Seventy-nine Montanans were convicted under a state sedition law during World War I for speaking out in ways deemed critical of the United States. A traveling wine and brandy salesman was sentenced to 7 to 20 years in prison for calling wartime food regulations a “big joke.” Today, reports the New York Times, Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a descendant of ethnic Germans who migrated here from Russia in 1909, will posthumously pardon 75 men and three women. (One was pardoned earlier.) Forty-one of those convicted, including one woman, went to prison on sentences from 1 to 20 years and paid fines from $200 to $20,000.
The pardon ceremony is a result of a book by Clemens P. Work, director of graduate studies at the University of Montana School of Journalism, called “Darkest Before Dawn: Sedition and Free Speech in the American West” (University of New Mexico Press, 2005). The book chronicled a contentious period in Montana history when people were convicted and jailed for voicing their opinion about the war. “It was an ugly time,” Work said.