Free Speech & Political Dissent

Just how “free” is free speech? Throughout American history, this question has been tested when  individuals’ words have instigated broader reactions to the U.S. government. What follows are three videos on political dissent in American history from different time periods. Each video illuminates a moment in time when a historical flashpoint on free speech and political dissent was put to the test.

The Sedition Act of 1918

Emma Goldman

Pro-Abolitionist Gag Orders

From the archives

Primary Sources

Further Reading

Contributing Scholars:

Barbara Krauthamer, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, is an eminent historian of slavery and emancipation in the 19th century American South, a devoted mentor, and an innovative leader. Barbara is widely recognized as a leading historian of African American slavery and emancipation in the United States.

Claire Potter is a professor of history at The New School for Social Research and co-executive editor of Public Seminar, a digital magazine of politics and culture based at The New School. Her main research and teaching areas are in United States political history after 1970, the history of gender and sexuality, mass culture, media and internet studies.

Geoffrey R. Stone is the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. Stone is a noted First Amendment scholar, the author of many books on constitutional law, and has written amicus briefs for constitutional scholars in a number of Supreme Court cases.