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Mutiny on Paper As a direct outcome of the passage of the Mutiny Act of 1769, there appeared in New York two pamphlets which voiced the discontent of the colonists. One was entitled A Son of Liberty; the other Legion. They summoned a meeting of “the betrayed inhabitants of the City and Colony of New York” to air grievances.
The New York State Assembly branded these as libelous. The Governor set about ascertaining who was the author of the pamphlets. One Capt. Alexander McDougall was pronounced the slanderer, his guilt leaning on the confessions extracted by nefarious methods from printers. McDougall refused to admit authorship, but was put in jail.
He was a popular prisoner. Instead of sulking about his fate, he and his friends made a big joke of it, much to the embarassment of the authorities. By a remarkable coincidence the assembly records of the McDougall case appeared on page 45 of the Journal. It was issue number 45 of The North Briton which had gotten John Wilkes, English crusader for a free press, into trouble. An account of one of McDougall's jail receptions states: “Yesterday, the 45th day of the year, 45 gentlemen, real enemies to internal taxation, went to the New Gaol; and dined with him on 45 pounds of beef, cut from a bullock 45 months old.”
A storm of pamphlets opposing the crown began to roll from the presses, and the spearhead of the attack, McDougall, was freed. The English authorities were forced to surrender in their efforts to control a press so popular.-LIBERTY OF THE PRESS, Schuyler, p. 64.
42 Years Until Victory
Matthew Lyon, congressman from Vermont, published a letter in the Vermont Gazette criticizing President John Adams, and was brought to trial by the Federalists on charges of violating the Alien and Sedition Laws. He pled his own case badly, and was convicted, fined, and sentenced to serve a term in prison.
His constituents took up a collection to pay his fine, and even reelected him to Congress when he was in jail. They got up petitions for his release, but he would not sign them himself. Without his signature on the papers, President Adams refused to consider them.
When Jefferson took office he pardoned Lyon, as he did all the others prosecuted under the Alien and Sedition Laws. But Lyon's final victory over what he deemed an unjust law did not come until 42 years later, when Congress refunded his fine.-FREEDOM OF INQUIRY AND EXPRESSION, Cheyney, p. 5.
One day when Baron Humbolt, a European nobleman, was visiting President Jefferson at the White House he found a copy of a newspaper on Jefferson's desk. Glancing through it he was surprised to find that it was one of the most abusive papers of the day, and contained bitter attacks upon the President.
“Why are these libels allowed ?” he indignantly asked. “Why is not this libelous journal suppressed, and its editor imprisoned ?"
“Put this paper in your pocket,” Jefferson said, smiling, "and should you hear the reality of our liberty, the freedom of the press, questioned, show this paper and tell where you found it.”—LIBERTY OF THE PRESS, Williams, p. 48.
"But I Cannot Desert It"
One of the great American martyrs in the battle for a free press was Elijah Lovejoy, who lived and worked in the border States three decades before the Civil War. Many abolitionist presses had been destroyed in Baltimore, Cincinnati, and points even farther north. Lovejoy was aware that his crusade for such an unpopular cause in Missouri and Southern Illinois meant arousing the ire of mobs.
Three presses belonging to Lovejoy were destroyed. Yet he persisted in fighting for what he believed was right.
“I have asked for nothing but to be protected in my rights as a citizen-rights which God has given me, and which are guaranteed to me by the Constitution of my country. ... I can die at my post, but I cannot desert it."
His words were prophetic, for a few nights later as Lovejoy and his friends tried to stop a mob from smashing his fourth press, he was killed.--FREEDOM OF INQUIRY AND EXPRESSION, Cheyney, p. 7.
A Demand for Free Speech
More than once in his early years Lincoln championed the right of free speech. On one of these occasions, at a political meeting in Springfield, Ill., in 1840, he fearlessly faced an angry crowd and saved a fellow speaker from partisan violence. Edward Dickinson Baker aroused so much hostility by his unpopular views at one meeting that the crowd threatened to drag him from the platform and beat him.
Lincoln mounted the platform, waved his hand for attention, and said: “Mr. Baker has a right to speak, and ought to be permitted to do so. I am here to protect him, and no man shall take him from
his stand if I can prevent it. Gentlemen, this is a land where freedom of speech is guaranteed."
His forcible reproof and resolute attitude restored order, and Baker was given a respectful hearing.-ONE THOUSAND SAYINGS OF HISTORY, Fogg, p. 810.
"Fair Play!" They Shouted During the Boer War a bearded pacifist stood on a bench in Hyde Park, London's free speech zone, and denounced his government for attacking the South African Dutchmen. A half-drunken soldier, just back from the battle front, started to call the speaker names. The crowd around him immediately objected.
“Fair play! Fair play!” they shouted. “Let the old man talk himself out.”
Maintaining this spirit, England went through the war without checking free speech.-FREEDOM OF SPEECH, Johnsen, p. 99.
Few People Bothered To Listen
Shortly before the World War, when George Creel was made police commissioner of Denver, a man labeled an “anarchist” wished to make a speech in that Colorado city. The papers demanded that the man be kept out.
But Creel saw the danger involved in persecuting speakers with unpopular views. He issued a public invitation to the anarchist to come to town and speak anywhere. When the puzzled agitator called upon Creel he found the commissioner more than cooperative. Creel wanted him to speak wherever he thought he could get the biggest crowd. He suggested that the man speak from the steps of the city hall. And he promised the speaker the protection of the police.
To the cry of the alarmists Creel stated that if the man had anything to say he should be heard; if not, nobody would listen anyway.
The man spoke, protected by the very Government he was attacking. And few people bothered to listen.-FREEDOM OF SPEECH, Johnsen, p. 99.
A Jury Asserts Its Rights
When William Penn and William Mead found their meeting house locked, they began to preach in the street outside. Immediately they were brought into court charged with “contempt of law, disturbing the peace, ill example” and several other vague counts. ,
. Penn argued that the indictment listed no specific law which had been violated. Therefore, he contended, since there was no law there was no transgression, and he was being tried illegally. The argument only served to make the judge think Penn was "too saucy.” He ordered the jury to bring in a verdict of “Guilty.”
The jury, headed by Edward Bushell, refused to take orders, and was threatened by the judge. Hearing of this, Penn shouted: “You are Englishmen, mind your privilege, give not away your right." Thus strengthened, Bushell and his fellow jurors brought in a verdict of “Not Guilty” and were thrown into jail for defying the Court's orders.
But this uprising on the part of the jurors gave others the courage to bring in decisions in accordance with their views of the evidence. The instructions of prejudiced judges were no longer binding on an English jury.—THE TRYAL OF WILLIAM PENN AND WILLIAM MEAD, Penn, p. 37.
A Principle Means More Than a Cause
The British soldiers quartered in Boston before the Revolution were the symbol of colonial grievances. When some of these soldiers, goaded by tormentors, fired into a crowd, the incident become the rallying point of the colonists. Although only five persons were killed, the affair became known as the "Boston Massacre."
It did not seem that anyone in the colonies would defend the unpopular Redcoats when they were brought to trial. But John Adams and Josiah Quincy came forward as champions of the right of a fair hearing for the soldiers, even though they realized it might mean sacrificing their places of leadership in the colonial cause.
"Facts are stubborn things," argued Adams before a hostile jury, “and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."
He went on to prove that the shooting was provoked, and therefore was done in self-defense. The jury saw the wisdom of the argument and brought in a verdict of "Not Guilty" for all but two of the soldiers. These two were convicted and lightly sentenced for manslaughter.
Thus was the principle of fair trial asserted on behalf of British soldiers in the colonies, and it was asserted by the very leaders who insisted that these soldiers be withdrawn.-FAIR TRIAL, Williams,
Right to a Fair Trial
When William Trailor, charged with murdering a friend in a squabble, was locked up in the Springfield, Ill., jail in 1838, a crowd gathered in the public square and began growling about “the rope."
Out of the group stepped a tall, gangling lawyer. He argued that
Trailor had a right to a fair trial. When his reasonable contentions failed to stop the surging crowd, Abraham Lincoln began to use stronger language. If anyone believed the prisoner should be lynched he should be willing to fight for that belief. He himself was willing to fight for his belief that the prisoner should be given a hearing.
No one stepped up to challenge the rugged frontiersman, and the crowd soon dispersed. Later, at the trial, Lincoln produced the man who was supposed to have been “murdered.” Lincoln's determined stand for an American principle had saved an innocent man from hanging.–FAIR TRIAL, Williams, p. 59.
Freedom of Thought
Galileo, Florentine astronomer and inventor, proved to his own satisfaction that the earth moved around the sun. He thereupon set about instructing his pupils in this belief, and began writing articles to prove his contention.
For this he was indicted by the Church, and a recantation was demanded. The indictment stated that the holy tribunal, being desirous of providing against disorder and mischief, considered “absurd philosophically the proposition that the sun is the center of the world and immovable from its place."
Galileo's assertion that the earth moved was likewise frowned upon. “The proposition that the earth is not the center of the world,” ruled the infallible judges, “but that it moves with a diurnal motion is also absurd, philosophically false and, theoretically considered, at least erroneous in faith.”
The tribunal gave Galileo his choice of death or public denial. Rather than give his life for his beliefs, he recanted. But on his deathbed he asserted that he had always believed his finding to be true. The lip service had been given the authorities in the hope that some of his teachings might be accepted at a later date, and then he would still be alive to aid in dispensing them.-THE WAR ON MODERN SCIENCE, Shipley, p. 236.
Earned Lasting Gratitude Largely due to the work of Horace Mann, the old school of the Puritans was being replaced in Massachusetts by a new and purely American type of school. Instruction was becoming adapted to democratic and national rather than religious ends.
The pulpit and the press directed violent attacks against Mann and his Board of Education. It was claimed that the educators were trying to eliminate the Bible from the schools, to abolish correction, and