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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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5954. NEWSPAPERS, Licentiousness of.—
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5954. NEWSPAPERS, Licentiousness of.—

During this course of administration
[first term] and in order to disturb it, the
artillery of the press has been levelled against
us, charged with whatsoever its licentiousness
could devise or dare. These abuses of an institution
so important to freedom and science,
are deeply to be regretted, inasmuch as they
tend to lessen its usefulness, and to sap its
safety; they might, indeed, have been corrected
by the wholesome punishments reserved
and provided by the laws of the several
States against falsehood and defamation;
but public duties more urgent press
on the time of public servants, and the offenders
have therefore been left to find their
punishment in the public indignation. Nor
was it uninteresting to the world, that an
experiment should be fairly and fully made,
whether freedom of discussion, unaided by
power, is not sufficient for the propagation
and protection of truth—whether a government,
conducting itself in the true spirit of
its Constitution, with zeal and purity, and
doing no act which it would be unwilling
the world should witness, can be written
down by falsehood and defamation. The experiment
has been tried; you have witnessed
the scene; our fellow-citizens looked on, cool
and collected; they saw the latent source
from which these outrages proceeded; they
gathered around their public functionaries,
and when the Constitution called them to
the decision by suffrage, they pronounced
their verdict, honorable to those who had
served them, and consolatory to the friend of
man, who believes he may be intrusted with
his own affairs. No inference is here intended,
that the laws, provided by the States
against false and defamatory publications,
should not be enforced; he who has time, renders
a service to public morals and public tranquillity,
in reforming these abuses by the salutary
coercions of the law; but the experiment
is noted, to prove that, since truth and
reason have maintained their ground against
false opinions in league with false facts, the
press, confined to truth, needs no other legal
restraint; the public judgment will correct
false reasonings and opinions, on a full hearing
of all parties; and no other definite line
can be drawn between the inestimable liberty
of the press and its demoralizing licentiousness.
If there be still improprieties which
this rule would not restrain, its supplement
must be sought in the censorship of public
opinion. [362]
Second Inaugural Address. Washington ed. viii, 43. Ford ed., viii, 346.


This was Jefferson's reply to the severe attacks
made on his first administration.—Editor.