The Book

“Darkest Before Dawn makes an important contribution to the literature of the history of free speech in America. No future study of sedition laws could hope to be complete without drawing on this well researched and well written work. Clem Work has made his mark – and what a marvelous mark it is!”
– Ronald K.L. Collins, scholar, The First Amendment Center

“…a formidable piece of scholarship, a fine and readable history on the wax and wane of free speech.”
– New West

“…this book is a must-read.”
– Great Plains Quarterly

“Work offers a new way of thinking about a broader topic–sedition–and one in which new insights are provided. That, in my mind, is the essence of scholarship.”
– Charles Davis, executive director, Freedom of Information Center, Univ. of Missouri, Columbia

In Darkest Before Dawn, journalism scholar Clemens P. Work explains how happenings in Montana led to the first national recognition of the importance of free speech–a timely topic given war-time concerns and the square-off between individual freedoms and government intrusion.

In 1918, Montana passed a harsh sedition bill that punished anyone who criticized the government during wartime or incited resistance with a fine of up to $20,000 or twenty years in prison. This act pushed propaganda and patriotism to the forefront of the state media and local gossip circles. The climate of fear and hysteria brought on by war and emergency mandated Americans to be divided into two distinct groups: patriots and traitors.

Darkest Before Dawn chronicles Montana’s persecution of German “sympathizers” as U.S. patriotism was perverted amidst wartime fervor. Work employs the microcosm of Montana to show how freedom of speech can become endangered during war. By providing background on labor party organization in the U.S., illustrating the ever-growing gaps in the division of wealth, and scouring historical archives for case studies, Work provides readers with compelling stories of the victims of citizen hysteria and government repression.

Specifically, Darkest Before Dawn looks at the development of the Industrial Workers of the World and the group’s relationship with corporate powers like Anaconda Copper Mining Company, Montana’s largest–and most political–company. Work also explores the media’s approval of persecution of the dissenters, the plight of both citizens and news editors found guilty of sedition, and the ramifications of U.S. Supreme Court decisions like Whitney v. California.

Work hopes to shed light on a turbulent period that can teach us lessons about free speech today.

“By focusing on this darkest period in America’s history, it is my hope that certain truths may become self-evident: That freedom of expression is indeed the bulwark of our liberty, that its exercise is crucial to democratic self-governance and ultimately to the pursuit of happiness, and that we alone can preserve it,” Work writes. “By looking into this dark mirror, when our freedoms were under siege, we can see ourselves as we once were, and as we might become.”

Clemens P. Work is a professor of journalism at the University of Montana School of Journalism in Missoula. He received a B.A. from Stanford University in political science and international relations in 1966 and a J.D. from Golden Gate University in San Francisco in 1975. His journalism career includes ten years reporting for daily newspapers in California and Colorado, as well as nine years at U.S. News & World Report, where he was a senior editor writing on issues of deregulation, business, and global competition. Before going to U.S. News & World Report, he was assistant director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Washington, D.C.