From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America

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Beacon Press, 2007 - History - 348 pages
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After Upton Sinclair, famed author of The Jungle, was arrested for reading the First Amendment on Liberty Hill in 1923, The Nation commented: “When we contemplate the antics of the chief of police of Los Angeles, we are deterred from characterizing him as an ass only through fear that such a comparison would lay us open to damages from every self-respecting donkey.” In this lively history of our most fundamental and perhaps most vulnerable right, Chris Finan traces the lifeline of free speech from the War on Terror back to the turn of the last century.

During the YMCA’s 1892 Suppression of Vice campaign, muttonchopped moralist Anthony Comstock railed against writings by that “Irish smut dealer” George Bernard Shaw. In the midst of the country’s first Red Scare, the government rounded up thousands of Russian Americans for deportation during the Palmer raids. Decades later, a second Red Scare gripped the country as Senator Joseph McCarthy spearheaded a witch-hunt for “egg-sucking liberals” who defended “Communists and queers.”

Finan’s dramatic review of such touchstones as the Scopes trial and Edward R. Murrow’s challenge to Joseph McCarthy are revelatory; many of his narratives are entirely fresh and have as much relevance to our post–PATRIOT Act world as his final chapter on the twenty-first century. The story of the fight for free speech, in times of war and peace—when writers, publishers, booksellers, and librarians are often on the front lines—is essential reading.

"Christopher Finan has given us a marvelously readable account of the struggle for free speech in the United States. Beginning with the birth of the American civil liberties movement during World War I, Finan traces the often grueling battles over free speech in wartime, book censorhip, McCarthyism, and freedom of the press that have marked the gradual evolution of American freedom. It is a story every American should know, for it is our nation's greatest achievement." —Geoffrey R. Stone, author of Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from The Sedition Act of 1798 to The War on Terrorism

"The Founding Fathers gave us the First Amendment, but we have had to fight for free speech. Radicals, reactionaries, feminists, religious zealots, African Americans, Klansmen, college students, even schoolchildren, have played a role in expanding free speech. They are all present in Chris Finan's colorful narrative, which shows how much progress we have made-and how far we have to go." —Nadine Strossen, President of the American Civil Liberties Union and Professor of Law, New York Law School

“In this masterful work, Chris Finan deftly chronicles the challenges to free speech in the twentieth century; an accessible, thought provoking history that not only informs, but also engages the reader.” —Joyce Meskis, Owner, Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver

"Concisely detailed and researched, From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act reads like high powered fiction. Characters as diverse as Roger Baldwin, Bernie Sanders, Allen Ginsberg, Fatty Arbuckle, Jane Russell, Anthony Comstock, John Ashcroft and Dwight Eisenhower share the stage to tell the tale of a nation at odds with its Puritan heritage. A timely addition to bookshelves as the United States wrestles with issues of privacy and personal freedoms in an age of terrorism tied to an unpopular war." —Kenton Oliver, Intellectual Freedom Committee Chair, the American Library Association

“American history is marred by recurrent episodes of hate—Red scares, super-patriotism, fear of sexual expression. Christopher Finan brilliantly paints that record, and shows how courageous Americans have fought for freedom.” —Anthony Lewis, author of Gideon's Trumpet and Make No Law

"At a time when America’s freedoms and liberties are under attack in Washington, Finan’s book is a powerful reminder of why we must carry on the fight to preserve the central underpinning of the American democratic system—the right to free andd uncensored discourse." —Senator Bernie Sanders

“Unlike many commentators, Finan treats the villains fairly, presenting them not as wild-eyed fanatics but as people who thought they were doing what was right. The book is a welcome and much-needed change from the simplistic good-versus-evil treatment this subject often gets. Could be the definitive study of a perpetually complex, contentious issue.” —Booklist, starred review

“This is one of the most important—and readable—books written about the price of freedom in a democracy. Do we want to pay for our freedom and security with our free speech? Timely and urgent, this is an essential book for citizens, politicians, and government officials to read and embrace.” —Alicia Greene, Olsson's Books & Records, Washington, DC

“From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act is a nicely paced history with a list of fascinating characters…a well-researched and analytical study oof the persistent arguments Americans have had regarding the Firsssst Amendment.” —Dennis Lythgoe, Deseret Morning News

“Finan’s engaging book is a work of many well-told stories, all true… Christopher Finan does an admirable job in revealing how America’s most fundamental freedom has too often become its most vulnerable one. From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act is a book to be read and discussed by freedom-loving Americans and by teachers, too. For there—in the classroom—is where Finan’s free-speech stories most need to be read ... and remembered.” —Ronald K.L. Collins,

Chris Finan is the president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and the chair of the National Coalition Against Censorship. He is also the author of Alfred E. Smith: The Happy Warrior. Finan lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: a history of the fight for free speech in America

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Finan (president, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression) begins his sad tale of modern attacks on the First Amendment with the pre-World War I campaigns against the Wobblies and other ... Read full review

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I quit at page 9 when he claims Robert Follette was a Minnesota senator. Credibility right out the window.


Ground Zero
Mob Rule 19211930
Banned in Boston
The Court Takes a Hand
The Second Red Scare
The Fight for Artistic Freedom 19451966
Let the Sunshine In
The Counterattack 19702002

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About the author (2007)

Chris Finan is the president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and the chair of the National Coalition Against Censorship. He is also the author of Alfred E. Smith: The Happy Warrior. Finan lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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