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From 1873 until his death in 1915, Anthony Comstock was the most powerful shaper of American censorship and obscenity laws. Although he was neither an attorney nor an elected official, Comstock used an appointed position as a special agent of the U.S. Post Office Department and legislation known as the Comstock Laws to order the arrests and prosecutions of hundreds of artists, publishers, doctors and anyone else he felt was promoting vice. For decades, Comstock was the sole arbiter and definer in the United States of what was obscene–and his definition was expansive. In Lust on Trial: Censorship and the Rise of American Obscenity in the Age of Anthony Comstock, author Amy Werbel explains how Comstock’s religious fervor and backing by wealthy New York society members led to a raft of harsh federal and state censorship laws–and how the backlash to Comstock’s actions helped create a new civil liberties movement among defense lawyers.

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