Montana gov. to grant pardons for World War I sedition

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Nearly seven dozen Montana residents convicted of sedition during World War I are finally getting official pardons from the governor, years after their deaths.

In a ceremony Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Brian Schweitzer, the grandson of German-Russian immigrants, planned to sign posthumous pardons for 78 men and women convicted in 1918 and 1919 for criticizing the U.S. government or its war effort.

Relatives of some of those being pardoned were expected to attend.

Montana's Sedition Act, passed in 1918 but since repealed, was one of the harshest in the country and a basis for a national sedition law passed the same year.

Of those convicted, more than 40 were sent to state prison, said Clem Work, a University of Montana journalism professor whose book inspired the pardon effort.

UM law students spent months combing old court records and archives across the state to clear those convicted.

In one case, a 38-year-old traveling liquor salesman was arrested after he called wartime food regulations in the United States a "big joke" while talking with a Montana hotel owner in 1918. Less than a month later, he was in prison.

Another was a German immigrant who ended up serving two years in prison for suggesting that Americans "would have hard times" if Germany's kaiser "didn't get over here and rule this country."

In a letter to Schweitzer in late March, more than three dozen professors, lawyers and historians nationwide urged him to grant the pardons "to affirm Montana's commitment to free expression and to bring a measure of justice and redemption to these people and their living descendants."

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