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Philadelphiensis VIII

(January 23, 1788)

"This is true liberty; when freeborn men, Having to advise the public, may speak free; Which he who can, and will, deserves high praise; Who neither can, nor will, may hold his peace-

What can be juster in a state than this?"

Hail, immortal genius!–hail, thou friend of freedom, and of thy fellow-men, whose patriotic pen first wrote this divine sentiment, "Let it be impressed upon your minds, let it be instilled into your children, that the liberty of the press is the palladium of all civil, political and religious rights of freemen." This is the scourge of tyrants, oppressors, villains, and blood-suckers; the bulwark of freedom, that causes the haughtiest lordling to tremble; an inestimable jewel, that places the poorest citizen on a level with the richest demagogue. In America the freedom of the press is peculiarly interesting: to a people scattered over such a vast continent, what means of information or redress have they, when a conspiracy has been formed against their sacred rights and privileges? None but the press. This is the herald that sounds the alarm, and rouses freemen to guard their liberty. From this scourge, the parricide, the knave of power and his cringing sycophants have every thing to fear; it hurls fury on the guilty heads of such base characters, and drags them to the public altar–And through the medium of the press, the good and the patriotic citizen receives the thanks of his grateful countrymen.

The sons of freedom who framed the constitution of Pennsylvania, expresly declared this to be one of the unalienable rights of the people, and therefore it ought not to be restrained. That some evils attend an unrestrained press, is obvious; but these are infinitely overbalanced by its advantages. The very salvation of America, I trust, will be wrought out by it; and the conspirators be taken by their own snares, which they so artfully set to seize the liberties of their fellow citizens, to their extreme mortification and disgrace.

In my first number, I took notice of some attempts, made by some of the well born or their parasites, to destroy the freedom of the press. A scheme was then proposed, that every writer, for or against the constitution, should leave his name with the printer, to be published if required. This plan was first set on foot in Boston, and adopted by some of the printers there; in consequence of which, a gentleman under the signature of A Pennsylvania Mechanic, recommends a similar conduct to the printers of Philadelphia–And few days after, another, under the signature of Galba, carries the system something higher; for he must have the villains only who wrote against the new government to leave their names for publication, while the patriotic gentlemen who wrote in favour of it, might walk at large.

Either through my reply, the terrors of a guilty conscience, or probably both, we heard no more of these press-fettering gentlemen until Monday last, when a writer in the Independent Gazetteer, under the signature of One of the whigs of 1776, comes forthwith an improvement upon the original plan. As he says "he has been bred a mechanic," I conceive he is the identical Pennsylvania Mechanic, who, we formerly observed, must be a blacksmith, employed in the service of the well born to construct chains for confining to perpetual slavery the rest of his fellow-citizens. As his method of obtaining the names of the patriotic writers is tolerably clever, it deserves our particular notice. He says that he has left his name with the printer, and hopes the opposite writers will have no objections to do the same, to the end that he may have a private interview with them, and probably they may then make a convert of him. This is a pretty decent kind of a trap of the blacksmith's construction; but let him recollect the old proverb, There is no catching old birds with chaff; and then, I think, he will soon find that his interviews and conversions are rather visionary.

Tyrannical men are generally cunning, and hence they use deceitful arguments, with all the appearance of plausible equality. The author of a piece, say they, ought to give his name, for no man should write what he is ashamed to own. There is an appearance of candour in this argument, which renders it dangerous; but if we consider the thing more attentively, we shall find, that such a system would be subversive of truth and free enquiry, and eventually annihilate the freedom of the press.

When a political writer gives his name with his piece, he then shews where the opposite party may aim their shafts of malice, falshood, and scurrility, with certainty and success. Will a man, for his own sake–or if he has friends, family and endearing connections in life, still more for their sake; venture to expose his interest, his property, and perhaps his life, to the mercy of a revengeful, and probably powerful party? He certainly will not, if he has common sense; and yet if he gives his name, this would necessarily be the consequence–All investigation of the subject would cease; the whole attention would be drawn off to another object; reason and argument must give place to personal invective and scurrility. When a person writes upon a national subject, he appeals to the public, who have nothing to do with the man himself, but with his sentiments: If his arguments and illustrations are well founded, they ought by all means to be published, as they tend to promote the general good; but if they are of a false or dangerous nature, let them be refuted.

The friends of the new constitution have used every method and device, that their power, their cunning, or their influence could have access to, in order to restrain the liberty of the press respecting that despotic scheme of government; but to their confusion be it remembered, that there were printers in Philadelphia beyond their influence or corruption: No city in the Union has afforded such illustrious instances of independence and patriotism among printers. While such a noble spirit exists among these men, there is little danger of the new government ever being established. The despots and their parasites are well aware, that if they could restrain the freedom of the press, all would be their own; hence they have pursued the object with unremitting zeal, and have in some measure succeeded. They have, I am told, by threats and by withdrawing subscriptions, stopt the publication of the debates of the Convention in the Pennsylvania Herald, and otherwise injured that paper so far, that the printer must cease publishing. If such conduct as this be not sufficient to rouse the people of America to a sense of their duty, they must become the scorn of the whole world–a mere bye-word of contempt.

The advocates of this government say, that if nine states come into it, they will proceed to organize and put it in operation. They hug themselves up in the idea, that its enemies will cease their opposition and submit peaceably. How they came to make such a silly conclusion, is to me matter of surprise, as I never have observed the smallest change of sentiment among the patriotic gentlemen with whom I have conversed. From some of the writings of its friends, it seems probable, that this idea sprang from the circumstance of the Declaration of Independence. That measure was carried by a bare majority in some of the states, yet the minority gave way and joined cordially in it.–If there were any similarity between the circumstances of the Declaration of Independence and the adoption of the proposed Constitution, this argument would have some weight; but the premises are widely different, and consequently the inference inconclusive. The whole body of the people were determined to defend their liberties, at the hazard of their lives and fortunes, against the tyranny of the British government; so that there was a union of sentiment in respect of the great object, the only difference was in the means of obtaining it; in this case, then, common sense must have pointed out the expediency of the minority accommodating their private sentiments to those of the majority.

But the matter now in debate has no relation to that: the men opposed to the new constitution have the same cause to defend, that the people of America had during the period of a seven years war. Who is he so base, that will peaceably submit to a government that will eventually destroy his sacred rights and privileges? The liberty of conscience, the liberty of the press, the liberty of trial by jury, &c. must lie at the mercy of a few despots–an infernal junto, that are for changing our free republican government into a tyrannical and absolute monarchy. These are what roused the sons of America to oppose Britain, and from the nature of things, they must have a similar effect now.

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