Paper on First Amendment

This essay has a total of 1319 words and 5 pages.

First Amendment


By: Alexander Gorokhovskiy

The modern American conception of freedom of speech comes from the principles of freedom
of the press, and freedom of religion as they developed in England, starting in the
seventeenth century. The arguments of people like John Milton on the importance of an
unlicensed press, and of people like John Locke on religious toleration, were all the
beginning for the idea of the "freedom of speech". By the year of 1791, when the First
Amendment was ratified, the idea of "freedom of speech" was so widely accepted that it
became the primary, and a very important issue in the amendment. "Freedom of press" came
with it to insure that the written and printed as well as oral communication was
protected: "Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the
press." From the 1791 and until the beginning of the twentieth century the idea of
"freedom of speech" and the "freedom of press" was not interfered in by the judicial
system. And only during World War I did the Supreme Court actively start to work on the
issue of the "freedom of speech/press" of the First Amendment. In 1919 cases like Schenck
vs. United States and Abram vs. United States did the new interpretation of the First
Amendment come into place. Schenck vs. United States was argued on January 9 and 10, 1919.
The first charges were based on him breaking the Espionage Act of June 15, 1917, because
he was getting on the way of the governments recruiting practices, Act of May 18, 1917,
while the country was at war with German Empire. The second charge was a conspiracy to
commit an offense against the United States, to use the mails for the transmission of the
things that were declared to be non-mailable by title 12, 2, of the Act of June 15, 1917.
What happened was, that in 1917, when the American troops were away fighting the war, the
general secretary of the Socialist party, Charles T. Schenck, and the members of the party
mailed between 15,000 and 16,000 pamphlets to draftees. Those pamphlets described draftees
as "a little more than a convict" and tried to convince them to resist conscription. The
case was decided March 3, 1919. Mr. Justice Holmes delivered the opinion of the entire
Court. He stated that "in many places and in ordinary times the defendants in saying all
that was said in the circular would have been within their constitutional rights."
However, any act depends on the circumstances in which it was done. "The most stringent
protection of free speech, would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a crowded
theatre and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction against
uttering words that may have all the effect of force." The "clear and present danger" rule
came out of this. He also wrote "Circumstances that would create a clear and present
danger, Congress has a right to prevent…. When a nation is at war many things that
mighty be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance
will not be endured so long as men fight and that no Court could regard them as protected
by any constitutional right." Charles T. Schenck was sentenced to a maximum of twenty
years in a federal penitentiary. This case had a great impact on the country, because it
gave rise to a "clear and present danger" rule. The trial of Abrams vs. United States took
place on October 21 and 22 of the year 1919. They have violated the Espionage Act of
Congress (section 3, title I, of Act June 15, 1917, c. 30, 40 Stat. 219, as amended by Act
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