History Speaks

Defending The First Amendment Through Time

Defending The First Amendment Through Time

In History Speaks, we explore the defense of our First Amendment freedoms through historical documents and precedent setting writing including letters, essays and legal opinions. Click through to see all 12 of the excerpted pieces so far.

February 2, 2018 History Speaks
History Speaks: Madison-Jefferson Letters on Advisability of a Bill of Rights, 1787-1789

History Speaks: Madison-Jefferson Letters on Advisability of a Bill of Rights, 1787-1789

The Constitution had been written and signed by the time that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison engaged in a fascinating correspondence about a bill of rights. Much of the opposition to ratification had centered around the failure of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia to include a bill of rights in the original document. In many of the states, ratification came[Read More…]

February 2, 2018 History Speaks
John Stuart Mill

History Speaks: John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1869

John Stuart Mill (1807-1873) wrote what has become one of the most compelling defenses of freedom of speech. In his essay, On Liberty, Mill argues that government has no right to limit the freedom of thought. He reasons that even a dissenting opinion held by a single individual has great value to society because it may turn out to be[Read More…]

January 31, 2018 History Speaks, Speech
Letter from the Federal Farmer, Poughkeepsie Country Journal. Copyright © 2018 Newspapers.com. All Rights Reserved.

History Speaks: Federal Farmer Number 16, 1788

Letters from the Federal Farmer was a series of 18 articles published in the Poughkeepsie Country Journal in late 1787 and early 1788. The articles provided a broad articulation of the Anti-Federalist criticism of the proposed Constitution. In Number 16, the Federal Farmer addressed freedom of the press. The Federalists argued that a bill of rights was not needed, in[Read More…]

January 29, 2018 History Speaks, Press
History Speaks: Brandeis Concurring With Holmes in Whitney v. California, 1927

History Speaks: Brandeis Concurring With Holmes in Whitney v. California, 1927

Justice Louis Brandeis articulated the American idea of freedom of speech many decades before the Supreme Court began expanding the rights of expression under the First Amendment. Some of his ideas have become critical justifications for safeguarding freedom of speech even under the most challenging conditions. He tied the values of freedom of expression to the beliefs and actions of[Read More…]

January 27, 2018 History Speaks, Speech
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. changed course after his enunciation of a restrictive clear and present danger test that made it easy to punish political dissen

History Speaks: Holmes Dissenting in Abrams v. United States, 1919

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes built his support for freedom speech atop the sturdy foundation of the marketplace of ideas, supported long before by John Milton (Areopagitica) and John Stuart Mill (On Liberty). Holmes argued that “the theory of our Constitution” is that “the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas.” He expressed his position in the[Read More…]

January 26, 2018 History Speaks
James Madison

History Speaks: James Madison’s Report to the Virginia House of Delegates, 1800

James Madison, author of the First Amendment, wrote what is surely the most powerful defense of freedom of the press in America. He did it in protest against the Sedition Act of 1798, enacted just seven years after ratification of the First Amendment. At a time when the United States and France were on the verge of war, Congress passed[Read More…]

January 25, 2018 History Speaks
History Speaks: Junius Wilkes on Protections Even for “False and Groundless” Reports

History Speaks: Junius Wilkes on Protections Even for “False and Groundless” Reports

A writer who took the name Junius Wilkes made a critical contribution to the discussion of press freedom even as the Revolutionary War neared conclusion. Writing in The Independent Gazetteer (Philadelphia) in 1782, Wilkes said that citizens are sovereign and therefore powerful, and “should have a right to examine and lay before the world such proceedings of power, as appear[Read More…]

January 18, 2018 History Speaks, Libel
History Speaks: Father of Candor Anticipated New York Times v. Sullivan Over 250 Years Ago

History Speaks: Father of Candor Anticipated New York Times v. Sullivan Over 250 Years Ago

Father of Candor launched one of the most far-reaching attacks on seditious libel, the criminal action that was used to suppress dissenting political speech. Seditious libel originated in a statute passed by English King Edward I’s Parliament in 1275 that prohibited “any false news or tales whereby discord . . . may grow between the king and his people.” Falsity was[Read More…]

January 6, 2018 History Speaks
History Speaks: Cincinnatus to James Wilson, 1787

History Speaks: Cincinnatus to James Wilson, 1787

Cincinnatus (No. 2) to James Wilson 8 November 1787 After the Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787, the first delegate to speak in its defense was James Wilson of Pennsylvania. On October 6, Wilson addressed a large crowd in the Pennsylvania State House yard to address criticisms of the Constitution. One of the strongest criticisms was that the Constitution lacked[Read More…]

January 6, 2018 History Speaks