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Other titles in the Constitutional Conflicts series:
Free Speech, "The People's Darling Privilege": Battles for Freedom of Expression in American History (Constitutional Conflicts)by Michael Kent Curtis
Synopses & Reviews
Modern ideas about the protection of free speech in the United States did not originate in twentieth-century Supreme Court cases, as many have thought. Free Speech, “The People’s Darling Privilege” refutes this misconception by examining popular struggles for free speech that stretch back through American history. Michael Kent Curtis focuses on struggles in which ordinary and extraordinary people, men and women, black and white, demanded and fought for freedom of speech during the period from 1791—when the Bill of Rights and its First Amendment bound only the federal government to protect free expression—to 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment sought to extend this mandate to the states. A review chapter is also included to bring the story up to date.
Curtis analyzes three crucial political struggles: the controversy that surrounded the 1798 Sedition Act, which raised the question of whether criticism of elected officials would be protected speech; the battle against slavery, which raised the question of whether Americans would be free to criticize a great moral, social, and political evil; and the controversy over anti-war speech during the Civil War. Many speech issues raised by these controversies were ultimately decided outside the judicial arena—in Congress, in state legislatures, and, perhaps most importantly, in public discussion and debate. Curtis maintains that modern proposals for changing free speech doctrine can usefully be examined in the light of this often ignored history. This broader history shows the crucial effect that politicians, activists, ordinary citizens—and later the courts—have had on the American understanding of free speech.
Filling a gap in legal history, this enlightening, richly researched historical investigation will be valuable for students and scholars of law, U.S. history, and political science, as well as for general readers interested in civil liberties and free speech.
Considers key struggles for free speech in early U.S. history, most of which were settled outside the judicial arena by legislatures following public opinion.
About the Author
“Curtis fills in a missing piece of our social history—the social history of political dissent and of agitative speech during nearly six decades, culminating in the Civil War and the adoption of the three Reconstruction Amendments.”—William W. Van Alstyne, Duke University School of Law
“Michael Kent Curtis's first book, No State Shall Abridge, was one of the most important and most impressive works of constitutional scholarship of the late twentieth century. This second book is a worthy successor, building on a decade of painstaking scholarship and filled with fascinating tales and keen insights. Until Curtis came along, many of the most important chapters in the story of American free expression had been all but lost. Now, thanks to Curtis, they are found—and what a find it is! No law professor I know handles constitutional history better than Curtis—he is a national treasure.”—Akhil Reed Amar, author of The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction
“This book is a major contribution to scholarship on the history of free speech in the United States from 1800 through the Civil War.”—David Rabban, University of Texas School of Law
“This engrossing book recounts a series of remarkable stories about our country's hard-fought battles for freedom of expression. Taken together, these often-inspiring tales show how our current reverence for free speech evolved and emerged painfully through Americans' bitter and sometimes bloody experience. Free Speech: ‘The People's Darling Privilege’ is a must-read for everyone who cares about the First Amendment.”—Nadine Strossen, President, American Civil Liberties Union and Professor, New York Law School
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