A Distant Heritage
The Growth of Free Speech in Early America
Published by: NYU Press
216 pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- ISBN: 9780814721957
- Published: July 1995
Historians often rely on a handful of unusual cases to illustrate the absence of free speech in the colonies—such as that of Richard Barnes, who had his arms broken and a hole bored through his tongue for seditious words against the governor of Virginia. In this definitive and accessible work, Larry Eldridge convincingly debunks this view by revealing surprising evidence of free speech in early America.
Using the court records of every American colony that existed before 1700 and an analysis of over 1,200 seditious speech cases sifted from those records, A Distant Heritage shows how colonists experienced a dramatic expansion during the seventeenth century of their freedom to criticize government and its officials. Exploring important changes in the roles of juries and appeals, the nature of prosecution and punishment, and the pattern of growing leniency, Eldridge also shows us why this expansion occurred when it did. He concludes that the ironic combination of tumult and destabilization on the one hand, and steady growth and development on the other, made colonists more willing to criticize authority openly and officials less able to prevent it. That, in turn, established a foundation for the more celebrated flowering of colonial dissent against English authority in the eighteenth century.
Steeped in primary sources and richly narrated, this is an invaluable addition to the library of anyone interested in legal history, colonial America, or the birth of free speech in the United States.
“The book constitutes a good contribution to our professional knowledge, and it is a must reading.”
-Law and Politics Book Review<
“A remarkably clear, concise history . . . Eldridge has provided impressive documentation of an often misunderstood, and vitally important, aspect of American History.”
-William and Mary Quarterly
“Anyone who has not read A Distant Heritage cannot know the history of freedom of speech. This splendid book, based on excellent research, fills a void on the subject of seditious utterance and is a valuable corrective, as well as a substantial addition to, all previous works touching that subject.”
-Leonard W. Levy
“Larry Eldrige’s superb scholarship greatly expands our knowledge of how free speech took root in the American colonies. This exceptional book offers both engaging reading and new insights into the development of a fundamental right. ”
-Jeffery A. Smith,University of Iowa, author of Printers and Press Freedom
“Larry Eldridge has crafted a major reinterpretation of the expansion of political speech in the American colonies. What is especially impressive is Eldridge’s ability to find support for his thesis in both the growing stability of colonial society and the powerful upheavals that convulsed it. This is an original, provocative, and penetrating contribution to the literature on freedom of speech, in the colonial or any other era.”
-Kermit L. Hall,Dean, Henry Kendall College of Arts & Sciences and Professor of History and Law, The University of Tulsa