in which the unlawful matter or publication was mailed, or to which it was carried by mail for delivery according to the direction thereon, or in which it was cause to be delivered by mail to the person to whom it was addressed. (Act of June 15, 1917, Sec. 3, Title XII).

This issue of THE AMERICAN SOCIALIST is reduced in size, owing to these conditions. As we go to press, information is received from our representative in Washington as follows:

Solicitor Lamar, post office department, today told National Committeeman Julian Pierce he was working in unison with department of justice and General Crowder to enforce law as to mailing seditious matter, and that Socialist editors wishing to avoid confiscation of editions should get and read copy of law to learn what is forbidden. At department of justice, two assistant attorney generals in charge this matter finally agreed to receive from Pierce in his official capacity as National Committeeman his request that department issue full statement as to what in confiscated editions Socialist and other papers was ruled unmailable, giving samples such matter, expected that such statement be made within 48 hours by department of justice.

WWIR, The American Socialist, July 7, 1917


From The Public of July 6, 1917:

The Public, Editorial, July 6, 1917


The Seed of Absolutism

The attention of Mr. William H. Lamar, attorney for the Post Office Department, must be called to the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. This says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press….

Mr. Lamar should study this section because he is under the impression that authority to abridge freedom of the press has been conferred upon him by the Espionage Act. Acting on this impression he has entered on a policy of suppression which, if upheld and persisted in, must make the democratic sections of the Constitution mere scraps of paper; and must make the United States a very insecure place for democracy. His latest exploit is the suppression of an issue of The American Socialist of Chicago. The issue has been suppressed merely because it happens to be Mr. Lamar’s personal opinion that something in it is contrary to the Espionage Act. Leaving out of consideration congressional lack of authority to abridge freedom of the press, there still remains the fact that Mr. Lamar’s individual opinion, the basis of which has not even been made public, should not decide what may or may not be admitted to the mails.

In view of such attacks on the freedom of the press it is well to repeat some of the unanswerable arguments advanced by Louis F. Post when, during Roosevelt’s administration, the postal censors suppressed a Chicago publication on the charge of “immorality,” without indicating what matter in the paper came under that head. Mr. Post, after many months of effort to secure from reluctant and secretive officials information concerning the specific offense of the suppressed paper, finally learned, to quote his own words, “that it was for publishing two articles, only the titles of which are given, and in which, however offensive they may be to good taste, even a prude could hardly find material for specifications on a charge of immorality.” In comment Mr. Post said editorially in THE PUBLIC of August 12, 1905:

So long as an administrative officer can withdraw mailing rights from a publication for any offense whatever, without an opportunity for the publisher to be heard in his own defense before an impartial tribunal, fair play is impossible. Though we deny mailing rights to indecent publications, fair play demands that the person accused of the offense, and whose personal and property rights are involved in the accusation, shall have the opportunity he is guaranteed in all other cases to convince his fellow citizens that his publication is not indecent. It is his right to be judicially heard in his own defense

…No matter how objectionable or even dangerous a paper’s teachings may seem to the censors, no matter how offensive its language in their own estimation, so palpable an invasion of the commonest rights of citizenship is a direct menace to the independent press of the country. Any law that authorizes it should be swept from the statute books.

…Under the postal censorship publications are denied mailing rights, not because they are offensive to decency, but because the censor, from whom there is no appeal, chooses to think them so. Here is the seed of a mighty tree of absolutism.

The same comment applies with even greater force to the censorship of today. The “seed of a mighty tree of absolutism” has begun to sprout. It should not be allowed to flourish any longer.

News from The Public of July 6, 1917:

Week Ending July 3.


Spreading Postal Censorship

Socialist Party of America Button

Socialist papers are suffering considerably from censorship by the Post Office Department. The Socialist News of Cleveland was barred from the mails on June 25. The Michigan Socialist of Detroit was treated the same way on June 26, and on June 30 it became known that the American Socialist of Chicago, official organ of the National Socialist party [Socialist Party of America], as well as the International Socialist Review, a monthly magazine, were declared unmailable. In every case the action was taken on order of W. H. Lamar, solicitor of the Post Office Department. When the suppression of the American Socialist became known, the following telegram was sent to a number of congressmen:

The American Socialist, official publication of the Socialist party, refused admission to mails. We vigorously protest against this violation of federal constitution. Impossible for this government to convince the world we are engaged in war for democracy when constitutional guarantees at home are swept aside in such autocratic manner. In the interests of free press we appeal to you to immediately take this matter up with Solicitor Lamar of postal department, who seems to be exclusive censor of press of United States.

A telegram was also sent President Wilson, as follows:

Liberty edition of the American Socialist, containing an appeal to you, has been held up by the post office censor. Such action gives the lie to your proclamation that this is a war for democracy. Even Germany allows Vorwaerts and Zukunft to appeal to the Kaiser. We appeal to you to strike the muzzle from the American press and to reprimand those who would reduce this country below the level of the Czar’s old reign.

[Photograph added.]



American Socialist
-official organ of the Socialist Party of America
(Chicago, Illinois)
-July 7, 1917
(Also source for images of insets within article.)

Public, Volume 20
(New York, New York)
Public Publishing Company, 1917
The Public,
An International Journal of Fundamental Democracy

-July 6, 1917
From Editorial Section: “The Seed of Absolutism”
From News of Week Section: “Spreading Postal Censorship”

The Public, Editorial, July 6, 1917
Socialist Party of America Button
American Socialist, Ad Price We Pay, Tucker, June 16, 1917

See also:

American Socialist, Ad Price We Pay, Tucker, June 16, 1917

“A Statement to Our Readers” by J. Louis Engdahl

“The Price We Pay” by Irwin St. John Tucker

Tag: Espionage Act of 1917

American Socialist 1914-1917
-with links to Volume 1, No. 01 July 16, 1914 through Volume 4 No. 08 Sept 8, 1917

American Socialist newspaper was the official organ of the Socialist Party of America in the pre-WWI years. Published in Chicago it was edited by J. L. Enghdal. It reflected the reformist and electoralist tendencies of the leadership of Party nationally at that time while at the same time providing a platform for the most coherent radical voices opposing the Imperialist war, which the U.S. had not yet entered. It was also very much a campaign paper covering the increasing number of electoral victories of the SP[A] at this time. Of special note was the coverage it afforded the left-wing anti-war candidacy of Eugene V. Debs.

From The Public of August 12, 1905:
“Our Advancing Postal Censorship” by Louis F. Post.

Louis Freeland Post

Louis F. Post Papers: finding aid.
Library of Congress.