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Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from The Sedition Act of 1798 to…

by Geoffrey R. Stone

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    Lincoln's Constitution by Daniel A. Farber (KingRat)
    KingRat: Lincoln's Constitution covers similar ground as Perilous Times, but limits itself to the Civil War years. It also covers secession and the use of force, which aren't first amendment issues.
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The very best book about the First Amendment and free speech in America since the Constitution I've ever read. I recommend it often, and tell my students about it every semester since it came out. ( )
1 vote ValSmith | Aug 17, 2008 |
I have only one criticism of this book, which was extremely informative and thought-provoking in it’s entirety. And by thought provoking, I do not mean Stone confirms my civil libertarian tendencies. Quite the opposite in fact. After reading the book, I can understand the legal logic that justifies these restrictions, even if I completely disagree with the need to subdue dissent during wartime except in extremely narrow circumstances (e.g., revealing troop movements). My one criticism has to do with the formatting. Stone uses extensive footnotes and endnotes. I’m a habitual footnote reader, particularly when both endnotes and footnotes are used in the same work. If it appears in a footnote, it’s probably interesting to read. Most of the footnotes here were. But the asterisk marking most of them never stood out well enough for me to notice it. So I’d get to the bottom of the page with the footnote, and then need to rescan the page looking for the text to which the footnote related. Really really annoying.

(Full review at my blog) ( )
  KingRat | Jun 17, 2008 |
One Person’s Villain is Another’s Hero
War excites passions.

The nation itself may find itself in peril; thousands, perhaps millions of lives are at risk. It is often thought that dissent during wartime is tantamount to being disloyal. This view puzzles libertarians. They view it as patriotism's highest manifestation.

During wartime, the line between dissent and disloyalty is cloudy. The First Amendment, prohibiting Congress from enacting any law abridging freedom of speech, is put to the test.

Some judges and legal scholars reason the First Amendment is essential to self-government. They argue the First Amendment promotes character traits that are essential to a robust democracy: skepticism, personal responsibility, curiosity, distrust of authority and independent thinking.

“The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market,” wrote one of my favorite Supreme Court justices, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Geoffrey Stone, the former dean of law provost at the University of Chicago, identifies six periods of widespread free-speech repression, dating back to the administration of the nation's second president, John Adams, and continuing through the Vietnam era. He identifies three principals that shape the Supreme Court’s understanding of the First Amendment.

1. No government paternalism in the realm of political discourse.
2. Punish the actor, not the speaker.
3. Differentiate between low- and high-value speech.

This is a book about Americans struggling with the responsibilities of self-government during times of war. It is about the presidents who struggled balancing liberty and security. It is about the justices of the Supreme Court who attempted to define the difference. More importantly, it is about those individuals who had the courage to dissent during perilous times. Some were fools; others were villains; some were individuals of great moral courage.

Geoffrey Stone has written a timely masterpiece about individual Americans who struggled to preserve our liberties. ( )
  PointedPundit | Mar 25, 2008 |
4158 Perilous Times Free Speech in Wartime From the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism, by Geoffrey R. Stone (read 30 Apr 2006) This is a fantastically interesting book, published in 2004, which relates the interaction between the free speech right in the First Amendment and six periods in American history: 1798, the Civil War, World War One, World War Two, the Cold War, and Vietnam--and touches briefly on the present time. It is superbly researched, and I found it an intellectual feast filled with fascinating and super-interesting legal and free speech history. ( )
  Schmerguls | Oct 22, 2007 |
our constituional right to free speech has been infriged upon since the very beginning. if you want to resist the Patriot Act, you need to understand First Amendment history. ( )
  beau.p.laurence | Jul 23, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393327450, Paperback)

By Geoffrey R. Stone's estimate, America has lived up to the ideals encapsulated in the First Amendment about 80 percent of the time over the course of its history. Perilous Times's focuses is on the remaining 20 percent, when, during war or civil strife, the better instincts of the public and its leaders have been drowned out by a certain kind of repressive hysteria. Stone, the former dean of law provost at the University of Chicago, identifies six periods of widespread free-speech repression, dating back to the administration of the nation's second president, John Adams, and continuing through the Vietnam era. In between, two of history's greatest presidents, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, were involved in constitutionally questionable efforts to suppress dissent.

Stone examines these pivotal episodes with a lawyer's attention to detail and precedence and a writer's focus on character and story structure. From Adams's secretary of state, the "grim-faced and single-minded" Timothy Pickering (who scanned the papers daily looking for seditious language) through John Ashcroft on one side, and the cheeky late-18th-century congressman Matthew Lyon and the Yippies of the 1960s on the other, there are plenty of characters enlivening these pages. Given its publication during the War on Terror, Stone's work feels particularly timely and vital. He devotes only a few pages to the post-9/11 environment, crediting George W. Bush for his refusal to scapegoat Muslims in the immediate aftermath of the attack, but castigating his administration for "opportunistic and excessive" actions centering around the Patriot Act. One wonders if Stone will some day be forced to update Perilous Times with a full chapter on the early 21st century. --Steven Stolder

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:53 -0400)

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