An innovative narrative approach combines history, politics, and legal doctrine to explore the origin and evolution of Americans' constitutional right to free speech. The First Amendment's declaration that "Congress shall make no law...abridging the Freedom of Speech" is the keystone of our democracy. However, the meaning of this freedom has changed significantly over the course of U.S. history. It has been shaped by judicial rulings, political power plays, economic crises, and changing social mores and traditions. In a field dominated by jargon-filled texts and march-of-progress treatments, this book presents an insightful introduction to freedom of speech, skillfully blending legal analysis with accounts of how staunchly contested historical, political, and cultural issues often influenced legal reasoning. The volume traces the origins of the freedom in English law and its development through the founding of the United States, and examines how the unique struggles of nineteenth-century Americans over such issues as political parties, slavery, women's rights, and economic inequality transformed this traditional English right into a distinctively American one. The book outlines the ways in which the U.S. Supreme Court became the prime interpreter of the meaning of free speech and introduces readers to current court rulings on the First Amendment. It also speculates about the political and legal developments likely to emerge in the new century.