Press and Speech Freedoms in America, 1619-1995: A Chronology

Article excerpt

Ingelhart, Louis Edward (1997). Press and Speech Freedoms in America, 1619-1995: A Chronology. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. 384 pp. Hardback, $75.

Louis Ingelhart has not written a narrative history of First Amendment freedoms, but those who try to write one may want to have a copy of this work at hand.

Ingelhart has compiled many of the major events in the history of freedom of speech and the press (and religion) in America along with what people have said about those freedoms. He presents those events and quotations in roughly chronological order.

The work provides a useful tool for identifying major developments in any period. When examined whole, Ingelhart's work also gives one a sense that Americans have struggled constantly to define First Amendment freedoms. One may imagine the history of the First Amendment as a constant progression toward more and more freedom, but Ingelhart's chronology suggests otherwise. Each era has confronted challenges to freedom of expression. What has changed has been the focus of the challenge, shifting among such issues as sedition, libel, obscenity, and freedom of information.

While Press and Speech Freedoms in America should be a useful reference work, the researcher should also beware: The book is difficult to use and, at times, wrong.

The organization is awkward. Events are listed by the year in which they occurred, but within each year, items are organized alphabetically. This leads to instances where one item summarizes someone's response to an event that is described later. For instance, under 1798, Ingelhart quotes the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions objecting to the Sedition Act; a page later, he reports that Congress passed the act. The user must also remember that Ingelhart treats Supreme Court decisions in a separate chapter. (Lower court actions he omits altogether.)

Another difficulty is that some of the entries have no source. Ingelhart offers the tantalizing tidbit that an organization called the Legion of Justice, in cooperation with the CIA, the Chicago Police Red Squad. …