Political and Civil Rights in the United States

By Thomas I. Emerson; David Haber | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
FREEDOM OF SPEECH: RIGHT OF POLITICAL ORGANIZATION AND POLITICAL EXPRESSION

A. THE TRADITION

MILTON -- AREOPAGITICA A Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing, To the Parliament of England ( 1644) Everyman's Library, pp. 23-38 ( 1927)

[ Milton's speech was directed against an order of Parliament of June 14, 1643, which among other things provided that no book "shall from henceforth be printed or put to sale, unless the same be first approved of and licensed by such person or persons as both or either of the said Houses (of Parliament) shall appoint for the licensing of the same." After discussing the history of licensing, the values of reading, the ineffectiveness of the order to suppress scandalous, seditious or libellous books, and the inhibitions it places upon scholars and writers, Milton goes on to consider the effect of the licensing system upon the growth and development of the country as a whole.]

And as it is a particular disesteem of every knowing person alive, and most injurious to the written labours and monuments of the dead, so to me it seems an undervaluing and vilifying of the whole Nation. I cannot set so light by all the invention, the art, the wit, the grave and solid judgment which is in England, as that it can be comprehended in any twenty capacities how good soever, much less that it should not pass except their superintendence be over it, except it be sifted and strained with their strainers, that it should be uncurrent without their manual stamp. Truth and understanding are not such wares as to be monopolised and traded in by tickets and statutes and standards. We must not think to make a staple commodity of all the knowledge in the land, to mark and licence it like our broadcloth and our woolpacks. What is it but a servitude like that imposed by the Philistines, not to be allowed the sharpening of our own axes and coulters, but we must repair from all quarters to twenty licensing forges? Had anyone written and divulged erroneous things and scandalous to honest life, misusing and forfeiting the esteem had of his reason among men, if after conviction this only censure were adjudged him that he should never henceforth

-347-

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