This article explores how ordinary Americans thought about law during WWI by examining 119 letters to Congress regarding charges under the Espionage Act. These letters are a product of their time and shed new light on our understanding of the First Red Scare. This lens of legal consciousness explains how people remain within established modes of engagement, rather than either withdrawing or becoming violent, as is found in the extant literature. Despite opposing goals, the letter writers’ shared master frame enabled them to “speak to” the other side, rather than “past” those with opposing views. This article explains how individuals who opposed and supported seating Berger rallied under the same master frame of Americanism. Yet, the two groups displayed strikingly different legal consciousness. These disparate groups not only conceptualized the law itself differently, but engaged the law as a tool for different agendas. At a time when violence was on the rise, these people eschewed violent means and maintained the most conventional, peaceful means of protest: letter writing. How did they managed this was by embracing the law as their key, nonviolent tool.


This is the author-accepted manuscript of Hoffman, EA. (2024) "Letter Writing and Legal Consciousness during World War I." American Journal of Legal History. Copyright Oxford Press, the version of record is available at DOI: 10.1093/ajlh/njae003.

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