Biography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 185

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A professor at the University of Wisconsin, president of Amherst College, and founding director of the San Francisco School of Social Studies, Meiklejohn is best known for his book Free Speech and Its Relationship to Self-Government (1948) and its theory of freedom of speech. Meiklejohn believed the most important function of free speech was to guarantee democratic self- government, and that this could be accomplished only through free and open debate over public issues and the actions of public officials. Political discussion was, therefore, meant by the drafters of the First Amendment to be absolutely protected from government limitation. Private speech, speech of concern only in private matters such as television and literature, was given only minimal protection under the due process clause and could be regulated since it had no implications for government.

Although Meiklejohn’s theory is credited with contributing to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964), it was also criticized because of the inherent difficulty in distinguishing between “public” and “private” speech, as in the case of a literary piece that also contained political elements.