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mistaken as to its real extent: it is standing and invariable, and so far from being liable to changes, from the exigencies of governments, or the character of the times, there is no individual ever overleaped it without feeling conscious of his error. To separate and distinguish it from the bounds of impropriety will now be my endeavour, and I commence by laying it down, as an undeniable principle, that whenever the press is made a vehicle for the circulation of circumstances, either public or private, for the sole purpose of satisfying a spirit of animosity, that moment its degeneracy becomes visible, and, if not speedily arrested, will gradually increase until all its credit and importance is at an end, and, from being the supporter of the public rights and liberties, it becomes a foul and disgusting monument of calumny and detraction. This opinion I deliver as general, I will not commute the petty licentiousness so often perceivable in public papers, because accompanied with spirited exertions in the cause of liberty, although continued to be characterized by giving publicity to sentiments of a laudable nature, yet their encouraging at the same time the effusions of scurrility and slander, cause them to sink in their primitive importance, and by thus diminishing the reliance formerly placed in the propriety of their opinions, has some effect in injuring the cause of which they were apparently the advocates. The proprietor of a press should never allow his paper to be made a channel through which one individual may at pleasure slander and defame another; the moment an attempt of this kind gives testimony of such a permission, his paper loses all its native dignity, and from having merited the appellation of one effectual preservative of liberty, becomes deserving, only, of being viewed in the light of a medium through which may be transfused the pestilential emanations of malignity, ruining and blasting the reputations of all that chance to be within the reach of their destructive influence, Let the conductor of a free and impartial press beware how he admits into his columns, either attempts of others to defame private fellow-citizers, or makes it a castle, from which he may, in fancied security, scatter among the people the result of his own personal hatred of individuals. Such conduct as this will
only tend to produce disagreeable schisms among the several members of society, any way interested, and serve gradually to destroy the character of the paper.
A press to be “free,” in the obvious sense of the term, should be independent, and uninfluenced by party spirit. In almost every nation it has been remarked that owing to various causes, too numerous and obscure to be distinctly particularized, there frequently originates several distinct and opposite parties, the individuals composing each of which, are necessarily bound to receive the same impressions and profess the same political opinions with the others, however inconsistent and incompatible they may chance to be, with the sentiments that would naturally possess a prevalence in their breasts, when viewing the subject of dispute with an eye uninfluenced by that prejudice and spirit of party engendered by their entrance as members into any political sect. The folly of such unnecessary distinctions in the opinions of the same people, with regard to national affairs, is too glaring to escape the most common observation, and the injurious effects that must invariably result from their encouragement, are of so serious a nature as to cause every real friend of national harmony to reprobate and condemn them. From these observations it is apparent, that a press, conducted under the auspices of a party, cannot, according to the most liberal construction of the term, be considered as "free.” For when the political creed of the editor of a gazette has been copied from that of others, and when the sentiments which issue from his pen, are precisely the same with those which have been adopted and promulgated by the particular party that patronizes him, it is evident, that being thus influenced and biassed, impartiality in examining the measures pursued by the government, in the adminis, tration of the national concerns, if dictated, apparently, by sentiments corresponding and similar to those of an opposite party, can never be looked for. If then there chance to originate in a state two or more political sects of individuals, the several presses patronized and supported by, each, and which constitute the fields in which to display the effects of their mutual hatred, in the most virulent and scurrilous attacks on
the legality of each other's claims to political integrity, cannot in my opinion be with propriety regarded as in a state of perfect freedom. For this is denied by the very nature of the conditions, upon a compliance with which, they are to receive that support from society which can alone enable them to sustain the necessary expenses of their respective establishments. If these are to be defrayed by the patronage of a particular party, it is evident, that the importance of acquiring and retaining this patronage, must have some effect in actuating their ostensible proprietors to the publication of such opinions only as will meet the approbation of those who can with facility discontinue it.
At this critical period of time, when every barrier to the encroachment of calumny and detraction on the respective reputations of the several combatants are removed when a liberty of using scurrility and detraction as weapons, in their virulent attacks on each other, has been granted by mutual consent, and when no other object appears to lie in the view of either, except the pleasure and gratification of a final triumph over the others then it is that licentiousness usurps the place of liberty, and the commencement of those ruinous effects that will ever result from possessing an unbridled liberty of abusing, at pleasure, the characters of our fellow-citizens becomes perceptible. For if the freedom of the press is proved to be under such circumstances defunct, and yet the editors of papers have the power of giving publicity to whatever their infuriate malice or animosity against others may dictate, it follows that this point is one at which “a change from civil to natural liberty, in the publication of opinions, becomes soonest visible.” The incompatibility of party spirit in the conduct of a public paper with its real liberty, must from these remarks be pretty evident; and it now remains with me to show the conduct which must always be attended to by an editor, in order to guard and secure himself against the imputations of partiality and prejudice. When a nation is distracted by the continual disputes of several opposite political parties, a paper, in which the several inconsistencies and prejudices remarkable in each, would with an impartial severity be depicted and condemned,
must be considered as a desideratum among the political portion of its subjects; and although liable to receive the title of insignificancy from the hot-brained members of either party, must, in time, become of considerable utility in opening the eyes of society to the absurdity and folly of allowing some. individual differences in opinion, to become the origin of schisms and divisions which may so severely injure the repose and quiet of the whole. A press constructed for so laudable a purpose, if raised on a secure and permanent foundation, and conducted without being perceptibly influenced by the contentions of the opposite parties, the satirizing which would be the unchangeable resolution of its proprietor, might, if the importance of its objects were duly appreciated, become so extensively patronized, as to justify its conductor in entertaining the hope of being, at some future period, the means of effecting the final abolition of those political distinctions, the impropriety of which in the sentiments of the same people, he was desirous of illustrating. The principal difficulty in the prosecution of a plan such as this, lies in the discovery of a person, whose genius and talents, and the impartial and unprejudiced nature of whose opinions on the subjects of foreign and domestic policy would qualify him for the editorship of a gazette, established on so liberal a plan. This obstacle arises from the unfrequency of instances occurring, where a man has been possessed of so firm and decided a character, as enabled him to withstand the ridicule of his fellow-citizens; for not participating in the promulgation of their respective political prejudices. But I certainly am of opinion, that there are many persons, who although members of a party, may not be of opinion, that their entrance into them has tied them down to the reception of such sentiments only as have met with the previous approbation of its leading personages; and a character of this kind is the proper one for carrying on, with spirit, a design of the above-mentioned nature; for not being swayed by prejudice nor influenced in the reception of impressions, merely from their being generally entertained by the society of which he is a nominal member, he can look with a severe and at the same time impartial eye, on their defects as well as excellencies, and conse
quently will be enabled with greater justice to point out such of its defects, as when corrected may leave it in a situation much more fascinating and agreeable to the unprejudiced politician, and more consonant with that reason which should constantly guide us in the regulation of our sentiments.
In a former part of this essay I took some notice of the right which ought to be possessed by the press, of publicly exposing whatever may be deemed prejudicial to the interests of society, even although originating in a private citizen; and as being in some manner connected with the subject of this communication, it may not perhaps be thought a digression, to examine the proper method of proceeding in the disclosure of private sentiments of a dangerous tendency, when their possessor endeavours to inculcate their propriety. In the first place let an editor always beware of ambiguity. Whenever the disagreeable task of unfolding to public view the failings of individuals becomes necessary, the conductor of an impartial paper should be cautious in avoiding that kind of language which is characterized by such obscurity, as to raise only doubts or suspicions in the minds of his readers, as to the deficiency in probity of the person alluded to. This species of attack evinces the existence of a doubt, even on the mind of the publisher, as to the truth of what it is his aim to insinuate, and as no one in whose disposition impartiality is distinguishable will allow himself to credit assertions advanced under so mysterious a garb, especially when those assertions, if true, will tend materially to injure the reputation of a fellow-citizen, the sole consequence is the involuntary excitation of some vague and undefined suspi. cions, with respect to the integrity of the supposed delinquent, in his breast, and thus the intentions of the accuser, even supposing them to spring from the purest and most disinterested motives, can in this manner be but partially assumed. "There cannot, in my opinion, exist a more dangerous weapon, in the hand of an unprincipled character, than obscure insinuations smoothed over with a pretended belief in their want of foundation; none that more successfully bids defiance to a satisfactory answer on the part of the accused. For when the accusation of improper conduct is conveyed in such general and compre