The Atlantic

Did the President Incite a Riot?

A new case filed by anti-Trump protesters will test the limits of free speech—and the responsibility Trump bears for his own statements.
Source: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

I’ve had to look long and hard to find examples of presidential candidates who feared legal trouble because of speeches they made.

So far the list is Thomas Jefferson, Eugene V. Debs, and Donald J. Trump. Of these three, only one—the current president—might actually be held legally responsible for incitement to violence.

Trump may in fact have violated the law even after a century of First Amendment evolution designed to protect political speakers and their speech.

Jefferson never actually ran afoul of the Sedition Act of 1798, but as written, it held a clever trap for him. He was, by the bizarre workings of the Electoral College, vice president under his great foe, President John Adams. Adams’s allies jammed through Congress a law providing prison for anyone who uttered “false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either House of the Congress of the United

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