Revolutionary Dissent: How the Founding Generation Created the Freedom of Speech
Stephen D. Solomon
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When members of the founding generation protested against British authority, debated separation, and then ratified the Constitution, they formed the American political character we know today-raucous, intemperate, and often mean-spirited. Revolutionary Dissent brings alive a world of colorful and stormy protests that included effigies, pamphlets, songs, sermons, cartoons, letters and liberty trees. Solomon explores through a series of chronological narratives how Americans of the Revolutionary period employed robust speech against the British and against each other. Uninhibited dissent provided a distinctly American meaning to the First Amendment's guarantees of freedom of speech and press at a time when the legal doctrine inherited from England allowed prosecutions of those who criticized government.
Solomon discovers the wellspring in our revolutionary past for today's satirists like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann, and protests like flag burning and street demonstrations. From the inflammatory engravings of Paul Revere, the political theater of Alexander McDougall, the liberty tree protests of Ebenezer McIntosh and the oratory of Patrick Henry, Solomon shares the stories of the dissenters who created the American idea of the liberty of thought. This is truly a revelatory work on the history of free expression in America.
clearly disagreed with the Federalists who passed the Sedition Act of 1798 in the belief that dissent could undermine government. Instead, Brandeis argued that “the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government.” The founders understood that it is “hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces
100–105. 72. ”Jefferson’s Recollections of Patrick Henry,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History 34, no. 4 (1910): 389, 400; Francis Bernard to Thomas Pownall, 20 July 1765, in Papers of Francis Bernard, 2:296, note 3. 73. Morgan and Morgan, Stamp Act Crisis, 102. 74. Newport Mercury, 24 June 1765. 75. Boston Gazette, 1 July 1765. 76. Virginia Gazette, 30 August 1765; article also published in Maryland Gazette, 3 October 1765. 77. Francis Bernard to John Pownall, 20
283–84 Chase, Thomas, 96 Circular Letter, 154–55, 159, 164, 194 Clinton, George, 148 Cobbett, William, 271, 280, 282 Coercive Acts, 202 Coke, Edward, 100, 184, 196 Colden, Cadwallader, 31, 34–35, 75, 79, 112, 123–24, 126, 128–29, 131, 135, 139, 142–43 Commentaries on the Laws of England (Blackstone), 3, 100, 190, 275 Constitutional Convention, 213, 217, 219–20, 223, 230–31, 233, 236, 238, 241–42, 246, 249, 261, 268 Constitutional Courant
noon, McIntosh and Swift each brought their groups to King Street, along with horse-drawn stages carrying effigies of the pope, the devil, and the stamp distributors. With the people that joined them there, it made for a gathering of several thousand people, according to the Boston Gazette. After a ceremonial union of the two groups and three resounding huzzahs, McIntosh led his South group through the North section of town, and Swift took his North group through the South section before they
cartoonist of the age, showed time and again with engravings that confronted the major issues of his time such as economic and political corruption, poverty, prostitution, and waste.13 Hogarth created one of his most famous works, The South Sea Scheme, in 1721, shortly after a financial collapse in Britain brought ruin to many investors. Rampant speculation in the stock of the South Sea Company drove its share price into the stratosphere, only for it to collapse suddenly amid a financial and