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Finding, Framing, and Hanging Jefferson: A Lost Letter, a Remarkable Discovery, and Freedom of Speech in an Age of Terrorism [Paperback]

Alan Dershowitz
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 1, 2009 0470450436 978-0470450437 1
The #1 New York Times bestselling author, Harvard Law School professor, and tireless defender of civil liberties unearths a little-known letter by his hero, Thomas Jefferson, and shares its secrets. The letter illuminates Jefferson’s views on freedom of speech in a way that has important implications for the country today, particularly in the struggle against terrorism. This book is about the remarkable letter Dershowitz found, how he found it, and why it matters not only to him, but to us today.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Contemplating whether the government could censor imams whose preaching might incite terrorism, Harvard law professor Dershowitz (Blasphemy) wondered what Thomas Jefferson would say about where to draw the appropriate line, between dangerous speech and harmful conduct. Dershowitz found an answer in New York's Argosy Bookstore, where he stumbled over a letter written by Jefferson on July 3, 1801, addressing the limits of free speech, especially religious and political speech. Based in part on his reading of Jefferson, Dershowitz concludes that we ought not to censor the speech of even the most violent religious leaders. Echoing Jefferson, he says that liberty is dangerous and adds that in any case censorship would not prevent either violence or incitement to it. This book is not without its annoyances: it opens with a self-indulgent tour through the many objects Dershowitz likes to collect, from baseball paraphernalia to the odd picture of Abraham Lincoln, and the bulk of Dershowitz's ruminations are cast in a long letter to Jefferson—a distracting device. These meditations from one of our most provocative constitutional scholars may not evoke as much controversy as have his earlier suggestions that there be warrants for interrogators to use torture in limited circumstances, but the main contribution here is the publication of Jefferson's letter. Photos. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

* Contemplating whether the government could censor imams whose preaching might incite terrorism, Harvard law professor Dershowitz (Blasphemy) wondered what Thomas Jefferson would say about ""where to draw the appropriate line, between dangerous speech and harmful conduct."" Dershowitz found an answer in New York's Argosy Bookstore, where he stumbled over a letter written by Jefferson on July 3, 1801, addressing the limits of free speech, especially religious and political speech. Based in part on his reading of Jefferson, Dershowitz concludes that we ought not to censor the speech of even the most violent religious leaders. Echoing Jefferson, he says that liberty is dangerous and adds that in any case censorship would not prevent either violence or incitement to it. This book is not without its annoyances: it opens with a self-indulgent tour through the many objects Dershowitz likes to collect, from baseball paraphernalia to the odd picture of Abraham Lincoln, and the bulk of Dershowitz's ruminations are cast in a long letter to Jefferson—a distracting device. These meditations from one of our most provocative constitutional scholars may not evoke as much controversy as have his earlier suggestions that there be warrants for interrogators to use torture in limited circumstances, but the main contribution here is the publication of Jefferson's letter. Photos. (Nov.) (Publishers Weekly, September 3, 2007)
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (April 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470450436
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470450437
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,574,138 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

ALAN M. DERSHOWITZ is a Brooklyn native who has been called 'the nation's most peripatetic civil liberties lawyer' and one of its 'most distinguished defenders of individual rights,' 'the best-known criminal lawyer in the world,' 'the top lawyer of last resort,' and 'America's most public Jewish defender.' He is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Dershowitz, a graduate of Brooklyn College and Yale Law School, joined the Harvard Law School faculty at age 25 after clerking for Judge David Bazelon and Justice Arthur Goldberg. While he is known for defending clients such as Anatoly Sharansky, Claus von B'low, O.J. Simpson, Michael Milken and Mike Tyson, he continues to represent numerous indigent defendants and takes half of his cases pro bono. Dershowitz is the author of 20 works of fiction and non-fiction, including 6 bestsellers. His writing has been praised by Truman Capote, Saul Bellow, David Mamet, William Styron, Aharon Appelfeld, A.B. Yehoshua and Elie Wiesel. More than a million of his books have been sold worldwide, in numerous languages, and more than a million people have heard him lecture around the world. His most recent nonfiction titles are The Case For Peace: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Can be Resolved (August 2005, Wiley); Rights From Wrongs: A Secular Theory of the Origins of Rights (November 2004, Basic Books), The Case for Israel (September 2003, Wiley), America Declares Independence, Why Terrorism Works, Shouting Fire, Letters to a Young Lawyer, Supreme Injustice, and The Genesis of Justice. His novels include The Advocate's Devil and Just Revenge. Dershowitz is also the author of The Vanishing American Jew, The Abuse Excuse, Reasonable Doubts, Chutzpah (a #1 bestseller), Reversal of Fortune (which was made into an Academy Award-winning film), Sexual McCarthyism and The Best Defense.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
....and that's a hell of a thing for a conservative Republican to say. I've always liked his style, even when I disagree. This short, but profoundly great, book gives his views of the First Amendment, filtered thru the metaphorical lens of a short letter written by Mr. Jefferson in 1801. Despite profound differences, Mr. Dershowitz and I share some things in common: [1] We are both pack-rats [2] We both revere Thomas Jefferson [3] We both love America. But then, he's a Red Sox fan, and I'm a Yankee fan......and, while we agree about the First Amendment, I suspect that we might part company over the Second...

Alan Dershowitz found the letter in question in a rare book store a couple of years ago...it deals with Mr. Jefferson's disagreement with the views of Reverend Stanley Griswold, who advocated limitation on the freedom of speech. Jefferson decried limits, prefering to await "the first overt act". Well and good, but Jefferson did not face weapons of mass destruction [though he did have to deal with Islamic criminals]. The book deals point by point with Mr. Jefferson's arguments, with Dershowitz playing "Devil's Advocate". Dershowitz then branches into specific examples of how Jefferson dealt with problems in his own day. [I may add one slight point of disagreement; Dershowitz states that the Aaron Burr treason case of 1807 brings no credit to Jefferson...well, neither was it John Marshall's shining moment...Burr should probably have been acquitted on the merits, but Marshall still ran it as a rigged trial for political purposes]. He ends with his own views of the First Amendment...no limitation of free speech by the government. Period. I am fairly sure he would support me in the arguments I had with school authorities over my son's right to wear a Confederate flag T-shirt {I won}.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughts Inspired by Finding Jefferson December 1, 2007
Format:Hardcover
Saturday Night:
I received Finding Jefferson as a gift today from my sister-in-law Linda. Thank you Linda, I loved it. I read the book today, I thought about it today, and I wrote these comments today.
I have always thought of myself as a Free-Speech Absolutist. I still want to call myself that but here are my thoughts - inspired by Jefferson and Dershowitz.
1) An anonymous man on a soapbox in the middle of a public park is the perfect symbol of what "free speech" seems to suggest. Why? Because, no matter what he says, people who choose to listen to him are under no obligation to believe him or to be swayed by him. They are as free to listen as he is to speak. In any event, he will most likely be thought a crackpot for speaking in public to a crowd that may or may not form.
On the other hand, the speech of your military superior, your gang leader, or your boss at work is not JUST speech. The relationship between unequals in a formal hierarchy is not just speech. Coercion is a necessary part of this kind of speech, the result of discourse among unequals. If your CO or your boss tells you what to do, your refusal to obey may have serious consequences. For example, a neo-Nazi speaking in front of a crowd of onlookers who are totally free to listen or not is exercising his right to free-speech, even if he advocates mayhem. On the other hand, the same speaker speaking to his lieutenants and his subordinates and advocating mayhem is conspiring to commit crimes and ought (perhaps) to be accountable even before the commission of any crimes. In sum, speech between unrelated equals is always free and ought always to be protected; speech between members of a group with a pecking order may be coercive and ought not to be entitled to protection as free speech. (vs.
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2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why he cares January 28, 2008
Format:Hardcover
Alan Dershowitz and Thomas Jefferson were collectors. Dershowitz, inter alia, collects antiquities. He loves objects with aesthetic and historical significance. Dershowitz travels to flea markets and book stores seeking treasure. Much of the focus of his legal activities has centered on the line between speech and act.

The greatest acquisition of the author's career as a collector came from the Argosy Bookstore. It is a Jefferson letter about freedom of religion, (and of speech and ideas). The letter had been passed down through generations of the Boardman family who reside in New Milford, Connecticut. The historian Charles Beard learned of the letter's existence in 1926 and quoted from it. In turn, the sentence appeared in several important legal decisions.

The letter was sold to the Argosy in 2006. Alan Dershowitz's daughter believes he has become obsessed with Jefferson. (He has now bought a number of books and souvenirs pertaining to Jefferson.) Through his letters a person is able to get into Jefferson's head the author asserts. John Adams hoped that Jefferson's letters would be published. Jefferson pardoned persons convicted of violations of the Alien and Sedition Acts when he became President.

This book is of great interest to lawyers and to historians of ideas.
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