At the turn of the twentieth century, we knew almost nothing about the First Amendment. Although there had been important disputes about free speech over the Sedition Act of 1798, the suppression of abolitionist literature in the early nineteenth century and during the Civil War, and although both state and federal courts had occasionally wrestled during the nineteenth century with such diverse free speech issues as obscenity and lotteries, for the most part, there was no settled understanding about the meaning of the First Amendment.

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