The First Amendment to the Constitution is "a cluster of distinct but related rights." The freedom of assembly protected therein is one right that Americans exercise every day. 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. Tracing the evolution of the freedom of assembly requires placing this freedom "within the context of culture." 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.
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 Part II, I trace the early history of taverns in colonial America. In Part III, I discuss the role that colonists assembling in taverns played both in fostering the freedom of assembly and in combating growing British attacks on the rights of American colonists. In Part IV, I analyze the brief but informative legislative history of the Assembly Clause. In Part V, I describe how tavern talk places the situs of the freedom of assembly squarely in taverns. In Part VI, I conclude that in taverns and tavern talk are the origins of the Assembly Clause.
Baylen J. Linnekin,
Tavern Talk and the Origins of the Assembly Clause: Tracing the First Amendment's Assembly Clause Back to Its Roots in Colonial Taverns,
39 Hastings Const. L.Q. 593
Available at: https://repository.uclawsf.edu/hastings_constitutional_law_quaterly/vol39/iss3/1