The First Amendment


The First Amendment Essay, Research Paper

Our Living Shield: The First Amendment


The authors of the Constitution of the United States created a

magnificent list of liberties which were, at the time ascribed, to most

people belonging to the United States. The main author, James Madison,

transported the previous ideas of f undamental liberties from the great

libertarians around the world, such as John Lilburne, John Locke, William

Walwyn and John Milton. Madison and other previous libertarians of his time

were transposed into seventeen different rights which were to be secured to

all those in the United States. These seventeen civil liberties were

compressed into ten different groupings which were designated as the “Bill

of Rights.” In this document lay the First Amendment which stated that the

people of the Uni ted States had the “freedom of speech, or of the press;

or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the

Government…” The First Amendment was drafted by federalist Madison mainly

as a political tactic to abolish anti-federalist resistance to the

Constitution. After its passage in December of 1791, the First Amendment

remained more idealistic than realistic. The First Amendment remained a

set of ideals which were not to be carried out during its first century,

then progressed to more realistic terms during its latter half of



During the first century of the First Amendment, the First

Amendment was paid a glance by all when it came to actually carrying out

the freedoms guaranteed by this amendment. For example, in 1794,

Pennsylvanian backcountry farmers protested a whiskey tax. The protesters

were not violent such as those of the previous Shay’s Rebellion. George

Washington sent in a militia to crush the rebellion denying them of their

First Amendment right to “peaceably assemble.” Later, in 1836, anti sl

avery newspaper editor James G. Birney had been warned that his newspaper

“The Philanthropist” was not desirable in the city of Cincinatti. When

Birney refused to cooperate, mob action took rule and, “scattered the type

into the streets, tore down t he presses and completely dismantled the

office.” This contradicted the First Amendment which stated that,

“freedom…of the press,” is a constitutional right. The Supreme Court

could do nothing about these situations when in Barron v. Baltimore, t he

Court ruled that, “These amendments contain no expression indicating an

intention to apply them to state governments. This court cannot so apply

them.” Thus, the Supreme Court could not interfere when First Amendments

are being violated within a state. These acts were representative of the

lack of recognition for our First Amendment rights during the first half of

the Bill of Right’s acceptance.


The second half of the Bill of Rights was marked by a rebirth in

which the Bill of Rights was no longer a set of ideals. The second half

began when in 1925, the court ruled in Gitlow v. New York that the First

Amendment supersedes state laws . This nullified the Court’s ruling in

Barron v. Baltimore, which took place 92 years earlier. Also, in 1931, the

Court overturned Minnesota’s conviction of Jay M. Near, whose anti Semitic

“Saturday Press” violated Minnesota law which prohibited ” malicious,

scandalous and defamatory” remarks towards politicians and other public

officials. The Court stamped Minnesota’s law in violation of the First

amendment. In 1937, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes overturned the

conviction of Oregon Com munist Dirk De Jonge. De Jonge had been detained

for attending a meeting to protest the police shooting of striking

longshoremen. The Court ruled that “Peaceable assembly for lawful

discussion cannot be made a crime.” More recently, in 1985, the S upreme

Court ruled that burning the American flag is protected by the First

Amendment when the Court reversed the conviction of Gregory Lee Johnson,

who was arrested for violation of the Flag Protection Act of 1989. The

Court then ruled the Flag Protection Act of 1989 unconstitutional. These

instances clearly portray the rebounding of libertarian beliefs.


The First Amendment of the Constitution started off as a set of

beliefs meant to supply reason for one being patriotic rather than supply

those inalienable rights discussed in the Declaration of Independence. It

then developed into a powerfu l document which is the only living

manuscript which specificly lists out the peoples rights. One cannot look

back without looking ahead. The supreme court currently is overwhelmingly

conservative. Without the balance of conservatism and liberalism, a

deficiency evolves. And this deficiency is human rights. The Supreme

Court ruled in 1990 that two American Indians were not protected by the

First Amendment when they religiously smoked peyote. This is only a sample

of the conservatism which wi ll eventually plague America. The Court’s

decisions are close to eternal and decisions made now will affect America’s

future. And whether or not we should put America’s future in one group’s

hands is out of the question. The court is currently dan gerously


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