The Right of the People Peaceably to Assemble

The genius that is Baylen Linnekin:

The proper situs of the Assembly Clause, research reveals, is in its birthplace: colonial America’s taverns. Colonial taverns served not just as establishments for drinking alcohol but as vital centers where colonists of reputations great and small gathered to read printed tracts, speak with one another on important issues of the day, debate the news, organize boycotts, draft treatises and demands, plot the expulsion of their British overlords, and establish a new nation.

In 1779, Samuel Smedley’s ship Defence wrecked on a shoal off New London. Smedley blamed the pilot, and was so worried about his reputation that he requested, and was granted, an immediate court of inquiry to clear him of wrong-doing. The court met, of course, at a tavern.

Baylen’s paper is free and easy to download. He also has a longer, so-crazy-it’s-brilliant thesis wherein he traces “how America’s experience with food and drink, British common-law protections of food rights, and — especially — British attacks on the food rights of the colonists after 1763 directly influenced the text of the Bill of Rights.” That paper’s unpublished — so far. I’m looking at you, American book publishers.

The First Amendment to the Constitution1 is “a cluster of distinct but related rights.”2 The
freedom of assembly protected therein3 is one right that Americans exercise every day.4 With
perhaps the exception of speech, assembly is the most widely and commonly practiced action
that is enumerated in the Bill of Rights.
This freedom is also one of our least understood and least considered rights. Sometimes
ignored and other times grouped with other freedoms, the right of those in America to come
together peaceably deserves to be studied, respected, and celebrated.
To better understand the freedom of assembly in America, one must explore and
understand its origins.5 Tracing the evolution of the freedom of assembly requires placing this
freedom “within the context of culture.”6 Exploring the origins of the freedom of assembly in the
context of culture requires tracing the right—as practiced—back to its fundamental situs, a term
that can be used to ground rights in their proper place or places.7
The proper situs of the Assembly Clause, research reveals, is in its birthplace: colonial
America’s taverns.