Theodore Schroeder and the Pre-1919 Defenses of Free Speech: The Case for Freedom of Sexual Expression

31 Pages Posted: 12 May 2013

See all articles by Ronald K. L. Collins

Ronald K. L. Collins

University of Washington - School of Law

Date Written: May 5, 2013


The modern First Amendment began with a turn of the clock, on a Monday on March 13, 1919, the moment of the release of Justice Holmes’s seminal opinion in Schenck v. United States. At that pinpoint in time, First Amendment history was reconfigured and the liberty-denying past gradually began to fade away in the years and opinions that followed. Holmes laid his claim to the conceptual turf and what followed is what we call modernity. True, Learned Hand had his moment, too, in 1917 with his district court opinion in Masses Publishing Co. v. Patten. But that opinion, for all its insights, took on meaning primarily as a comparative point to the work of the Great Holmes. And then there is the work of Zechariah Chafee, the scholar who lent his own measure of staying power to the Holmesian notion of free speech law. Before these three Harvard men, however, there was Utah born man who came onto the First Amendment scene, a man far less credentialed and polished, a University of Wisconsin Law School trained lawyer who championed a libertarian creed and contested the will of a very powerful man, Anthony Comstock. That radical lawyer, whose name and work have largely remained cabined in the confines of forgotten history, was Theodore A. Schroeder. Like Holmes, he too had a vision of free speech law. What follows is the first of a series of articles that introduces the reader to Schroeder and his many works concerning free expression. Those works first took root not in political speech, but in area of freedom far more important to the progressives of his day – sexual expression. We come to his story thirteen years before Holmes’s glorious moment in 1919, on an occasion when Messrs. Schroeder and Comstock were to debate the topic of sexual expression. Several months later, Theodore Schroeder published an article in the Albany Law Journal (“The Constitution and Obscenity Postal Laws”), which is the main focus of this article. Drawing on a measure of history and analysis, the aim is to provide the reader with an idea of how Schroeder conceptualized his vision of free speech freedom.

Keywords: Free Speech, First Amendment, constitutional law, obscenity

Suggested Citation

Collins, Ronald K. L., Theodore Schroeder and the Pre-1919 Defenses of Free Speech: The Case for Freedom of Sexual Expression (May 5, 2013). University of Washington School of Law Research Paper No. 2013-16. Available at SSRN: or

Ronald K. L. Collins (Contact Author)

University of Washington - School of Law ( email )

William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98105-3020
United States

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics