Enjoy Freedom of Speech? Thank John Milton

A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.
……………………….—  John Milton

On June 14, 1643, the Parliament of England passed a Licensing Order that put publishing under government control.  The Order forced authors to submit their work to official censors for approval before publishing.

The Order was intended to preserve the publishing monopoly held by The Stationers’ Company, but in effect and in practice, it gave the government authority to control free thought via rigid censorship.

John Milton, who later wrote the epic poem Paradise Lost was called to action when he felt the strong arm of government enforcement after publishing his writings in favor of divorce.  In response he wrote Areopagitica, a passionate and enduring essay on the right to freedom of speech and expression.  Civil liberty, Milton reasoned, is attained through the open discussion of ideas and grievances.

Areopagitica, though widely acknowledged, had little influence on Parliament’s Order, but its importance was never forgotten.  The essay has endured as one of the most important and influential essays of free speech ever written, and it was crucial in the development of the First Amendment of the Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

United States Constitution – Amendment 1

In its eloquence, Areopagitica says that truth, all truth, need only to be heard, openly and fairly, to assure its victory over ignorance.

That is a timeless truth.

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7 responses to “Enjoy Freedom of Speech? Thank John Milton

  1. I was unaware of the connection between the 1st Amendment and Milton. Thank you for sharing this!

  2. I found it fascinating, too! Thanks!

  3. Hi Olivia! I am so glad I am signed up to this blog. For one it is educating me…Thank you Yael

  4. Knowledge is power and I am feeling very powerful today. I have not read this essay, but now I very much want to.

    I bought an old copy of Paradise Lost on ebay (maybe 10 years ago).. it is the most delicate thing from the Private Library of J.O. Knauss (allentown, PA 1881) – or so the name plate says… the signature inside is dated 1864

    Great post!
    ~2

  5. Deanna Schrayer

    Another favorite – you’re on a roll Olivia! I had no idea that Milton played a part in freedom of speech. Thank God for Milton!

    Thanks so much for posting this Olivia.

  6. I love your blog for all these little cool tidbits… Thanks so much for posting.

  7. Inspirational – wonderfully apposite sentiments for the current moment. Many thanks.

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