Hiland Hall's "Report on Incendiary Publications": A Forgotten Nineteenth Century Defense of the Constitutional Guarantee of the Freedom of the Press

John, Richard R.

On 25 March 1836, Vermont Congressman Hiland Hall presented to Congress a remarkable report. Hall was troubled by a number of bills that had come before the House Committee on the Post Office and Post Roads to restrict the transmission of abolitionist publications in the mail, and as a member of this committee felt it incumbent to make his objections known. Hall's report detailed his reservations to the proposed bills and closed with a ringing defense of the constitutional guarantee of a free press.

Hall hoped his report would widen the terms of debate. Prior to March 25, no prominent public figure had openly questioned the authority of Congress to pass some kind of restrictive legislation. Hall's report challenged the constitutionality of any limitation on the freedom of the press, rebutting, point by point, the various rationales for these restrictions that had been advanced by President Andrew Jackson, Postmaster General Amos Kendall, and South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun.


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American Journal of Legal History

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October 14, 2020


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