Debating the Issues in Colonial Newspapers: Primary Documents on Events of the Period

By David A. Copeland | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Censorship, Printing Control, and Freedom of the Press, 1690

When an American hears the terms freedom of the press and freedom of speech, his or her thoughts turn immediately to the First Amendment, which reads, "Congress shall make no laws . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." Not all people, however, interpret of the First Amendment in the same way. Some people believe that because the amendment states "no laws," no constraints should be placed on media or the speech of anyone. Most people believe that the media's rights guaranteed by the First Amendment should be balanced with other rights enjoyed by Americans.

The concept of what media may print or broadcast is constantly undergoing revision. The ultimate decision of what receives protection under the First Amendment comes from rulings made by the U.S. Supreme Court. Any notion that we might have of what freedom of the press means for media today would have been unacceptable to almost all Americans living in the colonial period. Americans operated under British law, under which many kinds of speech were illegal, especially criticism of government. Most American colonists believed in freedom of speech and the press. Many of the settlers who colonized what would become the United States came here to escape religious persecution, and they talked and wrote of free speech in relation to their rights to publish religious material that supported their understanding of the Bible.

Dissension from the religious rules set up in America by groups such as the Puritans occurred in the colonies just as it did in England. Because of this criticism, England established laws that required printers to have

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