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Catalog Archive / Spring 2021

Defending the Masses
A Progressive Lawyer's Battles for Free Speech

A Choice Outstanding Academic Book

Before the ACLU existed

Free speech and freedom of the press were often suppressed amid the social turmoil of the Progressive Era and World War I. As muckrakers, feminists, pacifists, anarchists, socialists, and communists were arrested or censored for their outspoken views, many of them turned to a Manhattan lawyer named Gilbert Roe to keep them in business and out of jail. In articulating and upholding Americans’ fundamental right to free expression against charges of obscenity, libel, espionage, sedition, or conspiracy during turbulent times, Roe was rarely successful in the courts. But his battles illuminate the evolution of free speech doctrine and practice in an era when it was under heavy assault. His greatest victory, the 1917 decision by Judge Learned Hand in The Masses Publishing Co. v. Patten, is still influential today.

Eric Easton Eric Easton is a professor of law emeritus at the University of Baltimore. He is the founding editor of the Journal of Media Law & Ethics and the author of Mobilizing the Press: Defending the First Amendment in the Supreme Court.




“An early twentieth-century champion of the cause of free speech for the American people, Gilbert Roe has found an ideal interpreter in Eric B. Easton, whose own legal background serves him well in analyzing Roe's brilliantly argued wartime freedom of speech cases.”
—Richard Drake, author of The Education of an Anti-Imperialist

“Gilbert Roe was a remarkable person who associated with and defended the rights of many of the most fascinating people of the Progressive Era. Easton brings all these stories to life in his wonderfully accessible biography.”
—Mark Graber, author of Transforming Free Speech

“Easton brings significant new details to public attention. . . . The book should appeal to people interested in the history of the legal profession and in the Progressive era.”
American Historical Review

“A timely reminder about what it takes to answer the call to defend the cause of free speech when national fervor weighs heavily against uninhibited liberty. Roe’s compassionate dedication to the rights of clients with unpopular or subversive views should be an inspiration to anyone who values civil liberties.”
American Journalism

“Smooth, straightforward, and enjoyable.”
Journal for the Study of Radicalism



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Defending the Masses: Cover art of a black and white photograph of Gilbert Roe leaning back at a chair, reading a piece of paper, shot through a doorway. The wall behind him is lined with books. The greyscale monotone is broken by the title text and author text, which are written in white font, but with a splash of bright red behind all of the text.
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New in Paperback!
June 2021

LC: 2017012506 KF
288 pp. 6 x 9
12 b/w illus.

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Casebound $79.95 S
ISBN 9780299314002
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Paper $21.95 S
ISBN 9780299314040
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