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The New England Watch and Ward Society$
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P. C. Kemeny

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190844394

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190844394.001.0001

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The Protestant Establishment in Action

The Protestant Establishment in Action

(p.72) 4 The Protestant Establishment in Action
The New England Watch and Ward Society

P. C. Kemeny

Oxford University Press

The Watch and Ward Society was very effective at enforcing Protestant mores, especially through lobbying efforts and work as an extralegal police force that strove to enforce the state’s anti-obscenity laws. The anti-vice society employed three closely related strategies to combat the arguments of free love and free speech activists and to suppress the sale of obscene material. First, reformers lobbied state legislatures to pass more effective anti-obscenity statutes. Second, they demanded that the police enforce the laws, and they investigated book and magazine vendors to aid the police in their work. Finally, they pressured publishers and bookstore owners to refrain from selling objectionable materials. Examining the controversy over the publication of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in 1882–83 illustrates the organization’s effectiveness.

Keywords:   suppression of literature, censorship, obscene literature, Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, Ezra Heywood, free love movement, free speech movement

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