A Revolutionary Idea: The Birth of Freedom of Speech in America

A Revolutionary Idea: The Birth of Freedom of Speech in America

On Thursday, December 5, 2019, Stephen D. Solomon will join LancasterHistory to discuss how the founding generation created the freedom of speech. For event details and how to register, please scroll to the bottom of this page.

When members of the founding generation protested against British authority, debated separation, and then ratified the Constitution, they formed the American political character we know today—raucous, intemperate, and often mean-spirited. Stephen Solomon brings alive a world of colorful and stormy protests that included effigies, pamphlets, songs, sermons, cartoons, letters and liberty trees. Solomon explores through a series of chronological narratives how Americans of the Revolutionary period employed robust speech against the British and against each other. Uninhibited dissent provided a distinctly American meaning to the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech and press at a time when the legal doctrine inherited from England allowed prosecutions of those who criticized government.

Image of Stephen Soloman.

Solomon discovers the wellspring in our revolutionary past for today’s satirists like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann, and protests like flag burning and street demonstrations. From the inflammatory engravings of Paul Revere, the political theater of Alexander McDougall, the liberty tree protests of Ebenezer McIntosh and the oratory of Patrick Henry, Solomon shares the stories of the dissenters who created the American idea of the liberty of thought.

Stephen D. Solomon is Marjorie Deane Professor of Journalism at New York University. His latest book, Revolutionary Dissent: How the Founding Generation Created the Freedom of Speech, explores how the raucous political protest of the nation’s founding period gave meaning to the freedoms of speech and press at a time when it was a crime to criticize the government. It was named legal book of the year by the law blog Concurring Opinions. Solomon is currently working on a book that will tell the story of the birth of America’s Bill of Rights. He teaches First Amendment law and is the founding editor of NYU’s FirstAmendmentWatch.org, which provides news, commentary, and legal and historical context on current conflicts over freedom of expression.


A casual reception and book signing by the author will begin at 4pm on Thursday, December 5 at LancasterHistory, 230 N. President Ave., Lancaster. The main presentation will begin at 4:30pm in Ryder Hall.

The program is free and open to the public but requires advance registration to guarantee a seat at the presentation. Register online by clicking “Buy Tickets” below or by calling (717) 392-4633. Questions and accessibility requests may be directed to info@lancasterhistory.org or (717) 392-4633. Ticketholders should bring a paper printout of their tickets or be able to display their tickets on a cellphone or other internet-enabled device to check-in to the lecture.

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Book Signing Lecture Reception

December 5, 2019 Ryder Hall at LancasterHistory, 230 N. President Avenue Reception & Book Signing 4pm | Presentation 4:30pm FREE | Registration Required To Guarantee Seat