Where does our country's deep commitment to free speech come from? It's not simply a slew of decisions by our Supreme Court starting around 1919 (before that date the First Amendment was not once invoked in a Supreme Court ruling). It also predates the ratification of the First Amendment in 1791, when the Bill of Rights was adopted and quickly put to a severe test with the Sedition Act that outlawed certain types of political speech.
Stephen Solomon researched the wide range of political speech before the adoption of our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. He chronicles years of robust and often controversial speech, filled with political attacks, the display of effigies, pamphlets and broadsides that led finally to the constitutional conventions. I asked him about this moment in American history and how best to understand the nation's commitment to free speech as it was forged by the founders. Stephen Solomon is Associate Director of the Arthur Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and the Director of the M.A. Program in Business and Economics. He is the author of Revolutionary Dissent: How the Founding Generation Created the Freedom of Speech and the founding director of the First Amendment Watch website.