William & Mary Law Review


Jonathan Turley


We are living in what Professor Jonathan Turley calls an age of rage. However, it is not the first such period. Professor Turley explores how the United States was formed (and the Constitution was written) in precisely such a period. Throughout that history, sedition has been used as the vehicle for criminalizing political speech. This Article explores how seditious libel has evolved as a crime and how it is experiencing a type of American revival. The crime of sedition can be traced back to the infamous trials of the Star Chamber and the flawed view of free speech articulated by Sir William Blackstone. That view continues to resonate in “bad tendency” rationales for criminalizing what Professor Turley calls “rage rhetoric.” An advocate for a broader theory of free speech, Professor Turley suggests that the United States should break this cycle and reject a crime that it is not only superfluous in many cases, but the product of the anti-free speech theories extending back to the seventeenth century. The elimination of the crime would fulfill what Professor Turley believes is the original and revolutionary view of free speech articulated by some figures at the start of the Republic. It would finally slay what James Madison called the “monster” lurking in our political and legal systems for centuries.