‘Revolutionary Dissent’ examines creation of free speech

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The roots of the emotional, loud and raucous presidential campaign of 2016 trace back not just four years, or even a decade, but all the way to the beginnings of the United States and the Founding Fathers’ protection of free speech.

In “Revolutionary Dissent: How the Founding Generation Created the Freedom of Speech,” author and Penn State alumnus Stephen Solomon uses a series of chronological narratives to explore how Americans of the Revolutionary period employed robust speech against the British and against each other to form the country’s political character — intemperate and sometimes mean-spirited — that remains more than 240 years later.

“Revolutionary Dissent,” a 368-page hardback published by St. Martin’s Press, is available for purchase online and in bookstores. The book provides historic context to a topic that remains timely. It’s additionally interesting because what happened in the nation’s founding period gave meaning to the freedoms of speech and press at a time when the crime of seditious libel was used to punish criticism of government.

Solomon is associate director of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and director of the master’s program in business and economic reporting, which he founded at New York University in 1999. He earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism at Penn State and, later, his juris doctor from Georgetown University.

In addition to business journalism, he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on the First Amendment. He has previously earned NYU’s Golden Dozen Award for excellence in teaching. Solomon was a writer at Fortune magazine and has written for many other national publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review and Inc. His articles have won the two most prestigious awards for business writing — the Gerald Loeb Award and the John Hancock Award for Excellence, as well as the Hillman Prize. 

His book “Ellery’s Protest: How One Young Man Defied Tradition and Sparked the Battle Over School Prayer” explores the landmark 1963 case (Abington School District v. Schempp) in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state-sponsored prayer and Bible reading in the public schools violated the religious liberty protected by the First Amendment. He is also co-author of “Building 6: The Tragedy at Bridesburg,” an investigation of the working conditions that caused the deaths of 54 men from respiratory cancer at Rohm and Haas, at the time a Fortune 500 chemical company in Philadelphia. The revelations in the book led to legal action by victims’ families against the company, and they received a multi-million dollar settlement.

Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated June 02, 2021