chapter  14
16 Pages

The Case of the Gentle Anarchist

Abrams v. United States (1919)
WithMelvin I. Urofsky

When World War I broke out Jacob Abramovsky became a follower of Peter Kropotkin’s theory that capitalism had to be over-thrown so it could be replaced by a society founded on principles of cooperation. After the war broke out in August 1914, Abrams became more determined to act on his anarchist and pacifist beliefs. Learned Hand argued that if the government wanted to prosecute, it had to prove that the words had a real chance of success. Under the Hand test, Jacob Abrams and his fellow anarchists would have gone free. Where Schenck v. United States and Frohwerk v. United States had been charged under the 1917 Espionage Act, and the justices could limit their focus to draft resistance, the Abrams group had been convicted under the 1918 Sedition Act. Essentially, they had been found guilty of the crime of seditious libel, and thus the real crime was not one of action——trying to cripple the draft—but one of words.