Stone’s history examines America’s tendency in wartime to compromise First Amendment rights in the name of national security. During the Civil War, a former congressman, Clement Vallandigham, was imprisoned and nearly executed for objecting to the conflict as “wicked, cruel, and unnecessary”; in the First World War, the anarchist Mollie Steimer was sentenced to fifteen years for calling capitalism the “only one enemy of the workers of the world.” Each of these measures seemed essential to victory at the time; later, however, pardons were issued. We may one day feel the same about Guantánamo and the Patriot Act, but not all wrongs are immediately remedied. In 1971, Attorney General John Mitchell tried to use the contentious Espionage Act of 1917 (which, largely forgotten, had never been revoked) to prevent the publication of the Pentagon Papers. It is still law today.
At a time when the Patriot Act threatens to curtail civil liberties, at a time when Attorney General John Ashcroft has effectively dismantled guidelines restricting the F.B.I.'s authority to investigate political and religious activities, at a time when the Justice Department invokes "national security" concerns to try to seize reporters' telephone records, Mr. Stone's book arrives to give the reader a sagacious brief on the vital importance of the First Amendment and an illuminating history of the ongoing tension in American history between liberty and security. … Mr. Stone has written an important, indeed necessary, book on a freedom indispensable, as Justice Louis D. Brandeis put it, to "the discovery and spread of political truth": the "freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think."
The New York Times
One closes this admirable book more than ever determined that the authors of the Constitution were right the first time, and that the only amendment necessary might be a prohibition on the passage of any law within six months of any atrocity, foreign or domestic.
The New York Times Sunday Book Review
On July 4, 1951, at the height of Cold War tensions, a reporter asked 112 people in a park in Madison, Wis.consin, to sign a petition containing nothing more than quotations from the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. All but one refused. ["Many Found Wary of July 4 Petition," New York Times, July 29, 1951, p. 43. Also reported elsewhere: Time, Washington Post, Nation.* yes, OK] Bitter ironies like this abound in Perilous Times, Geoffrey R. Stone's masterful history of free speech in wartime America. With clarity, moderation and some 2,000 footnotes, Stone explains how Americans could come to fear their own founding documents. We have long needed this book, though perhaps never as badly as we do today.
The Washington Post
As readers would hope from a book about free speech, this one is filled with glorious insults-the first man charged under the Sedition Act accused John Adams's administration of "unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp... and selfish avarice"-and lucid accounts of the speech that the U.S. government has tried to quiet throughout our history. A law professor at the University of Chicago, Stone delivers rich material in an engaging, character-based narrative. Stone offers deep insight into rhetorical history and the men and women who made it-resisters like Clement Vallandingham, Emma Goldman, Fred Korematsu and Daniel Ellsberg; presidents faced with wartime dilemmas; and the prosecutors, defenders and Supreme Court justices who shaped our understanding of the First Amendment today. His treatment of the war on terror is brief, and his assessment of the Bush administration is judicious but harsh for what he casts as its obsession with secrecy and its effective dismantling of the 1976 Levi guidelines restricting the FBI's ability to investigate political and religious activities. Stone places heavy responsibility on-and gives ample credit to-the American public for upholding free speech even when our leaders tend toward measures that weaken liberty in the name of strengthening it. Comprehensive and consistently readable, this enlightening book arrives at a time when national political debate should be at a fever pitch. 63 illus. Agent, Lynn Chu. (Oct. 25) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
It's one thing to cry "fire" in a crowded theater. It's another to cry "surrender" in the face of an enemy, as this broadly ranging survey of historical laws attests. There are many good reasons for suppressing certain speech in wartime, writes Stone (Law/Univ. of Chicago): for instance, "a dissenter may disclose information that is useful to the enemy, such as invasion plans or the vulnerabilities of the navy"; "antiwar dissent may strengthen the enemy's resolve and make it more difficult for the nation to achieve victory or negotiate a just peace"; or, provocatively, "dissent may persuade people to vote for political candidates who promise to end the war." Yet laws regulating the expression of such sentiments in wartime-which takes up about 20 percent of our nation's history, he reckons-tend to be made by Congress in a mood of war fever, with predictable results: "The fear, anger, and fervent patriotism engendered during a war naturally undermine the capacity of individuals and institutions to make clearheaded judgments about risk, fairness, and danger." Thus, he notes, the so-called Patriot Act, which "smuggled into law several investigative practices that have nothing to do with fighting terrorism, but that law enforcement officials had for years tried unsuccessfully to persuade Congress to authorize." Alas, Stone shows, Congress is all too easily persuaded to abandon American principles for political expediency: "Most often, Congress has responded to public fears in wartime with draconian and even savage legislation." Thus the suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, the promulgation of the Sedition Act after the Revolution, the rise of the HUAC during the Cold War, and thedeployment of various secret-police agencies during the Vietnam era. In this long, literate study, Stone addresses six major episodes that have gnawed away at the First Amendment, closing with an examination of our fear-ridden age and its erosive propensities. Most timely, and of wide interest to civil libertarians and students of legal history. Agent: Lynn Chu/Writers' Representatives