Freedom of Speech

Freedom of Speech

Teaching Civics through History


In this unit, students will develop knowledgeable and well-reasoned points of view on the history of free speech in the United States.



Image Source: Stump Speaking by George C. Bingham, published by Goupil & Co., New York, 1856 (The Gilder Lehrman Institute, GLC04075)

Print from 1856 showing speechifying in front of a crowd
  • Grades: 9-12

  • Class Time: 1-2 Weeks

How did the legal protection of free speech evolve in the United States?

Although the First Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified in 1791, it took generations of Supreme Court justices to reshape the meaning of those rights into the protections we know today. That story did not follow a straightforward trajectory.

Core Lesson Plans

Connecting Historical Lessons to Current Events

The Gilder Lehrman Institute has worked with to pull up current articles* in the news media related to this topic written from different perspectives. Students can use these articles to develop their understanding of how history has shaped current events. Click on “Latest News” to see a range of articles from left, center, and right perspectives.

*The articles shown here update regularly, so if you find articles you are particularly interested in sharing with your students, keep track of the links to the original publications.


Additional Gilder Lehrman Resources