Frohwerk v. United States Case Brief

Why is the case important?

The Petitioner, Frohwerk (Petitioner), was convicted of attempting to cause disloyalty, mutiny and refusal of duty in the military of the Respondent, the United States (Respondent).

Facts of the case

Jacob Frohwerk circulated a German-language newspaper called the Missouri Staats Zeitung, which published articles criticizing the US involvement in World War I. Frohwerk was charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917 because the government believed he sought to cause disloyalty and refusal of duty. A trial court found Frohwerk guilty and sentenced him to a fine and imprisonment. On appeal, Frohwerk challenged the statute under the  First Amendment.

Question

Are Petitioner’s First Amendment constitutional rights violated by this conviction?

Answer

No. It is possible that this paper was read by those in military service or subject to service who would react by opposing the war efforts.

Conclusion

The Court held that the First Amendment did not protect every kind of speech. On the record, it could have been found that the circulation of the paper was in quarters where a little breath would be enough to kindle a flame, and that such fact was known and relied upon by those who sent the paper out. A conspiracy to obstruct recruiting was criminal even if no means were agreed upon specifically by which to accomplish the intent. It was enough if the parties agreed to set to work for that common purpose. The overt acts were alleged to have been done to effect the object of the conspiracy and that was sufficient under § 4 of the Act.

  • Case Brief: 1919
  • Petitioner: Jacob Frohwerk
  • Respondent: United States
  • Decided by: White Court

Citation: 249 US 204 (1919)
Argued: Jan 27, 1919
Decided: Mar 10, 1919