Liberty’s First Crisis: Adams, Jefferson, and the Misfits Who Saved Free Speech, by Charles Slack. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2015, 34o pp, $26.00.
a review by Edd Doerr
Freedom of speech, press, assembly and petition, like religious freedom and church-state separation, were/are intended to be protected by the First Amendment to our Constitution. However, in 1798, less than a decade after the Bill of Rights was adopted, the Federalist controlled Congress and President John Adams enacted the Sedition Act, which was immediately used to prosecute/persecute the slightest printed or spoken utterance that annoyed the Federalist establishment. Even a sitting member of Congress, gutsy Mathew Lyon of Vermont, was subjected to a sort of Star Chamber trial and sent to prison while running for re-election, which he won big while behind bars. Public reaction to these alarming clampdowns on freedom of speech and press led to the crushing of the Federalists and John Adams in the 1800 elections and the rise of Jefferson and the “Republicans” ( or Democratic Republicans, not to be confused with today’s Republicans).
The whole story is beautifully laid out in Charles Slack’s terrific new book, a “five star” opus that you just can’t put down.
Posted by Gary Berg-Cross