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Liberty of the Press

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LIBERTY OF THE PRESS. Liberty of the press means not only freedom to publish one's thought in printed form but freedom of speech as well, there being no essential differ ence between the written and spoken word. Liberty to publish by speech or print one's own opinions, subject to certain limitations which can hardly be said to limit the fundamental principle, is regarded as one of the natural or absolute rights of man. The Bill of Rights (1689), while making no mention of liberty of the press, stipulates "that the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parlia ment ought not to be impeached in any court or place out of Parliament." The constitutions of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and North Carolina, all adopted in 1776, are the earliest declarations of any legislative author ity in favor of the liberty of the press. With the adoption in 1791 of Article One, amending the United States Constitution, by which it is commanded that "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech or of the press," the principle of a free press and free speech is for the first time written into the fundamental law of an important nation, In 1768 a Massachusetts legislative body re fused to support Governor Bernard in his demand that the editor of the Gazette be pun ished for libeling his honor and asserted instead that °the Liberty of the Press is a great Bul wark of the Liberty of the .People: It is therefore the incumbent Duty of those who are constituted the Guardians of the People's Rights to defend and maintain it." The struggle for a free press began almost immediately after the introduction of printing. Though actually antedating the Reformation by a century it was not until Luther's time, how ever, that the printing press revealed itself as a powerful agency in the wide and rapid distribution of ideas, creating new public opinion and stirring men to united action. Contemporary writers mention with amazement that in 14 days Luther's theses were found in every corner of Germany; in a month they had gone to the ends of Christendom "as though the angels were the And so, as Putnam points out, early in the 16th century "the rulers of the State and the authorities of the church began to find occasion for alarm at the increasing range of the printed word, and came to the conclusion that if the com munity was not to be undermined by . . .

dangerous and demoralizing opinion, measures must be taken to maintain supervision and con trol over the production' of books." This was hardly a new thing for the rulers and authori ties to attempt. From the time of Augustus down, rulers of empire and Church had per ceived the danger to the power and perma nence of their rule in allowing men to speak and write freely in criticism of prominent per sons and the established order, and uttering and advocating ideas subversive of those upon which the then existing political sway rested. The question whether those in authority who prohibited free speech and a free press were as pure-minded and as clean-purposed as those who fought for such freedom does not enter into the discussion. The situation as it existed, and still exists, is that the organization of State and of Church represents certain social ideas and relations, also certain ideas which should govern the rights, authority and power of the rulers and the duties and obligations of the people. In Luther's time, and before, satisfied — whether selfishly or unselfishly was not the point— that such organization and order were little or nothing short of divine in truth and worth, it was the natural, the inevitable thing for those in authority to try and suppress any and every word written or spoken which criti cised or expressed a doubt as to the wisdom and validity of the existing order. As there would he no restriction placed upon those who spoke and wrote in favor and support of the established order, it is clear that the men strug gling for a free press and free speech were inevitably those who, for reasons good enough for them, were opposed to things as they were, who were advocating ideas that were more or less revolutionary.

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