Episode XVIII: Colonial Dissent – Blasphemy, Libel and Tolerance in 17th Century America

In 17th Century colonial America, criticizing the government, officials or the laws is punishable as seditious libel. It can result in the cropping of ears, whippings, boring of the tongue and jail time. Religious speech is also tightly controlled: Blasphemy is punishable by death in several colonies and religious dissenters such as Quakers are viciously persecuted in Puritan New England.


But despite the harsh climate of the 17th century, the boundaries of political speech and religious tolerance are significantly expanded.