Engines of Liberty Book Summary - Engines of Liberty Book explained in key points
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Engines of Liberty summary

David Cole

The Power of Citizen Activists to Make Constitutional Law

3.5 (17 ratings)
18 mins

Brief summary

Engines of Liberty by David Cole is a riveting account of the American Civil Liberties Union and their fight for freedom. It reveals history-changing legal battles as they pursued justice for various causes such as abortion, gay rights, and drug policy reform.

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    Engines of Liberty
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    A dispute over child custody led gay rights activists to win the right to marry in the state of Vermont.

    Civil rights activists were cheering in 2015 when gay marriage was made legal in the United States, but this landmark decision didn’t happen overnight. To find out how we got there, we must go back in time and look to the small state of Vermont.

    Surprisingly, the issue of gay marriage in Vermont actually began as a child custody case.

    Susan Bellemare and Susan Hamilton lived together in Vermont as parents to Hamilton’s biological son, Collin, who was fifteen months old. But, in 1989, tragedy struck when Hamilton died in a fatal car accident.

    After the accident, Hamilton’s parents didn’t like the idea of Collin continuing to live with Susan Bellemare, so they filed a lawsuit to gain custody of their grandchild.

    It took two years of litigation, but Bellemare won the case thanks to a will that Hamilton had prepared, stating that her partner should continue to raise Collin in the event of her death. Without this document, it’s likely that Bellemare would have lost custody of her son.

    This case made it clear that gay partners had very few rights in the eyes of the law, and it spurred a group of activists to begin campaigning for change.

    Among them were three couples who sued the State of Vermont for refusing to grant them marriage licenses.

    These couples were well prepared, and they defied all the negative gay stereotypes. They had respectable jobs; they were in steady, long-term relationships; and two of the couples were raising children.

    It took years of political lobbying and court battles, but in December of 1999, the Supreme Court of Vermont made its decision: According to the state constitution, civil unions between a same-sex couple must be treated the same as any other union.

    But it didn’t end there. Activists continued to lobby and, in 2009, the Vermont House of Representatives voted on the issue of gay marriage. It was a narrow victory, but same-sex marriage was legalized in the state.

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    What is Engines of Liberty about?

    Engines of Liberty (2016) is an exploration into the influence citizens can have on government, and the changes that can be brought about through activism, the spreading of information and the mobilization of one’s peers. When it comes to the big issues of our time, like gay marriage, guns and human rights, it’s passionate citizens who are speaking up for what they believe in and bringing about change.

    Engines of Liberty Review

    Engines of Liberty (2016) by David Cole explores the impact of grassroots movements in shaping the legal landscape of the United States. Here's why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • Featuring compelling stories of individuals who fought for change, the book showcases the remarkable power of activism in driving legal reform.
    • Anchored in in-depth research and expert analysis, it offers a nuanced understanding of the factors that contribute to successful social change.
    • With its accessible writing style and insightful arguments, the book keeps readers engaged and reaffirms the importance of citizen participation.

    Best quote from Engines of Liberty

    And the sky didnt fall, and the world didnt end, and we didnt see a spike in the divorce rates of heterosexual couples.  - Molly McKay, founder of Marriage Equality California

    —David Cole
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    Who should read Engines of Liberty?

    • Activists passionate about civil liberties
    • Lawyers and politicians interested in the history of civil rights
    • Concerned citizens who want to become more active

    About the Author

    David Cole is a professor of Law and Public Policy at Georgetown University Law Center and an advocate for civil liberties. In addition to being a contributor to publications such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, he is also the author of multiple books, including No Equal Justice and Enemy Aliens.

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    Engines of Liberty FAQs 

    What is the main message of Engines of Liberty?

    The main message of Engines of Liberty is the power of grassroots activism in effecting social change.

    How long does it take to read Engines of Liberty?

    The reading time for Engines of Liberty varies depending on the reader, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Engines of Liberty a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Engines of Liberty is an engaging and eye-opening book that offers valuable insights into the impact of grassroots movements. A must-read for those interested in social change.

    Who is the author of Engines of Liberty?

    The author of Engines of Liberty is David Cole.

    What to read after Engines of Liberty?

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