2020 Princeton University Constitution Day Lecture: Freedom of Thought and the Struggle to End Slavery
Keith E. Whittington, Politics
September 15, 2020 · 4:30 pm—6:00 pm · Webinar
Program in American Studies
Freedom of speech was a work in progress in the United States in the 19th century. A right to freedom of speech was enshrined in American constitutions, but the scope of that freedom still not well understood. The freedom of Americans to think, speak, debate, publish and read was cherished as an important value and a critical lynchpin of a free and democratic society. As is so often the case, those cherished values were mostly left abstract and unexamined.
Courts were rarely called upon to give concrete meaning to these rights or to enforce them against hostile political majorities or government officials. American politicians and civic leaders took them for granted and rarely pondered what might be necessary to sustain them. The long fight to end slavery in America crucially depended on the availability of freedom of thought and helped move the boundaries of what the realization of freedom of thought was understood to require.