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In our democratic society there are two opposing
forces which are eternally at odds. On the one hand is the necessity of keeping order, on the other the urgency of allowing freedom of speech and action. Limitation of the absolute right of free speech and press derives from the necessity of the common defense, the obvious advantages of order, and the protection of the rights of private persons from infringement by other private persons. When social interests clash with individual interests a plumb line must be drawn, and some one must judge, of the relative values of these interests. Given a conservative government buttressed by a public reluctant to change with the times and there is certain to evolve a system which thwarts the radical minority and sends the new and strange scuttering to cover. Given the same government, but a public which delights in the unhampered discussion of problems of public concern and full swing will be tendered to discussers and proponents of policies opposed, even inimical, to the established form of things. Laws will be altered and decisions warped to fit the public trend. Even in times of public danger a public opinion which nurses a sentiment of intellectual sportmanship will yap at the heels of a government which represses the free-thinker with harshness.
Somewhere between absolute freedom of expression and harsh legal repression, between national security and the necessity for freedom of criticism and complaint, between the social interests and the individual interests, lies the policy that is at once wise and tolerant, just and safe. But the
settlement of this mooted question lies not within the ken of this discussion. In the American democracy there has been
a change in the public mind in respect to the liberty of public discussion and this change has been reflected in actions and laws. The author has set himself to describing this change and has delimited the inquiry by attempting a description of what has occurred. This paper is an attempt to describe and paint--it is not an attempt to judge by standards or to present principles of action.
It is important to remark, for the sake of clarity, that the phrase "liberty (or freedom) of public discussion" has been used generically to include such phrases as "freedom of speech", "freedom of press", which are used specifically. Chapter I, which describes the condition of American Civil Liberties from the Alien and Sedition Laws of 1798 to the Great War, is intended as an introduction to the main body of the thesis. Without the background of previous history
the state of Civil Liberties in America during and since the great conflict have little meaning for the student who is not well versed in American history.