Hi all, hope you all are keeping well. Took me a bit longer than I expected to do this post, but here it is. Now to continue from where I left off in post 095 – Free Speech – Part One. We left off in 1685, the French government revokes The Edict of Nantes and in England King James II assumes the throne. In exile Pierre Bake and Jhon Loke write their respective works regarding tolerance.
Leading up to that in 1670 Spinoza writes Tractatus theologico-politicus anonymously, arguing for the freedom to philosophize “In a Free Commonwealth it should be lawful for every Man to think what he will, and speak what he thinks” (Baruch Spinoza) (SIC) proving to controversial for even the Dutch Spinoza’s patron Jan de Witt is assassinated in 1672. In the same year of the assassination a pamphlet published anonymously is printed, calling the Tractatus a “book forged in hell by the renegade Jew together with the Devil”. 1679-81 during the Exclusion Crisis Algernon Sidney writes an anti-monarchical book Discourses Concerning Government, it is published posthumously in 1698. He is executed in 1683 having radical influence on the Whigs and founding fathers of America, and allegedly being part of a plot against King Charles II. Just before his execution he makes a speech from the scaffold, “…we live in an age that maketh truth pass for treason; I dare not say anything contrary unto it, and the ears of those that are about me will probably be found too tender to hear it. My trial and condemnation sufficiently evidence this.” (Algernon Sidney). 1685 the Edict of Fontainebleau issued by Louis XIV revokes the Edict of Nantes, suspending religious freedom in France. 1687 King James II issues the Declaration of Indulgence granting religious freedom for minorities such as Catholics, Protestant dissenters, Unitarians, Jews and Muslims. It also suspends discriminatory penal laws and revokes required Protestant oaths in civil and military office, marking the first step towards religious freedom in Britain. 1688 the Dutch William of Orange invades Britain, taking the British throne in what’s called the Glorious Revolution, his first act is the Toleration Act of Mary in 1689. The law grants religious freedom to Protestant dissenters but not Catholics, anti-trinitarians and atheists. In December of that year 1689 the Bill of Rights is put into law and secures freedom such as habeas corpus and the freedom of speech in parliament. “9. The freedom of speech, and debaters or proceedings in parliament, ought not to be impeached in any court or place out of parliament.” (The Bill of Rights) Jhon Loke 1689 has his work Letter on Tolerance published having written it in 1685, he argues that men have the right—and duty—to worship God in religious communities of their own choosing: “Now I appeal to the consciences of these that persecute, torment, destroy, and kill other men upon pretence of religion, whether they do it out of friendship and kindness towards them, or no… I say, if all this be done merely to make men Christian, and procure their salvation, why then do they suffer whoredom, fraud, malice and such like enormities, witch according to the Apostles, manifestly relish of heathenish corruption, to predominate so much and abound amongst their flocks and people?” (Epistola de tolerantia). Yet Locke was not a proponent of universal tolerance, drawing limits at Roman Catholicism and Atheism “…those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God.” In 1695 the Licensing Act expires and no longer is the enforcement of pre-publication censorship and ban required, Loke plays a critical role in arguing against the Licencing Act. He did this not for freedom of the press but rather, because the monopoly of the Stationers’ Company drives up the prices of books and drives down the quality. As well as that it infringes on property rights, allowing authorities to search homes on the suspicion of having unlicenced books. The end of the Licencing Act caused an explosion in heterodox and anti-Trinitarian pamphlets, as well as allowing the British Catholics to publish their catechisms and prayer books.
The 18th century sees that America was impacted and influenced by the “Glorious Revolution” in Britain, the Radical Whigs played a big role in shaping Americas attitudes towards freedom of speech. Cato’s letter created a powerful movement in free speech among the colonist’s: “Freedom of Speech is the great Bulwark of Liberty”. America was persuaded that “Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty: without freedom of speech: which is the right of everyman”. As a result, grand juries and juries refused to convict colonists for seditious libel when criticizing the government and officials. However, such laws continued to threaten free speech in the colonies. 1734 the poor painter John Peter Zenger is jailed and charged for printing libellous criticism of the New York governor, his lawyer Andrew Hamilton convinces the jury that the criticism is true, and that “truth ought to govern the whole affair of libels”. 1765 the announcement of the Stamp Act sees descent among the Colonies in America; people begin to protest with increasing hostility taxation without representation. The response by the British parliament sees a further increase in hostility and anti-British propaganda, since seditious libel has effectively been abolished thanks to the Zenger case; the British are powerless to stop the onslaught. While the patriots invoke the principles of free speech, loyalists are subject to the patriot’s veto through intimidation and mob violence. Just before and after the Declaration of Independence, several states protect freedom of the press in rights declarations. 1742 Hume’s writes his Essays Moral, Political and Literary, containing a philosophical argument for freedom of speech. “But I would fain go a step further and assert that such a liberty is attended with so few inconveniences that it may be claimed as the common right of mankind…” (Essays Moral, Political and Literary). This Scottish philosopher sadly changes his mind in latter editions the argument is erased and the “unbound liberty of the press” is now “one of the evils” associated with mixed forms of government. This is ignored by the patriots and Hume’s earlier unedited version wis widely circulated. 1748 Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Law also contains an argument for free speech and a separation of words from actions, “Words do not constitute an overt act; they remain only ideas… Since there can be nothing so equivocal and ambiguous as all this, how is it possible to convert it into a crime of high treason? Wherever this law is established, there is an end not only to liberty, but even of its shadow…” (De L’Espirit de Lois) Montesquieu had a tremendous influence on Americas founding fathers. 1775 Britain’s American colonies rebel over political rights and taxation, the year following the colonies declare their independence; the war ends in 1783 when the British recognise the sovereignty of the United States. “If the freedom of speech is taken away then [by] the dumb and silent we may be led. Like sheep to the slaughter.” (George Washington). 1776 a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine takes America by storm titled Common Sense, it makes a case for religious freedom “as to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of every government, to protect all conscientious professors thereof, and I know of no other business which government heath to do therewith… For myself, I fully and conscientiously believe, that it is the will of the Almighty, that there should be a diversity of religious opinions among us…” the Declaration of Independence July 4th 1776 states: “We hold it true and self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Pennsylvania becomes the first state to declare freedom of speech, press and religion. 1791 the first amendment of the US Bill of rights grantees freedom of speech, press and religion: “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 rights of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for redress of grievances.” President John Adams pushes through the sedition Act in 1798, restricting criticism of the president to silence Tomas Jefferson’s supporters. When he loses to Jefferson in 1800 the law expires, and Adams’ Federalist party never wins another presidency.
This is the extent of the record on www.freespeechhistory.com, for more on this up to present day we must travel to other sources. Please check out their website for a more detailed reading.
1770 Voltaire writes in a letter: “Monsieur l’abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.” 1789 the Declaration of the Rights of Man, a document fundamental to the French Revolution providing for the French Freedom of Speech. 1859 John Stuart Mill writes his essay On Liberty he argues for toleration and individuality: “if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.” In 1859 TH Huxley defends Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species against religious fundamentalists. 1929 Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes outlines his beliefs in free speech; “the principal of free thought is not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for thought we hate.” 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is adopted almost unanimously by the UN General Assembly, urging member nations to promote human, civil, economic and social rights, including freedom of expression and religion. 1962 One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn describes life in a labour camp during Stalin’s era, Solzhenitsyn is exiled from Russa in 1974. 1989 Iranian Leader Ayatollah Khomeini issues a fatwa against Salman Rushdie over blasphemous content in his book. 1992 Noam Chomsky points out that: “Goebbels was in favour of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you are in favour of free speech, then you’re in favour of freedom of speech precisely for those views you despise.” 2001 the Patriot Act gives the US government new powers to investigate individuals suspected of being a threat, raising fears for civil liberties. 2002 Nigerian journalist Isioma Daniel incenses Muslims by writing about the Prophet Mohammed and Miss World, starting riots that leave 200 people dead. 2004 Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh is killed after releasing his movie about violence against women in Islamic societies. 2005 the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act bans protest without permit within 1km of the British Parliament.
This last section was from an article in The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/media/2006/feb/05/religion.news.
I will end this post hear and continue in a few days with my thoughts, to be honest I need time to process all that; It’s a lot to take and the scope if history it covers is rather large. There are many more events throughout the world that have not been covered here, especially in modern times but in history as well, these are just the highlights. Please leave a comment let me know your thoughts, thank you for reading.
Stay well all.