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A century and a half ago the Bill of Rights became part of the United States Constitution. Today the ten amendements which the history books describe as designed " to guard more efficiently the rights of the people and of the states" face another of those periods of stress which have characterized their existence. They have endured through five wars and innumerable crises. We must not allow a war fought in defense of the democracy which they embody, to endanger their very life.
Yet already sentence has been passed on 18 men and women who were convicted even before the declaration or war, for they high crime of possessing literature that can be found in almost every school and library throughout the country. These 18 were tried under the Smith act, which slipped through Congress a few months ago, making it illegal to express an opinion concerning the propriety of the overthrow of the government by force and violence. The only evidence which the government produced was the Marxist and Trotskyist literature which was found in the offices of the defendants, members of the Minneapolis Teamsters; Union and the Minneapolis Socialist Workers' Party. The government abandoned completely its attempt to prove any overt acts.
If the government had been trying to maintain that a little group of Trotskyites, whose party claimed the grand total of 5000 members, was conspiring to overthrow the established order, and constituted a real danger, it would be merely laughable. But Assistant Attorney General Schweinhaut abandoned completely the doctrine of "clear and present danger" which has been established for a generation by the highest court in the land as the basis for prosecution in cases involving expression of opinion. He claimed that any expression of opinion which might possibly lead to acts of violence was illegal.
If the Smith Act is sustained, and Mr. Schweinhaut is upheld, the next 150 years look very black for out Bill of Rights. The decision of the Menneapolis Federal Court is being appealed; but in time of war, appeals of civil liberties cases are likely to suffer. It is all the more important, therefore, that a determined effort be made to call this appeal to the attention of every man who is fighting now or preparing to fight for his rights and for his democracy. We fought one war to achieve our Bill of Rights. We must not let another war destroy it.
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