Americans prominently involved with First Amendment issues
Albert Gallatin, best known as President Thomas Jefferson’s secretary of
the Treasury, promoted civil liberties, including those found in the First
Though initially opposed to the Bill of Rights, Alexander Hamilton had a
lifelong concern with the individual liberties guaranteed by the First
Anne Hutchinson was a religious leader in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the mother of 15 children. She held Bible studies in her home, which were attended by both men and women, and she challenged the authority of the Puritan clergy. Hutchinson was eventually banished from the colony and moved to Rhode Island.
Elisha Williams, known for writing a pamphlet that argued for religious
liberty before the First Amendment, denied that religious uniformity was
necessary for a peaceful society.
Francis Biddle won praise for balancing freedom and security in World War
II. As attorney general, he fought for civil liberties like those in the
Frederick Douglass, a former slave who became one of America’s greatest
orators, believed that the First Amendment rights to free speech and
assembly were essential in abolishing slavery in the United States.
George Hay was a lawyer, writer and federal district judge who contributed
to First Amendment theory by writing pamphlets defending the freedom of the
George Mason, a Virginia statesman and one of the founders of the United
States, is best known for his proposal of a bill of rights at the
Isaac Backus, an influential Baptist, helped establish the notion of free
exercise of religion, which eventually was incorporated into the First
James Madison, the chief author of the Bill of Rights and the First
Amendment, was the foremost champion of the freedoms of religion, speech,
and the press in the Founding Era.
John Courtney Murray a Jesuit priest, theologian, and advocate of
interfaith cooperation, was a lifelong supporter of the principles of the
Baptist preacher John Leland helped provide religious foundation for ideas
espoused by the Founders concerning the relationship between government and
The trial of John Peter Zenger was one of the most important events in
shaping American thinking toward freedom of speech prior to and after the
adoption of the First Amendment.
John Winthrop was an early Puritan leader who created the basis for
established religion that remained in place in Massachusetts until well
after adoption of the First Amendment.
John Witherspoon was the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of
Independence and Articles of Confederation as well as serve at the New
Jersey convention to ratify the Constitution.
Joseph Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also
called the Mormon Church. Smith and his church suffered and perpetrated
First Amendment violations.
Nathaniel Ward wrote the first law code of the Massachusetts Bay Colony,
which is considered to be one of the most important works in American
Dictionary creator Noah Webster did not support the adoption of the First
Amendment because he thought the Bill of Rights would give citizens the
power to act lawlessly.
Patrick Henry was an opponent of the U.S. Constitution. His opposition
helped convince Federalists to agree to a bill of rights on the document,
which included the First Amendment.
Robert Ingersoll was a sought-after lecturer in the 1800s and a passionate
defender of First Amendment rights. He particularly championed separation
of church and state.
Prior to the First Amendment, Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island,
believed separation of church and state was necessary to maintain the
integrity of the church.
Thomas Paine is best remembered as the author of Common Sense a critique of
King George III that called for American independence. His writings were
misunderstood in his day.
Tunis Wortman authored A Treatise Concerning Political Enquiry, and the
Liberty of the Press in 1800. It attempted to portray freedom of the press
as an engine for human progress.
William Penn (1644-1718), founder of Pennsylvania, promoted principles of
freedom that helped lay the framework for First Amendment religious liberty.