New York Times

No Way to Reach Seditious Orators Through Federal Statute, Wood Says:
Cleveland Moffett Threatens to Break Up Another Meeting of Friends of Irish Freedom.

In response to the need for federal laws against sedition which amounts to less than treason, punishable by death, the American Defense Society is having drafted an anti-sedition bill which will shortly be introduced in Congress. In its campaign against the propaganda of sedition, the Society has found itself confronted with the fact that there is at present no law in the United States punishing sedition, such a provision having been cut out of the espionage bill. The soapbox orator who now inveighs against our allies violates no law unless he incites to riot. It is the purpose of the Society to have such disloyal action classed as a crime and to have a punishment prescribed by federal statute. This would put an end to the anti-British campaign now being waged in this city by the Friends of Irish Freedom and others.

The need for such a law was emphasized in letter which Police Commissioner Wood sent yesterday to Col. Roosevelt in reply to a letter from Oyster Bay to Police Headquarters asking for more stringent action against seditious orators. The Commissioner wrote the Colonel that the Department was doing the best it could under the present laws, and said: “If disloyal preaching is to be effectively prevented in this country a federal statute should be enacted making criminal any sort of propaganda, printed or spoken, in favor of the enemy or tending to weaken our country in its struggle for democracy and the right of free nations to exist.”

Commissioner Wood in his letter to Col. Roosevelt said in part:

The right to hold meetings in the street is, of course, clear. People may gather and speak their minds, and the police are bound to protect them in this right so long as the gathering is conducted lawfully, not interfering with the rights of others, not blocking the streets or sidewalks so as to prevent others from using them, and not inciting to violence. The police will continue to permit lawful street meetings.

In war times, however, some of these matters have to be looked over again to see what, under the changed conditions, constitutes incitement to violence and interference with the rights of others.

If treason is preached in our streets an immediately arrest will, of course, be made, and we have the United States statute dealing with treason, which provides the punishment of death. But the United States authorities have advised us that under this statue the courts will hold only most serious cases, which would justify the extreme penalty. So far no utterance of any street speaker that has been reported to me falls in this class, and there is no other Federal law that applies unless we can prove interference or attempt to interfere with the military or naval forces of the United States.

If there is talk on the street, therefore, which though clearly of a seditious natures cannot be classed as treason under the statute, we have to fall back on our local statutes that prohibit conduct seriously disturbing or endangering the public peace, or disorderly conduct leading to a breach of the peace. Right here is a gap in the law, for these State laws provide no way to proceed against seditious propaganda in the streets unless the sedition person is also disorderly. If disloyal preaching is to be effectively prevented in this country a Federal statute should be enacted making criminal any sort of propaganda, printed or spoken, in favor of the enemy, or tending to weaken our country in its struggle for democracy and for the right of free nations to exist.

Although in ordinary times it might be wise for a policeman not to interfere with a speaker in close cases, in war times the safety of the nation is paramount, and in such cases the force have instructions to take summary action.

In announcing yesterday a campaign to bring home to the American people the atrocities of the Germans in the conduct of the war, the American Defense society made the following letter from Colonel Roosevelt, who is a member of the Advisory Council of the society, addressed to Major William Tutherly, Secretary of the society:

My Dear Mr. Tutherly:

I wish to congratulate the American Defense Society on their work which brought the prohibition of marine insurance by German firms, and especially do I wish to express my earnest sympathy with you in your proposal to bring home to the American people the frightful German atrocities in conquered territory.

The terrible menace which has been show to exist in the Prussianized Germany of the Hohenzollerns makes very real and concrete the danger that confronts us of disaster and of possible ruin unless the Allies win decisively in this war. We are fighting for the cause of mankind; but we are also, and most decisively, fighting for the vital interest of our nation. This war has emphasized the fact that there is a wide and deep abyss between American ideals and methods and those of the Germany of today. It is not too much to say that in this war the German Government, seemingly with the hearty backing of the German people, has practiced, the most revolting and scientific system of savagery that it is possible to imagine.

The leaders of Germany today, the men who are followed by the great bulk of the German people, pride themselves upon having turned Germany into a nation which practices this scientific savagery. They take from civilization only the things which enable them to devise efficient instruments of torture and destruction; and then they revive, out of what we hoped was the dead and gone barbarism of the dark ages, those qualities of hear and soul which make these scientific instruments in their hands a deadly menace to humanity. They used the resources of science precisely as an old-time Apache used a rifle — as a weapon more efficient than his former savage weapon, and to be used with more than the old-time ruthless savagery.

     Wishing you all success, I am, faithfully yours,


Cleveland Moffett, Chairman of the Committee on Alien Enemis and Traitors of the American Defense Society, issued an ultimatum yesterday to the Friends of Irish Freedom, declaring if tonight at their scheduled meeting at Thirty-seventh Street and Broadway any of the speakers insult the President or disparaged England, he would break up the meeting or be arrested in the attempt.

Luther Bedford, a street speaker at Thirty-seventh Street and Broadway, was arrested last night on complaint of Adrian McCaskill of 55 West 169th Street, and in the Men’s Night Couth was charged with disorderly conduct. He asked for adjournment, and Magistrate Blau put the case over to tomorrow morning in Jefferson Market Court, fixing bail at $1,000.

When Bedford asked for an adjournment George Hiram Man, an attorney, who would not admit that he represented or was a member of the Vigilantes, but said he just happened along when the arrest was made, said:

“We intend, no matter what the disposition of this case is, to bring this matter to the attention of the Federal authorities, and we will charge treason.”

Bedford was accused by McCaskill of saying: “I do not believe in sending soldier to France to fight England’s battles.”

McCaskill informed Patrolman Downey of the West Thirtieth Street Station that he intended arresting the speaker, and Downey stood by McCaskill’s side when the arrest was made. In the Night Court Bedford called among the spectators for witnesses in his behalf, and among those who crowed inside the rail was William Robinson, the speaker who caused Cleveland Moffett’s arrest, out of which the present activities of the vigilantes grew.


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