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the most barbarous, the most wanton, the most impudent defamer that has ever existed?
Slander is a headlong torrent, that rushes over the land like a mighty water rolling from the mountain's top, it spreads and strengthens as it goes-the palace and the cottage are involved in its common ruin-nothing is so high that it cannot reach it, or so mean that it will not descend to it-let not the great promise themselves security in the unblemished dignity of their characters, nor the humble expect safety in their obscurity-like death, it comes to every man's door. What is there so pure, or what so sacred, that it has escaped this cormorant of defamation? From the highest magistrate to the meanest vagabond nothing has been secure; all men and all nations have been called with an equal tone of authority, to the bar of his reproach, and every law, liberty and institution, has undergone his modest animadversions. He has assumed a haughty and tyrannical jurisdiction over every thing public or private; political or domestic; religious or moral; not only within the United States, but in every quarter of the globe. His arrogant vanity is as disgusting as his crimes are detestable. William Cobbett is indeed a phænomenon even in the courts of defamation. ¿
He may look back on the endless list of his predecessors in the offices of scandal, who have, at different times, infested society, and, although he will find many superior in talents, learning and wit, he will discover few equal in boldness and scurrility. His opinion is the great law from whence there must be no appeal; his assertion, the high authority, from whence there must be no inquiry. Despotic dogma usurps the place of just knowledge, and the most loathsome vulgarity is offered as a substitute for wit. The eye of decency can seldom read his pages without offence, and virtue turns from them with indignation and disgust. Is there a species of editorial pollution that has not blackened them? If there be, it is because it has escaped the laborious industry, and acuteness of this strange man.
There is, gentlemen, no subject of political inquiry that has excited more anxiety among the people of every free country; there are few subjects that have employed more
able pens, or received more frequent discussions in every possible form of argument than the liberty of the pressand yet perhaps, there is no subject now more remote from a general understanding or settled opinion. It is so difficult to draw the just and safe line between the proper use, and the insufferable abuse of this liberty; so difficult to fix its legal or its reasonable bound; to say “thus far shalt thou go, and no farther;" to say, here flow the wholesome waters of liberty, and there begins the poisoned torrent of licentiousness; that all that has been said, and I fear all that ever will be said, on the subject, has but little effect to produce an unity of sentiment, or establish the point sought after. Another reason may be offered for the universal uncertainty, and disagreement on this subject.
The discussion is conducted, the inferences are drawn, and the judgment is formed more by the passions and particular interests, than by the just reason of the several advocates and inquirers. While this shall continue to be the case, and while the passions and interests of man, shall continue to drive them to different wishes, and different objects, no coalition can be hoped for, on this subject. But, gentlemen, this mighty uproar about the liberty of the press, and all the violence, declamation and invective that it has excited, touch not the case of private slander. By a common principle of self-preservation, by a common principle of unquestionable justice, by a common appreciation of the value of character, and by the dictates of honesty and sound policy, all men have agreed that this admits of no defence. No writer, no declaimer, however mad with popular enthusiasm, has yet been wild and absurd enough to claim, or defend a right of wanton abuse of his neighbour's character. The dispute has been how far, and in what manner, public men in their public capacities, and public measures in their public tendency, are to be investigated and reproached at the bar of the public, through the medium of the press. But no dispute has ever been had upon the sanctity of private reputation and happiness. No question has arisen, whether a vindictive enemy, may, with wanton false. hood and ungovernable rage, attack, through the press, the character of the object of his hate; may distort
truth, and invent falsehood, may set every engine of malice, ingenuity and ridicule to work, to render him contemptible and detested; to scatter misery through an unoffending and amiable family, and bring them down from a fair station in society, to contumely, wretchedness and want. Yet such have been the views and wishes of William Cobbett in this case, and to accomplish them none of his vast resources in this way have been unemployed.
Continuation of Mr. Hopkinson's Speech, in defence of Dr. Rush, in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
I PROFESS myself, gentlemen, a zealous and devoted friend to the true liberty of the press. I view it as a lofty citadel, from whence the people overlook the conduct of their governors; encourage, approve and reward the virtuous, and crush the daring effects of ambitious oppression, or unprincipled designs. The wicked stand appalled before it, and the good flourish and rejoice. But, permit me to say, that the safety of this citadel, in this country at least, is more endangered by the treachery, malignity, and arrogance of pretended friends, than from the violence of open foes. Such friends, possessing themselves of this important station, and protected under its sacred walls, use this high privilege for the most abandoned purposes. That which was intended for public good, is the prostituted instrument of private malicethat which was erected for the salvation of a people, becomes the foul avenger of a villain's wrath. That thunder which stood ready to assert violated rights, and protect the liberties of millions, is pointed with deadly vengeance against the domestic happiness of some virtuous family, the private peace of some deserving citizens. Nay, against the very inclosures of social order and harmony, and the ramparts of religion and morality? Is this the liberty of the press? Are these the ends for which it was instituted and preserved? You must not, gentlemen, be made to believe that the liberty of the press is attacked, or endangered, whenever a scurrilous printer is prosecuted, and brought to justice, for some malicious and
profligate attack upon an unoffending neighbour. These are truly the only means of preserving it pure, valuable, and undefiled. By these means only will it continue to be a blessing-to be a terror to evil doers, and a praise and protection to those that do well. Let not the fair fabric be defiled; and by becoming the base engine of malignant persecution, become the just object of universal detestation. Preserve it in its exquisite beauty; its elegant proportions, and its impenetrable strength; and let not its foundations be sapped by treacherous guardians, till its high walls totter and fall. Those high toned and pretended sons of liberty, who bawl incessantly about the rights of the press, while they blacken it with their detestable crimes; who tell you it is sacred, while they are plunging it in disgrace; who, under its name and sanction, practice the most abandoned licentiousness, and invade our most important and valuable rights, must be laid low, or they will work a fatal ruin to the liberty they abuse; pretending to be its friends, they are its most deadly foes; pretending to protect, they inevitably destroy it. To preserve the liberty of the press from ruin, and contempt, it is necessary to bring down these wretched impostors. While frequent prosecutions against the press, are sometimes the refuge of tyranny, shrinking from investigation, it must be remembered, they may also be the symptoms of approaching extreme depravity and licentiousness among a people. When the latter is the case, the evil is to be corrected by exposing every atrocious offender, to severe and exemplary punishment, and not by shielding him under the liberty of the press. To make defamation dangerous and detestable, is the only mode of preserving the press from detestation. Let this liberty and defamation never be classed together! Ask me what are the evidences of the decay of religion, and morals among a people, of the approaching disregard of every social law and duty, of the entire prostration of truth, honour and honesty, of the tottering state of government, of the bursting of the social compact, and of the consequent scenes of bloodshed, revolutions and warring chaos; and I will tell you, it is a boundless multiplication of licentious libels, a public encouragement of malicious defamation, and unpunished ravage upon reputation.
When good character loses its value and protection in society, when it is fallen into ridicule and contempt, why should any man labour to obtain it? It is excess that is the great destroyer of all things: human excess of health sometimes shatters the human frame, and bursts the strong ligaments of life. Excess of despotism has humbled the most powerful monarchs; and excess of liberty has subverted the firmest republics. Seldom has a tyranny been overthrown by the mere spirit of liberty among the people, unless first roused, assisted, and goaded to action, by the insolent and insufferable oppression of overgrown power; and never has the freedom of a republic been destroyed by the bare strength of the arm of the usurper, unless favoured by those disorders, distractions and consequent weakness and disunion, which the corruption and licentiousness of liberty never fail to produce. Permit me, gentlemen, to make a few more observations on this liberty of the press. Is not this at once insulting and absurd to an intolerable degree? A printer will spend months and years, in unprovoked, unceasing exertions, to destroy the character and fortune of a fellow-citizen, to bring him into public hatred and contempt, to overturn every fair prospect in life, and reduce him and his family to poverty and disgrace; but this is not persecution; it is liberty; the sacred liberty of the press. If the oppressed individual seeks redress for his insufferable injuries, and endeavours to avert the threatening ruin; if he calls upon his slanderer in the most decent and dignified manner to support his charges; if, conscious of innocence, he determines even to put his character in issue against his vile and lurking defamer; this indeed is persecution, the whole country is alarmed and inflamed; the liberty of the press is attacked; the great palladium of our rights, the sacred and unalienable pledge of freedom is threatened with immediate destruction; and the poor, innocent, unoffending printer, loudly demands universal sympathy, and public protection from persecution. Can we listen a moment to such impudent absurdity and nonsense, to such a horrid perversion of the eternal dictates of truth and justice? If DR. RUSH is guilty of persecution in applying to the tribunal of his country, for the justification of his character, and the re