...Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech




James Wilson

...what is meant by the liberty of the press is, that there should be no antecedent restraint upon it; but that every author is responsible when he attacks the security or welfare of the government, or the safety, character and property of the individual.

With regard to attacks upon the public, the mode of proceeding is by a prosecution...

Reply to William Findley
December 1, 1787



Samuel Bryan

The state of society must be very corrupt and base indeed, when the people in possession of such a monitor as the press, can be induced to exchange the heavenborn blessings of liberty for the galling chains of despotism. - Men of an aspiring and tyrannical disposition, sensible of this truth, have ever been inimical to the press, and have considered the shackling of it, as the first step towards the accomplishment of their hateful domination, and the entire suppression of all liberty of public discussion, as necessary to its support.

“Centinel” II
Reply to James Wilson's Speech
Freeman's Journal (Philadelphia),
October 24, 1787



John Adams

...the jaws of power are always opened to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking and writing. And if the public interest, liberty, and happiness have been in danger from the ambition or avarice of any great man, whatever may be his politeness, address, learning, ingenuity, and, in other respects, integrity and humanity, you have done yourselves honor and your country service by publishing and pointing out that avarice and ambition. These vices are so much the more dangerous and pernicious for the virtues with which they may be accompanied in the same character, and with so much the more jealously to be guarded against.

“A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law”



That the people have a right to freedom of speech, of writing and publishing their sentiments, and therefore that the freedom of the press ought not to be restrained, and the printing presses ought to be free to examine the proceedings of government, and the conduct of its officers.

Resolutions of the State of Maryland
April 28, 1788.



Noah Webster

Well, what is this liberty of the Press? Is it an unlimited license to publish any thing and every thing with impunity?...Would not that indefinite expression, the liberty of the Press, extend to the justification of every possible publication?...I shudder at the thought!

“America”,
Reply to the Pennsylvania Minority
Daily Advertiser (New York),
December 31, 1787



Hugh Williamson

We have been told that the Liberty of the Press is not secured by the New Constitution. Be pleased to examine the plan, and you will find that the Liberty of the Press and the laws of Mahomet are equally affected by it...Certainly the new Government can have no power to impose restraints. The citizens of the United States have no more occasion for a second Declaration of Rights, than they have for a section in favor of the press. Their rights, in the several States, have long since been explained and secured by particular declarations, which make a part of their several Constitutions. It is granted, and perfectly understood, that under the Government of the Assemblies of the States, and under the Government of the Congress, every right is reserved to the individual, which he has not expressly delegated to this, or that Legislature.

Speech at Edenton, North Carolina
November 8, 1787
Printed in the Daily Advertiser, New York,
February 25, 26, 27, 1788



John Adams

Be not intimidated, therefore, by any terrors, from publishing with the utmost freedom, whatever can be warranted by the laws of your country; nor suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberty by any pretences of politeness, delicacy, or decency. These, as they are often used, are but three different names for hypocrisy, chicanery, and cowardice.

“A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law”



George Bryan

Should the freedom on the press be restrained on the subject of politics, there is no doubt it will soon after be restrained on all other subjects, religious as well as civil.

“An Old Whig” I
Independent Gazetteer (Philadelphia),
October 12, 1787



That the people have a right to the freedom of speech, of writing and publishing their sentiments, therefore, the freedom of the press shall not be restrained by any law of the United States.

Dissent of the Minority of the Pennsylvania Convention
Pennsylvania Packet (Philadelphia),
December 18, 1787



James Wilson

For instance, the liberty of the press, which has been a copious source of declamation and opposition, what contoul can proceed from the fœderal government to shackle or destroy that sacred palladium of national freedom?...the proposed system possesses no influence whatever upon the press, and it would have been merely nugatory to have introduced a formal declaration upon the subject – nay, that vary declaration might have been construed to imply that some degree of power was given, since we undertook to define its extent.


Speech given in Philadelphia,
October 6, 1787


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Samuel Bryan

...As long as the liberty of the press continues unviolated, and the people have the right of expressing and publishing their sentiments upon every public measure, it is next to impossible to enslave a free nation.

“Centinel” II
Reply to James Wilson's Speech
Freeman's Journal (Philadelphia),
October 24, 1787



Arthur Lee

If there should ever be an influential president, or arbitrary senate, who do not choose that their transactions with foreign powers should be discussed or examined in the public prints, they will easily find pretexts to prevail upon the other branch to concur with them, in restraining what it may please them to call - the licentiousness of the press. And this may be, even without the concurrence of the representative of the people; because the president and senate are empowered to make treaties, and these treaties are declared the supreme law of the land.

“Cincinnatus” I
Reply to James Wilson's Speech
New York Journal,
November 1, 1787



George Bryan

Even the press which has so long been employed in the cause of liberty, and to which perhaps the greatest part of the liberty which exists in the world is owing at this moment; the press may possibly be restrained of its freedom, and our children may possibly not be suffered to enjoy the most invaluable blessing of a free communication of each others sentiments on political subjects.

“An Old Whig” I
Independent Gazetteer (Philadelphia),
October 12, 1787



Noah Webster

But if you attempt to define the liberty of the Press, and ascertain what cases shall fall within that privilege, during the course of the centuries, where will you begin? Or rather, where will you end?...Some publications certainly may be a breach of civil law...and unless you can define precisely the cases, which are, and are not a breach of law, you have no right to say, the liberty of the Press shall not be restrained; for such a license would warrant any breach of law. Rather than hazard such an abuse of privilege, is it not better to leave the right altogether with your rulers and your posterity?

“America”,
Reply to the Pennsylvania Minority
Daily Advertiser (New York),
December 31, 1787



Samuel Bryan

Attempts to prevent discussion by shackling the press ought ever to be a signal of alarm to freemen, and considered as an annunciation of meditated tyranny; this is a truth that the uniform experience of mankind has established beyond the possibility of doubt.

“Centinel” XII
Independent Gazetteer (Philadelphia),
January 23, 1788



Simeon Baldwin

Our language is a channel of more information than any other language on earth. The press is uncontrouled, and a free toleration of sentiments distinguishes the happy government of these States.

New Haven Connecticut
July 4, 1788



John Adams

Care has been taken that the art of printing should be encouraged, and that it should be easy and cheap and safe for any person to communicate his thoughts to the public.

“A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law”



Arthur Lee

...if the president, vice-president, or any office, or favorite of state, should be censured in print, he might effectually deprive the printer, or author, of his trial by jury, and subject him to something, that will probably very much resemble the — Star Chamber of former times. The freedom of the press, the sacred palladium of public liberty, would be pulled down;—all useful knowledge on the conduct of government would be withheld from the people—the press would become subservient to the purposes of bad and arbitrary rulers, and imposition, not information, would be its object.

“Cincinnatus” I
Reply to James Wilson's Speech
New York Journal,
November 1, 1787



Noah Webster

No attempts have ever been made by a Legislative body in America, to abridge that privilege; and in this free enlightened country, no attempts could succeed, unless the public should be convinced that an abuse of it would warrant the restriction. Should his ever be the case, you have no right to say, that a future Legislature, or that posterity shall not abridge the privilege, or punish its abuses. The very attempt to establish a permanent, unalterable Constitution, is an act of consummate arrogance. It is a presumption that we have all possible wisdom—that we can foresee all possible circumstances—and judge for future generations, better than they can for themselves.

“America”,
Reply to the Pennsylvania Minority
Daily Advertiser (New York),
December 31, 1787


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