The Smith Act
The official name of the Smith Act was the Alien Registration Act of 1940. As well as punishing what was in effect "thought crime," it required adult residents of the
Here is the section as amended in 1956 that provides penalties for "Advocating Overthrow of Government":
"Whoever knowingly or willfully advocates, abets, advises, or teaches the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States or the government of any State, Territory, District or Possession thereof, or the government of any political subdivision therein, by force or violence, or by the assassination of any officer of any such government; or
"Whoever, with intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of any such government, prints, publishes, edits, issues, circulates, sells, distributes, or publicly displays any written or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence, or attempts to do so; or
"Whoever organizes or helps or attempts to organize any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of any such government by force or violence; or becomes or is a member of, or affiliates with, any such society, group, or assembly of persons, knowing the purposes thereof--
"Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction.
"If two or more persons conspire to commit any offense named in this section, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction.
"As used in this section, the terms "organizes" and "organize", with respect to any society, group, or assembly of persons, include the recruiting of new members, the forming of new units, and the regrouping or expansion of existing clubs, classes, and other units of such society, group, or assembly of persons."
After 11 leading Communist Party leaders were convicted of conspiring to organize the Communist Party and to teach the principles of Marxism-Leninism, similar charges were brought against more than 150 other radicals, trade union organizers and Communist Party leaders.
In 1957, the Supreme Court put the brake on these prosecutions when, in the case of Yates v. United States, it drew a distinction between teaching ideas as abstract concepts (which was protected by the First Amendment) and for the purposes of inciting the overthrow of the government (which was not). Simple advocacy of unpopular ideas was no longer a criminal act.