1923 March 17

Police Block Reading of Connecticut State Constitution


The police in Waterbury, Connecticut, stopped a meeting when Carlo Tresca, an Italian immigrant and anarchist, announced that he would read the Declaration of Rights from the Connecticut State Constitution. The ACLU announced that it would sue the superintendent of the Waterbury police for $10,000 for his actions, and also said that another free speech meeting with Tresca would be held a few days later.

The Tresca incident was one of several in the early 1920s when ACLU leaders or political activists attempted to read the Constitution to dramatize the fight for freedom of speech. The most famous incident occurred on May 15, 1923, when the noted novelist Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle, was arrested in San Pedro, California, as part of a rally to support striking longshoreman. The incident led to the creation of the ACLU of Southern California. For other incidents, see March 23, 1920, and October 12, 1920.

Learn more about civil liberties in the 1920s: Paul L. Murphy, The Meaning of Freedom of Speech: First Amendment Freedoms from Wilson to FDR (1972)

Read about the history of the ACLU: Samuel Walker, In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU (1990)

And about the ACLU’s First Amendment battles in the 1920s and 1930s: Laura Weinrib, The Taming of Free Speech (2016)

Read the important new book on free speech: Timothy Garton Ash, Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World (2016)

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