The concept of personal freedoms and rights have no greater defenders than those men that began to write the Constitution of the United States in the summer of 1782. First hand, they had witnessed the tyranny of King George III and Parliament in their combined attempts to turn the thirteen colonies into puppets. Britain’s interests were not to preserve the rights of Englishmen living overseas, but to protect her financial interests. Various laws such as the Stamp Act, the Tea Act, Navigation Acts, and a few others bear the testimony that the British colonies in North America were regarded by many members of Parliament as a source of wealth for an empire needing financial resources to support its global reach.
These men had a firm belief in the ideals of personal liberty. These men had witnessed first hand the effects on the individual when government begins to see itself as the grantor of rights and liberties. The Stamp Act, which required that all printed materials in the Colonies be subjected to a tax which when paid would result in a stamp from the Crown being affixed to the document, literally affected everything from newspapers and political pamphlets to playing cards. Its reach included legal documents such as wills and deeds; literally everything printed in the Colonies had to bear the Crown’s stamp. The generation that fought and led the American Revolution saw the Stamp Act for what it was – a way to control what was being published and a means to discourage political discourse that the Crown found questionable.
As American independence was won, that generation of Americans were skeptical of a large national government. The idea of a weaker national government with the bulk of political action happening at the state level was seen as much more desirable. Even when the Articles of Confederation were abandoned at the ratification of the new Constitution of the United States, there was a lengthy discussion on the role of the national government, rights of the individual, and the rights of the member States. Any resistance to the ratification of the Constitution subsided as the framers added ten amendments, referred to as the Bill of Rights, as a means to place constraint on the national government. Many of the framers of the Constitution, such as James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton objected to the Bill of Rights. Not for the reason that they did not believe Americans had those rights, but because of the fear if the right becomes defined, then the government can interpret the definition to place limits on those rights. In other words, the “laws of Nature and Nature’s God” that Jefferson had inferred within the Declaration of Independence as being absolute would now be defined by man.
Fast forward now to our modern times. Earlier this week, a young woman from Harvard University, Sandra Korn, was lauded by some as she actually stated in an editorial for the Harvard Crimson, the university’s official newspaper, that free speech should be stopped since it distracts from the goals of liberalism. She coined a phrase, “academic justice,” meaning that in the interests of creating the liberal utopia envisioned by the American Left, all ideas, research, and publications that do not support the liberal agenda must be silenced. Add to this the introduction of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) plan to place government monitors in newsrooms across the nation as a part of an “official study” it was conducting. According to the FCC, the study was to determine why there were not more minority owned television stations and networks. Many critics began to criticize the study as the Obama administration’s way of encouraging American media to report on stories favorable to the Affordable Care Act and the Obama administration, both are already experiencing low poll numbers.
The position taken by Korn is not a surprising one. When I entered graduate school at Murray State University, not only did I come across students that had a similar mindset, but a few faculty members as well. Within the Progressive movement and beginning with the Wilson administration, there has been a desire to force a national consensus on the people. The Espionage Act of 1917 combined with the Sedition Act of 1918 sought to enforce consensus among the American people. Any critique of Congress, the President, or America’s war efforts during the First World War would be met with swift and excessive punishment. To combat the problem of the free press, Wilson instituted the Office of Public Information (OPI) to ensure that only officially sanctioned news was reported to the American public. Newspapers and magazines that violated the OPI standards were not permitted to use the United States Post Office services to distribute their materials. By the end of the war, there were nearly a thousand periodicals that did not report on America’s war efforts for the duration of the war. Freedom of the press had become a liability and the Wilson administration sought to find a way for the nation to enter World War I.
Similar policies were adopted under the F. D. Roosevelt administration as a means to direct American sympathies to a common goal. FDR saw American media, especially the owners of the newspapers and radio stations, as being enemies to his agenda and the harmony of the nation. In his early efforts, he did actively woo the media by offering the press unprecedented access to him and his cabinet. When those efforts began to falter, Roosevelt included what became known as the “newspaper code” to the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). As a part of NIRA, the press was not to report on the various strikes across the country that resulted from the NIRA and policies implemented by the National Recovery Administration (NRA). Again, borrowing from the Wilson administration, the American media could only report on labor issues that placed the government and the NRA in a positive light. Beginning shortly after his third inauguration, he began to use the FBI and IRS as political tools to investigate the owners and shareholders of media outlets that were critical of his policies.
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