The Evolution of the First Amendment

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- The Evolution of the First Amendment

The first amendment states, 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.(encyclopedia)

The inhabitants of the North American colonies did not have a legal right to express opposition to the British government that ruled them. Nonetheless, throughout the late 1700s, these early Americans did voice their discontent with the crown. For example they strongly denounced the British parliament's enactment of a series of tax levies to pay off a large national debt that England incurred in its Seven Years War with France. In newspaper articles, pamphlets and through boycotts, the colonists raised what would become their battle cry: 'No taxation without representation!' And in 1773, the people of the Massachusetts Bay Colony demonstrated their outrage at the tax on tea in a dramatic act of civil disobedience, the Boston Tea Party.(Eldridge,15)

The stage was set for the birth of the First Amendment, which formally recognized the natural and inalienable rights of Americans to think and speak freely. The first Amendments early years were not entirely auspicious. Although the early Americans enjoyed great freedom compared to citizens of other nations, even the Constitution's framer once in power, could resist the string temptation to circumvent the First Amendment's clear mandate. Before the 1930s, we had no legally protected rights of free speech in anything like the form we now know it. Critics of the government or government officials, called seditious libel, was oftenly made a crime. Every state had a seditious libel law when the Constitution was adopted. And within the decade of the adoption of the First...