FAN 123 (First Amendment News) When you think of free speech, think of “45” — New book by Stephen Solomon explains why
It is said that the dead live on the lips of the living. And so it was at the Floyd Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression at Yale Law School last Friday when it co-hosted the tenth First Amendment Salon.
The discussion centered around Professor Stephen D. Solomon’s new book Revolutionary Dissent: How the Founding Generation Created the Freedom of Speech (2016).
Speaking before a full house at YLS, Professors Akhil Amar and Nadine Strossen joined in the exchange with Professor Solomon. The event was introduced by Floyd Abrams and was video-cast live to audiences at the offices of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz in New York and Washington, D.C.
Much of the lively discussion focused on dissenting speech (including symbolic expression) in the revolutionary era. In the course of an animated, opinionated, and sophisticated dialogue, there were several references to the number “45” and its significance in the history of free speech. So why?
Here is where Professor Solomon’s well-researched book came into play (as the excerpts below reveal):
— “[T]he number forty-five [was] symbolically linked to John Wilkes, a member of Parliament who gained renown for going to jail after criticizing the king in the forty-fifth issue of the newspaper [The North Briton] he published” in 1763.
–– “First in England and then in America, those who sympathized with Wilkes began engaging in an endless variety of symbolic protests with the number forty-five as the common theme.”
— “On the evening of March 14, 1770, a prison guard opened the doors of Alexander McDougall’s jail cell so that visitors could enter. There were forty-five visitors, to be exact, and all of them were women. . . . For publicity sake — and all of this was for publicity sake — the forty-five women had been described to the public as virgins. McDougall had been jailed for criticizing the royal governor and the New York general assembly, and his supporters aimed to to draw attention to him as a martyr for the cause of liberty.”
— “In 1769, the Boston Gazette noted that forty-five ladies engaged in spinning linen and cotton, providing cloth to replace the British goods boycotted in the non-importation agreements. The Sons of Liberty in Boston made a procession of forty-five carriages, while . . . [at] an orchard outside Charleston, patriots decorated their Liberty Tree [see above] with forty-five lights and fired forty-five rockets.”
There is more, to be sure, but you’ll have to read Revolutionary Dissent to find out what you’re missing.
→ One more notable point: The text of the First Amendment contains, yes, 45 words!
Amar & Strossen channel Madison
One of the high moment of the event came toward the end when Amar began to recite portions of James Madison’s November 27, 1794 speech in Congress. As soon as he begun to mouth the opening words, Strossen joined in memorized unison and harmony: “If we advert to the nature of republican government, we shall find that the censorial power is in the people over the government, and not in the government over the people.”
→ A video of this salon will be posted in an upcoming issue of FAN.
→ The next salon will be held in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, December 8th and will involve a dialogue between David Cole (the new National Legal Director for the ACLU) and Jess Bravin (the WSJ Supreme Court correspondent).
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