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From the ‘free and open’ press to the ‘press of freedom’: liberalism, republicanism and early American press liberty

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The debate over press liberty before and during the pre-Revolutionary era (1763-1775) in America reveals how a once-unified, if rudimentary, tradition gave rise to two sophisticated and contrary doctrines, aspects of which continue to infuse current free speech discourse. The vague, republican and liberal discourse of the ‘free and open’ press bifurcated as a result of the competing political and ideological forces involved in the pre-Revolutionary crisis. Through an examination of this historical debate over press liberty, this essay seeks to recast two current scholarly debates . First, this study undermines the polarized debate over early American political thought and substantiates recent abstract attempts to demonstrate the complex relationship between republicanism and liberalism. Second, this interpretation uncovers a central dynamic in the development of the American tradition of press liberty, thus calling into question a wide variety of previous studies that ignore this crucial feature.

Keywords: American Revolution; American political thought; Anglo-American political thought; Cato; Levy; free press; free speech; freedom; freedom of speech; freedom of the press; ideology; liberalism; liberty; press liberty; republicanism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University Of Minnesota., Email:

Publication date: 1994-01-01

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