Thursday, March 7, 2019
Is a law that makes it illegal to engage in speech that “defames” the government or brings it into “disrepute” unconstitutional? In 1798, when the Sedition Act was passed, the answer was not obvious. Seven years earlier in 1791, when the First Amendment was added to the Constitution, there had been no discussion of what “the freedom of speech” meant. The Sedition Act of 1798 forced the new republic to confront the nature and meaning of freedom of speech under the Constitution. George Thomas, Wohlford Professor of American Political Institutions and director of the Salvatori Center at Claremont McKenna College, asserts that understanding one of our first great constitutional conflicts illuminates contemporary debates about constitutional interpretation and the importance of constitutional engagement by citizens.
George Thomas is the Wohlford Professor of American Political Institutions at Claremont McKenna College and director of the Salvatori Center for the Study of Individual Freedom in the Modern World. He came to CMC from Williams College in 2007. He is the author of “The Founders and the Idea of a National University: Constituting the American Mind” (Cambridge University Press, 2015), “The Madisonian Constitution” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), and co-author of the two volume “American Constitutional Law: Essays, Cases, and Comparative Notes” (West Academic, 2018), as well of numerous scholarly articles.
Thomas’s works have appeared in popular journals such as National Affairs, The American Interest, and the Washington Post. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Huntington Library, and is the recipient of the Alexander George Award from the American Political Science Association. He is currently completing a book titled “The (Un)Written Constitution” on which his Athenaeum talk is based.
Professor Thomas’s Athenaeum presentation celebrates his installation ceremony as the Wohlford Professor of American Political Institutions at CMC.