Freedom of Speech I
THE POLITICS OF LAW, David Kairys, ed., Pantheon, 1982
34 Pages Posted: 24 May 2005
Despite the persistent but nonspecific references to our traditions in U.S. legal and popular literature and scholarship, and the tendency in the nation's popular culture to claim free speech as the founding principle of the U.S., the free speech rights to which we in the U.S. have become accustomed did not exist until a transformation of the law governing speech in the period from about 1919 to 1940. The primary periods of stringent enforcement and enlargement of speech rights by the courts, the 1930s and the 1960s, correspond to periods in which popular movements effectively demanded such rights. This book chapter, looking beyond legal reasoning and legal doctrine, traces the history of free speech in the U.S. from the adoption of the Constitution in 1791 to the establishment of legal rights to free speech as we know them in the late 1930s, in which the labor and union movement played a leading role. The periods of retrenchment (including the 1950s) and enhancement thereafter follow a similar pattern. Concluding sections consider the exaggerated contemporary scope of speech rights and the uses of a distorted, exaggerated history and notion of free speech in politics and popular culture.
Keywords: Free speech, constitutional law, civil rights, labor, labor history, history of free speech
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