The First Amendment of the United States Constitution was adopted as part of the Bill of Rights in 1791. This “great bulwark of liberty” provides:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
In this conversation with NYU professor Stephen Solomon, we explore the origins and drafting history of the First Amendment, including:
- The inspiration from early state constitutions and declarations in Virginia and Pennsylvania
- The Articles of Confederation
- The fierce debate surrounding the Constitutional Convention and ratification process
- How Federalists and Anti-Federalists clashed over the necessity of a bill of rights
- How some Federalists used the heckler’s veto to silence Anti-Federalists
- James Madison’s first draft of the Bill of Rights, and why Madison thought the American conception of freedom of speech differed substantially from the British conception
- Whether freedom of speech is really “the first freedom”
- What were the essential justifications for freedom of speech envisaged by the Founders
- Whether the Founders would agree with 21st century standards of free speech as developed by the United States Supreme Court
Why have kings, emperors, and governments killed and imprisoned people to shut them up? And why have countless people risked death and imprisonment to express their beliefs? Jacob Mchangama guides you through the history of free speech from the trial of Socrates to the Great Firewall.