Constitution Day is an American federal observance that recognizes the adoption of the United States Constitution and those who have become U.S. citizens. It is normally observed on September 17, the day in 1787 that delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the document in Philadelphia.
This event was sponsored by the NYU John Brademas Center.
Stephen D. Solomon is associate director of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and director of the M.A. program in Business and Economic Reporting, which he founded in 1999. His new book, Revolutionary Dissent: How the Founding Generation Created the Freedom of Speech, was published by St. Martin’s Press in April 2016. It explores how the raucous political protest of the nation’s founding period gave meaning to the freedoms of speech and press at a time when the crime of seditious libel was used to punish criticism of government.
Steve received his B.A. degree from Pennsylvania State University and his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center. In addition to business journalism, he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on the First Amendment. He was awarded NYU’s Golden Dozen Award for excellence in teaching.His last book,Ellery’s Protest: How One Young Man Defied Tradition and Sparked the Battle Over School Prayer, explores the landmark 1963 case (Abington School District v. Schempp) in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state-sponsored prayer and Bible reading in the public schools violated the religious liberty protected by the First Amendment. The case still inflames passions today as Americans debate what role, if any, that religion, prayer, creationism, intelligent design, and the Ten Commandments should play in the public schools.
Steve was a writer at Fortune magazine and has written for many other national publications including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, and Inc. His articles have won the two most prestigious awards for business writing, the Gerald Loeb Award and the John Hancock Award for Excellence, as well as the Hillman Prize. He is also co-author of Building 6: The Tragedy at Bridesburg, an investigation of the working conditions that caused the deaths of 54 men from respiratory cancer at Rohm and Haas, at the time a Fortune 500 chemical company in Philadelphia. The revelations in the book led to legal action by victims’ families against the company, and they received a multi-million dollar settlement.
When members of the founding generation protested against British authority, debated separation, and then ratified the Constitution, they formed the American political character we know today—raucous, intemperate, and often mean-spirited. Revolutionary Dissent brings alive a world of colorful and stormy protests that included effigies, pamphlets, songs, sermons, cartoons, letters and liberty trees. Solomon explores through a series of chronological narratives how Americans of the Revolutionary period employed robust speech against the British and against each other. Uninhibited dissent provided a distinctly American meaning to the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech and press at a time when the legal doctrine inherited from England allowed prosecutions of those who criticized government.
Solomon discovers the wellspring in our revolutionary past for today’s satirists like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann, and protests like flag burning and street demonstrations. From the inflammatory engravings of Paul Revere, the political theater of Alexander McDougall, the liberty tree protests of Ebenezer McIntosh and the oratory of Patrick Henry, Solomon shares the stories of the dissenters who created the American idea of the liberty of thought.