Home » Perspective » Ronald Collins: A new book about America’s most aggressive censor

By Ronald K. L.Collins, published on April 12, 2018

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A new book about Anthony Comstock tells the story of Comstock's censorship through his role as a special agent with the U.S. Postal Service.

Anthony Comstock (1844-1915): By any and all measures, he was the greatest enemy of free speech in America; and his legacy of suppression endured long after he died.

Intoxicated with his own sense of moral righteousness and obsessed with what he deemed to be immoral expression, Comstock (a devoted evangelical) went after his targets with ruthless passion. No book, dime novel, newspaper, magazine, pamphlet, manual, photograph, printing plate or even postcard was safe from his censorial clutches. 

This founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice roamed his world searching for any signs of immorality.  Later, he succeeded in urging Congress to pass the Comstock Law. Under it, it was illegal to mail any “obscene, lewd, or lascivious” materials.

Likewise, it was unlawful to print or distribute anything counseling or even discussing abortion, contraception, or the prevention of venereal disease. Armed with such powers, this special agent of the United States Postal Service prosecuted and persecuted the impure with a manic vengeance. To buttress his influence, he also wrote books — e.g. Frauds Exposed (1872) and Traps for the Young (1883)


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