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merely because exempt from the burthen of public duty, should on that account, be privileged to inculcate, with impunity, the most dangerous and destructive opinions? Does it stand to common sense that, solely because living in political obscurity, he should be permitted to instil into the minds of those around him, sentiments that if imbibed cannot but have some weight in reconciling society to the adoption of whatever change in government it was the desire of the delinquent to accomplish, whether it be an increase of power and dignity in their present ruler, or an absolute change in the constitution, from its present state, to one bearing on its face stronger and more perceptible traits of despotism? From these remarks it would appear that it is by no means incompatible with the strictest justice, to disclose such particulars in the conduct of a private individual, as menace the good of society. On the contrary I am of opinion that it is the duty of an impartial press, to notice and expose every thing of the kind, whenever and wherever perceivable; but a little reflection will teach us the propriety of not disclosing any circumstance implicating the good name of a fellow-citizen until sufficient proof has rendered us certain, that what we intend detailing is perfectly well founded and correct, and will also show that a contrary method will evidently lead to much abuse of that very liberty which, if admirers of a free press, we cannot be too cautious in guarding from becoming elevated to an unlimited privilege of publishing what we please of others, however unfounded and un
The point at which the change from a well regulated freedom to unbridled licentiousness, in the publication of opinions, becomes visible, has frequently been made a subject of controversy, among those who have examined the subject, and on inquiry, will be found to vary, according to the ideas of the several essayists, precisely in proportion to the political sentiments they have conceived, with regard to the nature of the government under which they write. Thus a person who believes that an absolute and despotic form of government is better calculated than any other, to preserve the interests and safety of its subjects, will perceive that a liberty of discussion
on the propriety of those measures pursued by the heads of government is utterly inconsistent with that unlimited power he so much admires in his rulers, and consequently will confine the privileges of the press within very narrow limits; while, on the other hand, a member of a republican institution, from perceiving the importance, attached on all occasions to the people's voice, will, if induced to make politics the subject of his pen, give as extended a latitude as possible to their jurisdiction, over the ministerial acts of the officers of government. In some civil institutions, of a milder nature however than those we term despotic, the freedom of the press, if perfectly unrestricted, may become prejudicial to the interests of the society: for a monarchical institution may be so regulated and modulated by a well constructed constitution, as to be deprived of all those offensive sources, from which the heads of government may draw the power of raising themselves to a situation which may endanger the civil freedom of the nation; and may consequently be as agreeable to the wishes and apparently as consonant with the real liberties of the people as any other. Whatever therefore tends to invade the constitutional privileges of the officers of a government, so acceptable to the body of the people, must, in some degree, prove injurious. For if such bounds have been placed to their prerogative as they may find difficult to overlean, such proceedings will have no other consequence, than of exciting a spirit of innovation in the breasts of the subjects, which, when once it acquires an ascendant in the public mind, is constantly stirring and impelling men to the formation of visionary schemes of government, under which the security of their rights and liberties would be more certain, and the attempts toward the adoption of which will probably end in producing a civil war, one of the most dreadful and destructive evils the Almighty ever sent, as a punishment to nations. Some may here perhaps imagine, that I am a decided enemy to all kinds of alteration in forms of government, however inconsistent with the civil liberties they are intended to preserve uninjured. I will here observe, that far from allowing tenets so despotic to constitute a portion of my political creed, there can be no one who more
admires those institutions in which the people possess the most extensive privileges, or that would be happier at seeing such changes effected, in some of the present governments of the earth, as would tend to elevate the subject from a condition of slavery to the enjoyment of that liberty, which is the immediate gift of the ALMIGHTY, and the depriving mankind of which, will subject tyrants to a punishment, hereafter, the extent of which they are by no means aware of. In almost every government that is regulated by an established constitution, we find the most decisive and effectual measures entered into for the prevention of unnecessary and dangerous innovation; which clearly points out the injurious consequences that have been so generally apprehended, by such as have been concerned in the direction of those affairs. Hence it is evident, that no change, however slight, in the constitution of a state, ought to be adopted without the most solemn deliberation on, and examination of its propriety, and this, more on account of the deleterious effects which may result from the possibility of such changes becoming frequent, than the immediate bad consequences that may follow the adoption of any one of them.
If then, agreeable to these remarks, the point at which the liberty of the press may according to the circumstances of some particular cases prove variable, to distinguish and settle it, is to all appearance not to be effected with facility; but when we attend to a distinction that must be obvious between unbridled licentiousness, and mere local impropriety, we will discover, perhaps, that what was imagined a difficult undertaking proves, on examination, rather easier than we expected. From a certain combination of circumstances, in a civil institution, it may be deemed extremely improper to make the capacity of the heads of government, a subject of public discussion; and if ever a case of this kind should occur, it could not certainly be deemed an injurious abridgment of its privileges, for the press to be restricted from commenting on them, when such a proceeding would be attended by evil consequences; but with the licentiousness of the press it is entirely different in regard to this, the line which separates it from real liberty is too broad and conspicuous, to allow us, for a moment, to be
mistaken as to its real extent: it is standing and invariable, and so far from being liable to changes, from the exigencies of governments, or the character of the times, there is no individual ever overleaped it without feeling conscious of his error. To separate and distinguish it from the bounds of impropriety will now be my endeavour, and I commence by laying it down, as an undeniable principle, that whenever the press is made a vehicle for the circulation of circumstances, either public or private, for the sole purpose of satisfying a spirit of animosity, that moment its degeneracy becomes visible, and, if not speedily arrested, will gradually increase until all its credit and importance is at an end, and, from being the supporter of the public rights and liberties, it becomes a foul and disgusting monument of calumny and detraction. This opinion I deliver as general, I will not commute the petty licentiousness so often perceivable in public papers, because accompanied with spirited exertions in the cause of liberty, although continued to be characterized by giving publicity to sentiments of a laudable nature, yet their encouraging at the same time the effusions of scurrility and slander, cause them to sink in their primitive importance, and by thus diminishing the reliance formerly placed in the propriety of their opinions, has some effect in injuring the cause of which they were apparently the advocates. The proprietor of a press should never allow his paper to be made a channel through which one individual may at pleasure slander and defame another; the moment an attempt of this kind gives testimony of such a permission, his paper loses all its native dignity, and from having merited the appellation of one effectual preservative of liberty, becomes deserving, only, of being viewed in the light of a medium through which may be transfused the pestilential emanations of malignity, ruining and blasting the reputations of all that chance to be within the reach of their destructive influence, Let the conductor of a free and impartial press beware how he admits into his columns, either attempts of others to defame private fellow-citizens, or makes it a castle, from which he may, in fancied security, scatter among the people the result of his own personal hatred of individuals. Such conduct as this will
only tend to produce disagreeable schisms among the several members of society, any way interested, and serve gradually to destroy the character of the paper.
A press to be "free," in the obvious sense of the term, should be independent, and uninfluenced by party spirit. In almost every nation it has been remarked that owing to various causes, too numerous and obscure to be distinctly particularized, there frequently originates several distinct and opposite parties, the individuals composing each of which, are necessarily bound to receive the same impressions and profess the same political opinions with the others, however inconsistent and incompatible they may chance to be, with the sentiments that would naturally possess a prevalence in their breasts, when viewing the subject of dispute with an eye uninfluenced by that prejudice and spirit of party engendered by their entrance as members into any political sect. The folly of such unnecessary distinctions in the opinions of the same people, with regard to national affairs, is too glaring to escape the most common observation, and the injurious effects that must invariably result from their encouragement, are of so serious a nature as to cause every real friend of national harmony to reprobate and condemn them. From these observations it is apparent, that a press, conducted under the auspices of a party, cannot, according to the most liberal construction of the term, be considered as "free." For when the political creed of the editor of a gazette has been copied from that of others, and when the sentiments which issue from his pen, are precisely the same with those which have been adopted and promulgated by the particular party that patronizes him, it is evident, that being thus influenced and biassed, impartiality in examining the measures pursued by the government, in the adminis tration of the national concerns, if dictated, apparently, by sentiments corresponding and similar to those of an opposite party, can never be looked for. If then there chance to originate in a state two or more political sects of individuals, the several presses patronized and supported by each, and which constitute the fields in which to display the effects of their mutual hatred, in the most virulent and scurrilous attacks on