Chapter

The Collision of Seditious Libel and Freedoms of Press and Speech in America’s Constitutional Period

Wendell Bird

in Press and Speech Under Assault

Published in print February 2016 | ISBN: 9780190461621
Published online March 2016 | e-ISBN: 9780190461980 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190461621.003.0003
The Collision of Seditious Libel and Freedoms of Press and Speech in America’s Constitutional Period

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Chapter 3 describes the collision in late eighteenth-century America between freedoms of press and speech and the crime of seditious libel. It discusses how the new states’ declarations of rights, as well as the First Amendment, were directed at overriding English common law that criminalized criticism of government and that constricted liberties of press and speech. It shows that neither Congress nor the Supreme Court justices supported the concept of a federal common law of crimes, such as seditious libel, before 1798 (with the lone exception of one justice in 1796), though half of the early Supreme Court justices adopted that concept after passage of the Sedition Act of 1798. The chapter traces the split of the early Supreme Court justices, and of the developing Federalist and Republican parties, to its source in two different versions of republicanism that particularly diverged on seven long-standing issues.

Keywords: seditious libel; common law; common law crimes; Federalist Party; freedom of press; freedom of speech

Chapter.  19914 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas ; Political History

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