1695: Locke and the end of the Licensing Act

The Licensing Act expires in 1695. No longer does it enforce pre-publication censorship and ban ‘heretical, seditious, schismatical, or offensive books’.

John Locke plays a critical role lobbying against the law. Not to argue for a free press, but because the monopoly of the Stationers’ Company drives prices of books up and quality down, and because the law violates property rights by allowing authorities ‘to search all houses [on] the suspition of haveing unlicensed books’.

“I know not why a man should not have liberty to print whatever he would speak; and to be answerable for the one, just as he is for the other, if he transgresses the law in either. But gagging a man, for fear he should talk heresy or sedition, has no other ground than such as will make chains necessary, for fear a man should use violence if his hands were free, and must at last end in the imprisonment of all who you will suspect may be guilty of treason or misdemeanor”
– John Locke on the Licensing Act

The end of the Licensing Act causes an explosion of heterodox, anti-Trinitarian pamphlets. It also allows British Catholics to publish their catechisms and prayer books uncensored.