Theodore Schroeder

Jeff Wheatley

Theodore Schroeder (1864-1953)

I. Biographical and Historical Information.

A. Born on September 17th, 1864 in Horicon, Wisconsin. Coincidentally, that date is the anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of the United States. In 1880, at the age of eighteen, he moved to Chicago to get out from under his father. H e went to work selling women's hosiery and underwear. After a year of supporting himself. he decided to go to the University of Wisconsin. In 1882, after making up deficiencies, he enrolled.

B. His time at the University was very unstructured. He would alternate traveling with taking courses. He also took whatever courses interested him without regard for a central area of study. After a certain time frame it was determined that he h ad enough courses in civil engineering to receive his degree. He then went to law school at Wisconsin and graduated from that in 1889. Schroeder then opened a law office in Salt Lake City. He went back and forth on his stance about the Mormons an d eventually adopted an anti-Mormon stance. In 1898, Schroeder started writing a series of pamphlets under the name of "Lucifer's Lantern". The series challenged many Mormon leaders and bordered on the brink of libel suits. After his interest in Mormonism faded out, in the early nineteen hundreds, he moved to New York and took up the crusade of defending free speech.

C. In 1911, he helped establish the Free Speech League. He was the secretary and was therefore responsible for writing down many of the thoughts and opinions. It is thought that he might of used this position to express many of his personal ideas through the Free Speech League. In 1909, he wrote the first of many writings on free speech in the Free Press Anthology. In 1911, he wrote "Obscene" Literature and Constitutional Law. In 1916, He wrote a collection of essays titled Free Speech fo r Radicals, which included the three major works below. In 1922, the Free Speech Bibliography is written. And in 1938, Schroeder writes A Challenge to Sex Censors, an in-depth look at obscenity. He finished his career studying sexual psychol ogy and arguing against the censorship of obscene material. He died in 1953.

II. Major Relevant Works.

A. Our Vanishing Liberty of the Press.

1.) We are losing our liberties by making amendments to the Constitution and constantly changing it to better fit our self interests. People are generally indifferent to the constitutionally-guaranteed liberties of others and this self interest will add limitations until "all freedom will be destroyed by judicial amendments to our charters of liberty."

2.) The Declaration of Independence contained a clause stating that when the government becomes destructive of the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the people have the right to alter or abolish the government. However, laws were made so that no anarchist is allowed to enter the United States under immigration laws. This is a pure case of hypocrisy.

3.) "If, then, we truly believe in the liberty of conscience, speech and press, we must place ourselves again squarely upon the declaration of rights made by our forefathers, and defend the right of others to disagree with us, even about the bene ficence of government."

B. The Meaning of Unabridged Freedom of Speech.

1.) He relates the freedom of speech to the freedom to breathe and argues that there should be no distinction between the two. The difference for people is that they believe in the unabridged freedom to breathe, but emotionally disbelieve in the unabridged freedom of speech.

2.) "No man, who is depending purely upon the words of the Constitution, will ever say that we have unabridged freedom of speech and press so long as there is any law which prescribes a penalty for the utterance of anyone's sentiments."

3.) He argues that man should have equal right and opportunity to utter any sentiment that he wants to, as long as the utterance is the only factor and does not cause actual injury.

4.) Freedom must mean the same thing whether it relates to speech or press. Typically, the courts have held that freedom of the press means the absence of all restraint previous to publication.

5.) "Every idea, no matter how unpopular, so far as the law is concerned, shall have the same opportunity as every other idea. no matter how popular, to secure the public favor."

C. Erskine on the Limits of Toleration.

1.) The essay attempts to answer the question: "Did Thomas Erskine really believe in the unabridged liberty for the utterance of one's opinions?" He was judicially quoted as "an authority upon the meaning of the constitutional guarantees for u nabridged liberty of utterance."

2.) Schroeder comes to the conclusion that Erskine viewed unabridged liberty of utterance the same way he did, "that no man could be punished so long as the mere verbal portrayal of his ideas is the only factor involved."

3.) He closes with a strong statement of what he believes to be the current state of freedom of speech. "With us every stupid policeman, fanatical judge, or moralist for revenue, can successfully abridge freedom of speech by the lawless use of p ower, and the hysterical mob of pretending lovers of liberty and democracy will stand by an applaud, --so low have we fallen since our American Constitutions were written. We see how the very essence of tyranny thrives under the forms of democracy. "

III. Contribution to Free Speech Theory.

Schroeder is one of the first to challenge the current state of freedom of speech in this country. He goes so far as to say that our government may be in a current state of tyranny and that the way we view our liberties makes us hypocrites. I don't thin k he is saying that America's system of liberties and freedoms is wrong; however, if we don't change the way in which we handle these freedoms, we'll lose them. Schroeder also says that the Constitution does not specifically define many of the terms we a ssociate with the freedom of speech. He sees the judicial system as one that can help secure liberty and help define words like "freedom", "speech", and "press". What he wrote was considered highly controversial but at the same time was meant to help so lve a problem. Schroeder looked at liberty like no one before him. Many of the former contributors to free speech looked at obtaining liberty; Schroeder looked at saving it.

IV. Bibliography.

Ishill, Joseph. A New Concept of Liberty: Selections from the Writings of Theodore Schroeder. Oriole Press: Berkeley Heights, NJ. 1940.

Schroeder, Theodore. A Challenge to Sex Censors. Privately printed to promote the aims of the Free Speech League: New York, NY. 1938.

Schroeder, Theodore. Free Press Anthology. The Free Speech League: New York, NY. 1909.

Schroeder, Theodore. Free Speech for Radicals. The Free Speech League: New York, NY. 1916.


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