Throughout the 19th century, sedition, criminal anarchy and criminal conspiracy laws were used to suppress the speech of abolitionists, religiousminorities, suffragists, labor organizers, and pacifists. In Virginia prior to the Civil War, for example, anyone who "by speaking or writing maintains that owners have noright of property in slaves" was subject to a one-year prison sentence.
The early 20th century was not much better. In 1912, feminist Margaret Sanger was arrested for givinga lecture on birth control. Trade union meetings were banned and courts routinely granted injunctions prohibiting strikes and other labor protests. Violators were sentencedto prison. Peaceful protesters opposing U. S. entry into World War I were jailed for expressing their opinions. In the early 1920s, many states outlawed the display of red orblack flags, symbols of communism and anarchism. In 1923, author Upton Sinclair was arrested for trying to read the text of the First Amendment at a union rally. Many peoplewere arrested merely for membership in groups regarded as "radical" by the government. It was in response to the excesses of this period that the ACLU was founded in 1920.