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NONFICTION : THE TREE OF LIBERTY: A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY OF REBELLION AND POLITICAL CRIME IN AMERICA, edited by Nicholas N. Kittrie and Eldon D. Wedlock Jr. (Johns Hopkins University: $39.50; 714 pp.).

September 20, 1987|Daniel J. Kevles

We have never had a widely accepted notion of political crime in the United States. What to some have seemed noble acts of defiance--pamphleteering, demonstrations, destruction of property, even assassinations--to others have been unalloyed criminal acts.

What government has defended as proper maintenance of social order--for example, prohibitions against the education of black slaves or against forms of advocacy that threaten national security--has been taken by many citizens as oppression.

In "The Tree of Liberty," Nicholas N. Kittrie and Eldon D. Wedlock Jr., professors of law at, respectively, American University and the University of South Carolina, present 400 documents that bear upon the history of political crime.

The documents, each framed by a brief introduction, include, for example, an act of 1664 in Maryland making any white woman who married a black slave a slave herself; the declaration of the Boston Tea Party, and the National Security Agency's 1982 claim of authority to subject people to electronic surveillance without warrant.

This is a valuable source book, one that anyone concerned for civil liberty in the United States will find instructive and disturbing.

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