Page:War Prisoners (Darrow).djvu/15

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WAR PRISONERS.

had any such trial; not one. We have treasured the right of a man to be defended in court by some one competent to defend him, yet almost none of them had any such chance. A lot of inexperienced boys, going out with their lives in their hands to do the best they could, and caught in this terrible malestrom and sacrificed. The least the American people can do is to save what is left of them, and do it quickly! I want to refer to another class of victims of the war feeling. Now, mind, I am not criticising the feeling, its intensity or its cause. I fancy I was a part of it, though I always meant to keep my head during it, and perhaps did fairly well. But, it was a terrible feeling which swept over the world, and moved the people of the earth as they were never moved before; it was a feeling which made men forget everything but the war; they would forget their lives, even their property, some of them; their families, their friends, everything but the war. And, it not only reached our military courts, but our civil courts, and barbarous and extreme penalties were pronounced there, which ought to be set aside, and set aside quickly! For expressing opinions against the war, men were subjected to a penalty of twenty years' imprisonment. And judges always pronounced the longest term. Once in a while some very soft-hearted man would make it ten.

There is only one possible excuse for it, and that is the excuse that I have heard some judges make, that it was never intended to carry them out, but they should last during the war. That excuse would be good to me if they only last during the war!

The Espionage Act is manifestly unconstitutional, although the courts have said it is constitutional—it makes no difference to me in my judgment of it; I might very likely have held it constitutional if I had been a judge, I don't know. But I would have held it constitutional, like a railroad ticket, "For this trip and train only".

The Constitution forbids Congress to enact any law in restraint of the freedom of the press and freedom of speech, and nothing can be plainer than that this was a law restraining the freedom of speech and the press. It does not need argument, and I would respect the judges and lawyers more if they placed it on the line of public necessity, than I would if they make the miserable quibbles that somehow they could distinguish between this law and some other law, and that it was really constitutional.