Zechariah Chafee

Zechariah Chafee books and biography


Zechariah Chafee


Zechariah Chafee, 1907 (Brown Archives)
Zechariah Chafee, 1907 (Brown Archives)

Zechariah Chafee, Jr. (December 7, 1885 - February 8, 1957) was an American lawyer, academic and civil libertarian. An advocate for free speech, he was described by Sen. McCarthy as "dangerous" to the United States.[1]

Born in Providence, Rhode Island, he graduated from Brown University, where he was a member of Alpha Delta Phi, in 1907. Later, he received a law degree from Harvard University, completing his LL.B. in 1913. He practiced at the law firm of Tillinghast and Collins from 1913-1916. He became a professor at Harvard in 1916, where he remained until 1956.

Chafee wrote several works about civil liberties, including:

  • Freedom of Speech, 1920
  • Free speech in the United States, 1941 (expanded edition of Freedom of Speech)
  • Government and Mass Communications, 1947
  • The Blessings of Liberty, 1956

Chafee's first significant work (Freedom of Speech) established modern First Amendment theory. Inspired by the United States' suppression of radical speech and ideas during the First World War, Chafee edited and updated a collection of several of his law review articles. In these individual articles-cum-chapters, he assessed significant WWI cases, including those of Emma Goldman.

He revised and reissued this work in 1941 as Free Speech in the United States, which became a leading treatise on First Amendment law. His scholarship on civil liberties was a major influence on Oliver Wendell Holmes' and Louis Brandeis' post-WWI jurisprudence, which first established the First Amendment as a significant source of civil liberties. Chafee met with Justice Holmes after the Schenck case (1919), which upheld a conviction of an activist who encouraged draft resistance, and convinced him that free speech needed greater consideration. Shortly thereafter, Holmes joined Brandeis in a dissent in another WWI dissent case[2] ; this dissent is recognized as the foundation of modern First Amendment jurisprudence.

Chafee died in Boston, Massachusetts, on February 8, 1957.


Chaffee was the scion of a notable Rhode Island family that traced its Rhode Island lineage back to Roger Williams. His father, Zechariah Chafee (Sr.), was long affiliated with Brown University. Chafee's nephew was Senator John Chafee and his grand-nephew is former Senator Lincoln Chafee.


  1. ^ 1952 U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing.
  2. ^ Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616 (1919)

See also:

  • Zechariah Chafee, Jr. Free Speech in the United States. Harvard University Press, 1964.
  • Zechariah Chafee, Jr., and Erika S. Chadbourn. The Zecharia Chafee, Jr. Papers (Jan. 1987) (American Legal Manuscripts from the Harvard Law School Library; microform)
  • Erwin N. Griswolf, "Zechariah Chafee, Jr." Harvard Law Review, v. 70, no. 8 (June 1957), pp. 1337-1340.
  • Elizabeth Blanks Hindman, "First Amendment Theories and Press Responsibility: The Work of Zechariah Chafee, Thomas Emerson, Vicnent Blasi and Edwin Baker", Journalism Quarterly, v. 69, no. 1 (Spring 1992) pp. 48-64.
  • David M. Rabban, Free Speech in Its Forgotten Years, 1870-1920 (1999) ISBN 0521655374
  • Fred D. Ragan, "Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Zechariah Chafee, Jr., and the Clear and Present Danger Test for Free Speech: The First Year, 1919", Journal of American History, v. 58, no. 1 (June, 1971), pp. 24-45.
  • Donald L. Smith, Zechariah Chafee, Jr.: Defender of Liberty and Law (1986) ISBN 0-674-96685-6, ISBN 13-978-0-674-96685-7
  • John Wertheimer, "Freedom of Speech: Zechariah Chafee and Free-Speech History," Reviews in American History v.22, pp. 367-377 (1994).

External link

  • University of Arkansas's Free Speech Philosophers -- Zechariah Chafee

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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