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Repressive Jurisprudence in the Early American Republic


  • Page extent: 424 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.7 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 345.73/0231
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: KF9397 .B58 2010
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Seditious libel--United States--History
    • Trials (Seditious libel)--United States
    • Freedom of speech--United States--History

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9780521191357)

This volume seeks to explain how American society, which had been capable of noble aspirations such as those in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, was capable of adopting one of the most widely deplored statutes of our history, the Sedition Act of 1798. It examines how the political ideals of the American Revolution were undermined by the adoption of repressive doctrines of the English monarchial system - the criminalization of criticism against the king, the Parliament, the judiciary, and Christianity. Freedom of speech was dramatically confined, and this law remained unchallenged until well into the twentieth century. This book will be of keen interest to all concerned with the early Republic, freedom of speech, and evolution of American constitutional jurisprudence. Because it addresses the much-criticized Sedition Act of 1798, one of the most dramatic illustrations of this repressive jurisprudence, the book will also be of interest to Americans concerned about preserving free speech in wartime.

• Places criminal libel and the Sedition Act of 1798 in context with the other repressive doctrines inherited from English law • Fully discusses the evolution of each of the half-dozen repressive doctrines over the century and one half that it took for expanded concepts of free speech and religion to be accepted by the US Supreme Court • Comprehensively examines the extensive litigation in the state courts during this period


1. Political and jurisprudential worlds in conflict in the new Republic; 2. Politics in the new Republic; 3. Seditious and criminal libel in the colonies, the states, and the early Republic during the Washington administration; 4. Federalist partisan use of seditious libel - statutory and common; 5. Seditious and criminal libel during the Jefferson and Madison administrations 1800–16; 6. Partisan prosecutions for seditious and criminal libel in the state courts: federalists against republicans, republicans against federalists, and republicans against dissident republicans in struggles for party control; 7. Established jurisprudential doctrines (other than seditious and criminal libel) available in the new Republic for suppression of anti-establishment speech; 8. Still other nineteenth-century doctrines for suppression of anti-establishment speech: the law of blasphemy and the slave-state anti-abolition statutes; 9. Conclusion.


'Blumberg's great contribution is to put the repressive, politically motivated Sedition Act prosecutions (and related state and common law prosecutions) in the context of a larger set of repressive doctrines and attitudes and to show how they often functioned synergistically to repress political critics.' Michael Kent Curtis, Journal of American History

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