Schenck v. United States (1919)

During World War I, the federal government prosecuted about 2,000 people for violating the Espionage Act of 1917 or the Sedition Act of 1918. As an executive member of the Socialist Party, Charles Schenck was convicted of overseeing the distribution of more than 15,000 fliers urging men to resist the draft. The Supreme Court ruled that this speech was not protected by the First Amendment because it posed a clear and present danger. These words are from the unanimous opinion written by Oliver Wendell Holmes. Read the full text here.
Read more...

Start learning with an activity...

  • Practice

    Answer a few questions on each word. Get one wrong? We'll ask some follow-up questions. Use it to prep for your next quiz!
  • Spelling Bee

    Test your spelling acumen. See the definition, listen to the word, then try to spell it correctly. Beat your last streak, or best your overall time. Spellers of the world, untie!
  • Vocabulary Jam

    Compete head-to-head in real-time to see which team can answer the most questions correctly. Start a Jam and invite your friends and classmates to join!

Explore the Words

definitions & notes only words
  1. obstruct
    hinder or prevent the progress or accomplishment of
    The first charges a conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act of June 15, 1917 by causing and attempting to cause insubordination in the military and naval forces of the United States, and to obstruct the recruiting and enlistment service of the United States, when the United States was at war with the German Empire...
  2. willful
    done by design
    ...the defendants willfully conspired to have printed and circulated to men who had been called and accepted for military service under the Act of May 18, 1917, a document set forth and alleged to be calculated to cause such insubordination and obstruction.
  3. insubordination
    defiance of authority
    ...the defendants willfully conspired to have printed and circulated to men who had been called and accepted for military service under the Act of May 18, 1917, a document set forth and alleged to be calculated to cause such insubordination and obstruction.
  4. allege
    report or maintain
    The count alleges overt acts in pursuance of the conspiracy, ending in the distribution of the document set forth.
  5. overt
    open and observable; not secret or hidden
    The count alleges overt acts in pursuance of the conspiracy, ending in the distribution of the document set forth.
  6. conspiracy
    a plot to carry out some harmful or illegal act
    The second count alleges a conspiracy to commit an offence against the United States, to-wit, to use the mails for the transmission of matter declared to be nonmailable by Title XII, ยง 2 of the Act of June 15, 1917, to-wit, the above mentioned document, with an averment of the same overt acts.
  7. transmission
    the act of sending a message
    The third count charges an unlawful use of the mails for the transmission of the same matter and otherwise as above.
  8. abridge
    lessen, diminish, or curtail
    They set up the First Amendment to the Constitution forbidding Congress to make any law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, and bringing the case here on that ground have argued some other points also of which we must dispose.
  9. admissible
    deserving to be accepted or allowed
    It is argued that the evidence, if admissible, was not sufficient to prove that the defendant Schenck was concerned in sending the documents.
  10. conscription
    compulsory military service
    The document in question, upon its first printed side, recited the first section of the Thirteenth Amendment, said that the idea embodied in it was violated by the Conscription Act, and that a conscript is little better than a convict.
  11. impassioned
    characterized by intense emotion
    In impassioned language, it intimated that conscription was despotism in its worst form, and a monstrous wrong against humanity in the interest of Wall Street's chosen few.
  12. intimate
    imply as a possibility
    In impassioned language, it intimated that conscription was despotism in its worst form, and a monstrous wrong against humanity in the interest of Wall Street's chosen few.
  13. despotism
    dominance through threat of punishment and violence
    In impassioned language, it intimated that conscription was despotism in its worst form, and a monstrous wrong against humanity in the interest of Wall Street's chosen few.
  14. intimidation
    the act of scaring a weaker person to make them do something
    It said "Do not submit to intimidation," but in form, at least, confined itself to peaceful measures such as a petition for the repeal of the act.
  15. assert
    insist on having one's opinions and rights recognized
    The other and later printed side of the sheet was headed " Assert Your Rights."
  16. draft
    compulsory military service
    It stated reasons for alleging that anyone violated the Constitution when he refused to recognize "your right to assert your opposition to the draft"...
  17. disparage
    express a negative opinion of
    If you do not assert and support your rights, you are helping to deny or disparage rights which it is the solemn duty of all citizens and residents of the United States to retain.
  18. mercenary
    profit oriented
    It described the arguments on the other side as coming from cunning politicians and a mercenary capitalist press, and even silent consent to the conscription law as helping to support an infamous conspiracy.
  19. condemnation
    an expression of strong disapproval
    It denied the power to send our citizens away to foreign shores to shoot up the people of other lands, and added that words could not express the condemnation such cold-blooded ruthlessness deserves...
  20. respectively
    in the order given
    Two of the strongest expressions are said to be quoted respectively from well known public men.
  21. restraint
    a rule or condition that limits freedom
    It well may be that the prohibition of laws abridging the freedom of speech is not confined to previous restraints, although to prevent them may have been the main purpose, as intimated in Patterson v. Colorado, 205 U.S. 454, 462.
  22. stringent
    demanding strict attention to rules and procedures
    The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.
  23. injunction
    a judicial remedy to prohibit a party from doing something
    It does not even protect a man from an injunction against uttering words that may have all the effect of force.
  24. substantive
    having a firm basis in reality and therefore important
    The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.
  25. proximity
    the property of being close together
    It is a question of proximity and degree.
  26. hindrance
    any obstruction that impedes or is burdensome
    When a nation is at war, many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight, and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right.
  27. liability
    the state of being legally obliged and responsible
    It seems to be admitted that, if an actual obstruction of the recruiting service were proved, liability for words that produced that effect might be enforced.
  28. contention
    a point asserted as part of an argument
    Indeed, that case might be said to dispose of the present contention if the precedent covers all media concludendi.
  29. precedent
    a legal decision that influences subsequent decisions
    Indeed, that case might be said to dispose of the present contention if the precedent covers all media concludendi.
  30. heretofore
    up to this point or up to the present time
    Recruiting heretofore usually having been accomplished by getting volunteers, the word is apt to call up that method only in our minds.
Created on February 23, 2017 (updated September 11, 2019)

Sign up, it's free!

Whether you're a student, an educator, or a lifelong learner, Vocabulary.com can put you on the path to systematic vocabulary improvement.