THE LIBERTY OF THE PRESS by Charles F. Partington 1836

Amendment 1; United States Constitution – Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”


When contemplating the liberties, freedoms and protections afforded United States Citizens by the Constitution and Bill of Rights: Remember the Free Exercise of Religion was the first to be protected by the Framers. The Religion Clause in the First Amendment was meant to keep government out of religion, not to keep religion out of the public square or government.

Remember also when one right, liberty, or freedom is under attack, they are all under attack, when one is in jeopardy, they are all in jeopardy! The Second Amendment is meant to guarantee the First Amendment!

THE LIBERTY OF THE PRESS by Charles F. Partington 1836

This great bulwark of national as well as individual freedom is now better understood, and its rights admitted, than at any previous period in the history of the world. Properly speaking, it means the right that every man possesses to print whatever he chooses, though without at all taking from the laws the power of punishing him for the abuse of that liberty.

To make the liberty of the press real, two things are essential; 1, that the laws against its licentiousness should be precise and clear; 2, that they should only punish what is really injurious to the public welfare.

The laws against treason under Tiberius, against heresy under the inquisition, against irreverence under Catharine II., against conspiracy under the convention, against infringements of the royal dignity, and contempt of government in various states, are very indefinite, and allow the greatest tyranny.

The laws for punishing abuses of the press are generally directed against attacks upon the government or its officers, upon the reputation of individuals, and upon good morals and religion. The latitude allowed to the press of course will vary with circumstances. A discussion will be permitted in England which would be punished in Austria. Discussions of certain religious topics are considered in one age blasphemous, while another age esteems them innocent. As to charges affecting the character of governments and individuals, we may observe that the freer a government is, the less sensitive it is, and the less sensitive are the people who live under it. No governments arc so indifferent to being publicly spoken of as the British and American, whilst the Prussian code contains many laws against verbal offenses. As the liberty of speech is unquestioned, and printing only gives permanence and circulation to what might be freely spoken (newspapers, for instance, take the place of speeches and conversations in the forums of the petty states of antiquity), the right of printing rests on the same abstract grounds as the right of speech; and it might seem strange to a man unacquainted with history, that printing should be subjected to a previous censorship, as it is in most states, any more than speaking, and that the liberty of the press should be expressly provided for in the constitutions of most free states. But when we look to history, we find the origin of this, as of many other legislative anomalies, in periods when politics, religion, and individual rights were confusedly intermingled. It is only since men’s views of the just limits of government have become clearer, that the liberty of the press has been recognized as a right j and to this country is the world mainly indebted for the establishment of this principle, as of so many other bulwarks of freedom, though the Netherlands preceded us in the actual enjoyment of the liberty of the. press.

When we consider the practical effect of a censorship, it is no more defensible on that ground than on the ground of abstract right. In what times and countries have morals and religion, and the reputation of individuals, been more outrageously attacked through the press, than in those in which the censorship was established? We are far from considering the liberty of the press as without evil consequences ; but the censorship does not prevent these consequences, while it destroys the numberless benefits of an unshackled press. But the liberty of the press, properly considered, is not to be treated as a mere question of political expediency. Liberty of conscience and liberty of thought are rights superior in importance to any objects which fall under the head of expediency.

Representative governments are empty forms without the liberty of the press. The free discussion of all political measures, and of the character of public officers, is of much more consequence than the freedom of debate in legislative assemblies. A parliament would be a comparatively small chock upon a government, were it not for the liberty of the press. In fact, it might easily be made an instrument for enforcing oppressive measures; since a government would find little difficulty in gaining over a majority of such a body by the motives of ambition and avarice, were it not for the control exercised over legislative bodies by a free press. Without this, publicity of discussion in legislative assemblies would be of little avail. In fact, representative governments, without the liberty of the press, are a mockery. This liberty is, indeed, the great safeguard of all others; and a whole dynasty was lately prostrated in a struggle with this formidable power. Polignac’s Report, which caused the revolution in France of 1830, will ever be memorable in the history of the liberty of the press, as proving the difficulty or impossibility of a minister’s ruling in opposition to public opinion in a country where the press is free. In this country, the liberty of the press, soon after printing was introduced, was regulated by the king’s proclamation?, prohibitions, charters of licence, &c, and, finally, by the court of star-chamber. The long parliament, after their rupture with Charles I., assumed the same power. The government of Charles II. imitated their ordinances, and the press did not really become free till the expiration of the statutes restricting it in 1694, after which it was found impossible to pass new laws in restraint of it, and it has remained free ever since. A licence is required both in France and this country. Here it is easily obtained; but a late law in France, since the revolution of July, 1830 has required very high security.

See also: LIBERTY OF THE PRESS by Senator Edward D. Baker 1811-1861