HELENA, Mont, May 4 (Reuters) Before a packed crowd in the state Capitol, Gov. Brian Schweitzer signed pardons to clear the names posthumously of 78 Montanans convicted of sedition during World War One.
The 78 people -- all but three were men -- were arrested and convicted of violating a restrictive state Sedition Act for criticizing the U.S. role in World War One or for refusing to buy war bonds.
Some of the people, many of whom were immigrants, expressed support for Germany in the war.
Critics, including Democrat Schweitzer, said those laws trampled the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution.
''Across this country it was a time in which we had lost our minds,'' the governor said yesterday. ''So today in Montana, we will attempt to make it right. In Montana, we will say to an entire generation of people, we are sorry. And we challenge the rest of the country to do the same.'' Montana passed the Sedition Act in 1918 amid an anti-German fervor, and it became the model for the Federal Sedition Act of 1918. The Montana Legislature created the Montana Council of Defense, which banned the use of the German language, even in church pulpits, and barred a number of books about Germany.
About 50 relatives of eight of the men convicted traveled to Helena for the ceremony. As each person's name was read, family members approached the governor. Schweitzer signed their ancestor's pardon and handed it to them.
''It's not the American way for neighbor to spy on neighbors,'' Schweitzer said. ''And today, we ask that we never forget the mistakes that we've made so that we don't make them again.'' ''For those of who are to honor your ancestors, I say to you, they were patriots,'' Schweitzer concluded as the crowd rose to applaud.
ONE IMMIGRANT BACKED GERMANY One of those imprisoned for 28 months was Herman Bausch, a German immigrant and farmer, who was convicted of sedition for his comments made when he refused to buy Liberty Bonds or help the Red Cross.
''I don't care anything for the Red, White and Blue,'' he was suspected of saying, and added, ''I would rather see Germany win than France (or) England.'' His daughter, Farida ''Fritzi'' Briner of Tahoe City, California was on hand to see her late father pardoned. ''It was very exhilarating,'' Briner said. ''It's a bright and shining day for all of us.'' As a child, Briner said she sensed ''something dreadful had happened'' in her family's history. Finally, her mother told her the details, although her father did not broach the subject.
A book, ''Darkest Before Dawn,'' published last fall by Clemens Work, a University of Montana journalism professor launched the effort to clear the names of those convicted of sedition in Montana.
REUTERS DH RK0800