Trading Money for Silence

17 Pages Posted: 22 Jul 2011

See all articles by Walter E. Block

Walter E. Block

Loyola University New Orleans - Joseph A. Butt, S.J. College of Business

Date Written: July 19, 2011


When the term "blackmail" was first used in 1722, it had a specific and exact meaning. Its legal meaning was precise; it prohibited actions which were clearly at variance with the most basic and cherished of all human rights-the right to remain unmolested in one's person and property.

The Waltham Black Act of 1722 was passed as the result of the depredations of a gang of deer thieves called the Waltham Blacks, operating near the town of Waltham, England, who blackened their faces. Moreover, this gang undertook the quaint practice of sending letters "demanding venison and money, and threatening some great violence, if such their unlawful demand should be refused." Hence the term "blackmail." This law was clearly meant to punish demands for a victim's money or wealth coupled with threats to inflict violence on person or property.

If the law prohibiting blackmail began with a dear and limited mandate, it was soon expanded through judicial determinations and legislative enactments. The law of blackmail began proscribing threats to do that which one would otherwise have a full and complete right to do-such as to publicize true information about another.

Suggested Citation

Block, Walter E., Trading Money for Silence (July 19, 2011). University of Hawaii Law Review, Vol. 8, 1986. Available at SSRN:

Walter E. Block (Contact Author)

Loyola University New Orleans - Joseph A. Butt, S.J. College of Business ( email )

6363 St. Charles Avenue
Box 15, Miller 321
New Orleans, LA 70118
United States
(504) 864-7944 (Phone)
(504) 864-7970 (Fax)

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