Free Speech In Its Forgotten Years


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By David M. Rabban
Cambridge University Press

Freedom of speech is a central tenet of the American way of life that is tested and fought over seemingly every day. Curiously, people who follow and study free speech issues assume that controversies and litigation about free speech began abruptly during World War I. The surprising research in this original book reveals that this conventional view is incorrect, and that the previously unknown history of free speech between the Civil War and World War I is rich and varied. For instance, the author shows that important free speech controversies, often involving the activities of sex reformers and labor unions, preceded the Espionage Act of 1917. A significant organization, the Free Speech League, became a principled defender of free expression two decades before the establishment of the ACLU in 1920. Free Speech in Its Forgotten Years uncovers a major episode in the history of American liberal thought. Furthermore, it sheds light on key current debates about “rights talk” and about the complicated historical enterprise of studying ideas over time. It should be of interest to people who follow free speech and civil liberties issues as well as people involved in women’s and labor history.

Free Speech in Its Forgotten Years fundamentally revises our understanding of the history of free speech in America between the 1870s and World War I. Rabban skillfully recovers libertarian and antilibertarian attitudes toward speech that a long tradition of twentieth-century commentary has ignored.” – G. Edward White, University Professor and John B. Minor Professor of Law and History, University of Virginia

“Future scholarship on the First Amendment will henceforth begin with this exceptional book. Rabban wholly reorients free speech history with newly mined facts and sharp insights about two lost generations of scholars, activists, and their fierce struggles.” – Norman Dorsen, Stokes Professor of Law, New York University, and President, ACLU, 1976-1991

Additional information

Weight 24.2 oz
Dimensions 9.25 × 6.25 × 1.25 in


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