VICTOR BERGER’S DANGEROUS IDEAS: Censoring The Mail To Preserve National Security During World War I

Philip M. Glende


During World War I, the postmaster general conducted a vigorous campaign to stop the distribution of radical periodicals. Victor L. Berger, the socialist publisher of the Milwaukee Leader in Wisconsin, was among the first targets. Without any court review, Berger was found in violation of the Espionage Act and the Leader’s second-class mailing privilege was revoked. As a result, mailing costs increased by a factor of seven, and circulation dropped by more than a third. Berger’s personal papers from this episode in administrative censorship only recently have become available to researchers. They reveal a principled and defiant publisher who argued he could be a critic and a patriot, and a local press contemptuous of Berger and fearful of the federal government, local censors, advertisers, and readers.

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