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the legality of each other's claims to political integrity, cannot in my opinion be with propriety regarded as in a state of perfect freedom. For this is denied by the very nature of the conditions, upon a compliance with which, they are to receive that support from society which can alone enable them to sustain the necessary expenses of their respective establishments. If these are to be defrayed by the patronage of a particular party, it is evident, that the importance of acquiring and retaining this patronage, must have some effect in actuating their ostensible proprietors to the publication of such opinions only as will meet the approbation of those who can with facility discontinue it.
At this critical period of time, when every barrier to the encroachment of calumny and detraction on the respective reputations of the several combatants are removed-when a liberty of using scurrility and detraction as weapons, in their virulent attacks on each other, has been granted by mutual consent, and when no other object appears to lie in the view of either, except the pleasure and gratification of a final triumph over the others--then it is that licentiousness usurps the place of liberty, and the commencement of those ruinous effects that will ever result from possessing an unbridled liberty of abusing, at pleasure, the characters of our fellow-citizens becomes perceptible. For if the freedom of the press is proved to be under such circumstances defunct, and yet the editors of papers have the power of giving publicity to whatever their infuriate malice or animosity against others may dictate, it follows that this point is one at which “a change from civil to natural liberty, in the publication of opinions, becomes soonest visible.” The incompatibility of party spirit in the conduct of a public paper with its real liberty, must from these remarks be pretty evident; and it now remains with me to show the conduct which must always be attended to by an editor, in order to guard and secure himself against the imputations of partiality and prejudice. When a nation is distracted by the continual disputes of several opposite political parties, a paper, in which the several inconsistencies and prejudices remarkable in each, would with an impartial severity be depicted and condemned,
must be considered as a desideratum among the political portion of its subjects; and although liable to receive the title of insignificancy from the hot-brained members of either party, must, in time, become of considerable utility in opening the eyes of society to the absurdity and folly of allowing some. individual differences in opinion, to become the origin of schisms and divisions which may so severely injure the repose and quiet of the whole, A press constructed for so laudable a purpose, if raised on a secure and permanent foundation, and conducted without being perceptibly influenced by the contentions of the opposite parties, the satirizing which would be the unchangeable resolution of its proprietor, might, if the importance of its objects were duly appreciated, become so extensively patronized, as to justify its conductor in entertaining the hope of being, at some future period, the means of effecting the final abolition of those political distinctions, the impropriety of which in the sentiments of the same people, he was desirous of illustrating. The principal difficulty in the prosecution of a plan such as this, lies in the discovery of a person, whose genius and talents, and the impartial and unprejudiced nature of whose, opinions on the subjects of foreign and domestic policy would qualify him for the editorship of a gazette, established on so liberal a plan. This obstacle arises from the unfrequency of instances occurring, where a man has been possessed of so firm and decided a character, as enabled him to withstand the ridicule of his fellow-citizens, for not participating in the promulgation of their respective political prejudices. But I certainly am of opinion, that there are many persons, who although members of a party, may not be of opinion, that their entrance into them has tied them down to the reception of such sentiments only as have met with the previous approbation of its leading personages, and a character of this kind is the proper one for carrying on, with spirit, a design of the above-mentioned nature; for not being swayed by prejudice nor influenced in the reception of impressions, merely from their being generally entertained by the society of which he is a nominal member, he can look with a severe and at the same time impartial eye, on their defects as well as excellencies, and conse
quently will be enabled with greater justice to point out such of its defects, as when corrected may leave it in a situation much more fascinating and agreeable to the unprejudiced politician, and more consonant with that reason which should constantly guide us in the regulation of our sentiments.
In a former part of this essay I took some notice of the right which ought to be possessed by the press, of publicly exposing whatever may be deemed prejudicial to the interests of society, even although originating in a private citizen; and as being in some manner connected with the subject of this communication, it may not perhaps be thought a digression, to examine the proper method of proceeding in the disclosure of private sentiments of a dangerous tendency, when their possessor endeavours to inculcate their propriety. In the first place let an editor always beware of ambiguity. Whenever the disagreeable task of unfolding to public view the failings of individuals becomes necessary, the conductor of an impartial paper should be cautious in avoiding that kind of language which is characterized by such obscurity, as to raise only doubts or suspicions in the minds of his readers, as to the deficiency in probity of the person alluded to.
This species of attack evinces the existence of a doubt, even on the mind of the publisher, as to the truth of what it is his aim to insinuate, and as no one in whose disposition impartiality is distinguishable will allow himself to credit assertions advanced under so mysterious a garb, especially when those assertions, if true, will tend materially to injure the reputation of a fellow-citizen, the sole consequence is the involuntary excitation of some vague and undefined suspi. cions, with respect to the integrity of the supposed delinquent, in his breast, and thus the intentions of the accuser, even supposing them to spring from the purest and most disinterested motives, can in this manner be but partially assumed. There cannot, in my opinion, exist a more dangerous weapon, in the hand of an unprincipled character, than obscure insinuations smoothed over with a pretended belief in their want of foundation; none that more successfully bids defiance to a satisfactory answer on the part of accused. For when the accusation of improper conduct is conveyed in such general and compre
hensive terms, as to leave cause at least for a doubt as to their real import, there is nothing more difficult, than to devise an efficient method of satisfying the fellow-citizens of the intended personage, of their falsity. If on a charge of this kind any promptitude is discovered in understanding the nature of the particular circumstances, alluded to by the accuser, it is converted by minds, already prejudiced, into an obvious evidence of guilt; and that anxiety for the preservation of reputation and good name, so natural an inhabitant of the human breast, is twisted and perverted into a certain indication of too near an ac. quaintance with the cause of the attack.
If then, as has been shown, the usage of obscure and ambiguous terms, in the exposure of whatever merits censure from the press, be inconsistent with that candour, which ought particularly to characterize the conductor of a public paper, in the discharge of his editorial duties, it follows that the press should never be made subservient to the accusation of an individual, until such proofs have been adduced to its proprietor as are of sufficient strength to justify an open and unconcealed attack. If satisfactory testimony has proved the verity of what he intends disclosing, there can be no necessity for a disguised method of proceeding; nor can there be the least impropriety, under such circumstances, on the part of the editor, in depicting and holding out to public view the guilt of the accused; but on the contrary, the welfare of society calls for his exposure, and instead of merit. ing the reproaches of his fellow-citizens for what may by some be styled an unnecessary officiousness, he by so doing becomes possessed of a claim to their warmest approbation. Thus the wickedness on the one hand of assailing in this manner the reputation of a man of real integrity, and on the other, the futility of such a method of rendering public, the dishonest conduct of a bad character, are I trust, satisfactorily evinced.
It is impossible to examine into the beneficial consequences, that must result, in every country, from supporting and nourishing the freedom of the press," without feeling sensible of its great importance. As a preservative of national liberty its value cannot be too highly appreciated, and although in tyrannical governments, its inconsistency with the measures of their despotic,
rulers has caused them to confine its natural privileges within such limits as may prevent any good consequences springing from its use, yet that very fear indicates the acquiescence on their part in the truth of its being an instrument too dangerous and effectual, in the hands of a patriot, for its use to escape restriction, and serves to illustrate the importance of preserving it unshackled by the restraints of municipal law. The « freedom of the press” to be “unshackled” does not however imply the necessity of its being left in every case without restriction. If every one that edited a paper were allowed the liberty of circulating with impunity whatever he chose at the expense of his neighbours, the certain consequence would be a rapid degeneracy into licentiousness. Hence the necessity of imposing such penalties on the unfounded aspersions of individual reputations, as may serve to prevent the abuse of that freedom, which every encroachment on its boundaries will tend to destroy. The truth of whatever is alleged against another is in every case a sufficient excuse for so doing, if we consider the circumstance in a civil sense; but when we regard the subject in a moral point of view, the rule will evidently experience a considerable change. In the first place mere malice may induce us to disclose certain circumstances in the private history of an individual, which can be of no material consequence to the public. Those circumstances may possibly be of such a nature as to ruin the reputation of the person they concern, and yet their exposure may have no beneficial effects upon society. Who could possibly have the effrontery in a case of this kind to declare that he was convinced of the propriety of publicly exposing the private failings of an individual, from the knowledge he possessed of their reality and truth? Who is there that can deem the truth of an assertion an excuse for advancing it, when that assertion menaces with ruin the character of a fellow-citizen, without the most distant prospect of any other consequence resulting from its publication? Hence we discover the impropriety of circulating reports however true, when they cannot posibly have any other effects than such as are prejudicial to the interests of a private member of society; for allow me to ask what motive we can assign for so doing? Not the good of society, for by the supposi