The Right to Privacy:

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Historicizing the “right most valued by civilized men.”. Susan E. Gallagher, UMass Lowell. “The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man’s spiritual nature, of his feelings, and of his intellect..... ID: 544938 Download Presentation

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The Right to Privacy:

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The Right to Privacy:

Historicizing the “right most valued by civilized men.”

Susan E. Gallagher, UMass Lowell


“The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man’s spiritual nature, of his feelings, and of his intellect. They knew that only a part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things...”

Louis D. Brandeis (1856-1941)


“They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the Government, the right to be let alone—the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.”—Louis D. Brandeis, 1928.



Subtler and more far-reaching means of invading privacy have become available to the government. Discovery and invention have made it possible for the government, by means far more effective than stretching upon the rack, to obtain disclosure in court of what is whispered in the closet. —Louis D. Brandeis, 1928.


“The progress of science in furnishing the government with means of espionage is not likely to stop with wire tapping. Ways may some day be developed by which the government, without removing papers from secret drawers, can reproduce them in court, and by which it will be enabled to expose to a jury the most intimate occurrences of the home.” — Louis D. Brandeis, 1928.


Louis Brandeis, circa 1900


Louis Brandeis, circa 1900

“The intense intellectual and emotional life, and the heightening of sensations which came with the advance of civilization, made it clear to men that only a part of the pain, pleasure, and profit of life lay in physical things. Thoughts, emotions, and sensations demanded legal recognition, and the beautiful capacity for growth which characterizes the common law enabled the judges to afford the requisite protection, without the interposition of the legislature.”

“The Right to Privacy”


Louis Brandeis, circa 1900

“Recent inventions and business methods call attention to the next step which must be taken for the protection of the person, and for securing to the individual what Judge Cooley calls the right "to be let alone" 10 Instantaneous photographs and newspaper enterprise have invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life; and numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that "what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops."

“The Right to Privacy”


“Printer’s Devils,”

Puck, 1888.



Victoria C. Woodhull


Tennie C. Claflin



“It is the paradox...of my position that, believing in the right of privacy and in the perfect right of Mr. Beecher socially, morally, and divinely, to have sought the embraces of Mrs. Tilton or any other woman or women whom he loved, and who loved him ...I still invade the most secret and sacred affairs of his life...”

Victoria Woodhull, 1872.


“I hold 

that the so-called morality of society is a complicated mass of sheer impertinence… that the system of social espionage under which we live is damnable; and that the very first axiom of a true morality is for people to mind their own business, and learn to respect, religiously, the social freedom and sacred social privacy of others.”

Victoria Woodhull, 1872.


"Get Thee Behind Me, (Mrs.) Satan!”

Thomas Nast

Harper’s Weekly

, 1872


Anthony Comstock, 1844-1915



“The right of one who has remained a private individual, to prevent his public portraiture, presents the simplest case for such extension; the right to protect one's self… from a discussion by the press of one's private affairs, would be a more important and far-reaching one. If… possessions… are protected… against description and enumeration, how much more should the acts and sayings of a man in his social and domestic relations be guarded from ruthless publicity. If you may not reproduce a woman's face photograph-


without her consent, how much less should be tolerated the reproduction of her face, her form, and her actions, by graphic descriptions colored to suit a gross and depraved imagination.”

“The Right to Privacy”


“[T]he common law provides him with [a weapon], forged in the slow fire of the centuries, and today fitly tempered to his hand. The common law has always recognized a man's house as his castle, impregnable, often even to its own officers engaged in the execution of its commands. Shall the courts thus close the front entrance to constituted authority, and open wide the back door to idle or prurient curiosity?” — “The Right to Privacy”

Family Devotion: Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find, Matt. VII.7.

Currier & Ives (1871) Library of Congress.


“We deal with a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights - older than our political parties, older than our school system. Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred. It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects. Yet it is an association for as noble a purpose as any involved in our prior decisions.”

William O. Douglas(1965) Griswold v. Connecticut

Home, Sweet Home


Muller Company Lithographers


The Right to Privacy:

Historicizing the “right most valued by civilized men.”

Susan E. Gallagher, UMass Lowell

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