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The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;

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4660. LIBELS, Sedition law and.—
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4660. LIBELS, Sedition law and.—

Randolph has proposed an inquiry [in Congress] into certain prosecutions at common law in
Connecticut, for libels on the government, and
not only himself but others have stated them
with such affected caution, and such hints at the
same time, as to leave on every mind the impression
that they had been instituted either by
my direction, or with my acquiescence, at least.
This has not been denied by my friends, because
probably the fact is unknown to them. I shall
state it for their satisfaction, and leave it to
be disposed of as they think best. I had observed
in a newspaper some dark hints of a
prosecution in Connecticut, but so obscurely
hinted that I paid little attention to it. Some
considerable time after, it was again mentioned,
so that I understood that some prosecution
was going on in the federal court there, for
calumnies uttered from the pulpit against me
by a clergyman. I immediately wrote to Mr.
Granger, who, I think, was in Connecticut at
the time, stating that I had laid it down as a
law to myself, to take no notice of the thousand
calumnies issued against me, but to trust my
character to my own conduct, and the good
sense and candor of my fellow citizens; that I
had found no reason to be dissatisfied with that
course, and I was unwilling it should be broke
through by others as to any matter concerning
me; and I, therefore, requested him to direct the
district attorney to dismiss the prosecution.
Some time after this, I heard of subpœnas being
served on General Lee, David M. Randolph,
and others, as witnesses to attend the trial. I
then for the first time conjectured the subject
of the libel. I immediately wrote to Mr. Granger,
to require an immediate dismission of the
prosecution. The answer of Mr. Huntington,
the district attorney, was that these subpœnas
had been issued by the defendant without his
knowledge, that it had been his intention to dismiss
all the prosecutions at the first meeting


Page 499
of the court, and to accompany it with an
avowal of his opinion, that they could not be
maintained, because the federal court had no
jurisdiction over libels. This was accordingly
done. I did not till then know that there were
other prosecutions of the same nature, nor do I
now know what were their subjects. But all
went off together; and I afterwards saw in the
hands of Mr. Granger, a letter written by the
clergyman, disavowing any personal ill will
towards me, and solemnly declaring he had
never uttered the words charged. I think Mr.
Granger either showed me, or said there were
affidavits of at least half a dozen respectable
men, who were present at the sermon and
swore no such expressions were uttered, and as
many equally respectable men who swore the
contrary. But the clergyman expressed his
gratification at the dismission of the prosecution.
* * * Certain it is, that the prosecutions
had been instituted, and had made considerable
progress, without my knowledge, that
they were disapproved by me as soon as
known, and directed to be discontinued. The
attorney did it on the same ground on which
I had acted myself in the cases of Duane, Callendar
and others; to wit, that the Sedition law
was unconstitutional and null, and that my obligation
to execute what was law, involved that of
not suffering rights secured by valid laws to
be prostrated by what was no law.—
To Wilson C. Nicholas. Washington ed. v, 452. Ford ed., ix, 253.
(M. 1809)