Freedom of Speech: A Reference Guide to the United States Constitution

Freedom of Speech: A Reference Guide to the United States Constitution

Freedom of Speech: A Reference Guide to the United States Constitution

Freedom of Speech: A Reference Guide to the United States Constitution


Although freedom of speech is regarded as a bedrock principle of American constitutionalism, the Supreme Court did not recognize it as a fundamental right worthy of strong constitutional protection until the middle of the 20th century. This work focuses on the core doctrines that constitute free speech jurisprudence. It provides a historical evolution of the doctrine and examines the key Supreme Court decisions affecting it.

This volume gives readers an analytical framework for understanding free speech jurisprudence. It takes a fresh approach to free speech methodology by breaking it into two accessible parts: substantive doctrines and procedural doctrines. This work includes informative background chapters on the history and theory of free expression. It also looks at the Supreme Court's struggle with subversive advocacy and its importance in protecting free speech.


One can conceive of the United States Constitution in many ways. For example, noting the reverence in which it has been held, one can think of it as equivalent to a sacred text. Unfortunately, most of its devotees have had less knowledge and even less understanding of the document than they have had reverence for it. Sometimes it is treated as primarily a political document and on that basis has been subjected to analysis, such as Charles Beard's An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. One can plausibly argue that the Constitution seems most astounding when it is seen in the light of the intellectual effort that has been associated with it. Three brief but highly intense bursts of intellectual energy produced, and established as organic law, most of the Constitution as it now exists. Two of these efforts, sustained over a long period of time, have enabled us better to understand that document.

The first burst of energy occurred at the Constitutional Convention. Although some of the delegates' business, such as the struggle between populous and nonpopulous states about their representation in Congress, was political, much of it was about fundamental issues of political theory. A few of the delegates had or later achieved international eminence for their intellects. Among them were Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. Others, although less well known, had first-rate minds. That group includes George Mason and George Wythe. Many of the delegates contributed intelligently. Although the Convention's records are less than satisfactory, they indicate clearly enough that the delegates worked mightily to constitute not merely a polity but a rational polity—one that would rise to the standards envisioned by the delegates' intellectual ancestors. Their product, though brief, is amazing. William Gladstone called it “the most wonderful work ever struck off.”

Despite the delegates' eminence and the Constitution's excellence as seen from our place in history, its ratification was far from certain. That state of affairs necessitated . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.