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The National Association of educational broadcasters another in the series of transcribed programs on the Jeffersonian heritage. The experiment of a free press starring Claude Raines as Thomas Jefferson. Welcome welcome to Monday. I appreciate the courtesy of your coming and the intent of your visit. You have asked me to recount the group the freedom of the press in America as I saw it in wall and peace and political controversy and to state what I believe to be the meaning of the liberty of the press. I wonder if you would allow me to show you my own.
Time on this and that nature has spread with majesty. I can look for work of nature. Hail snow rain thunder. All fabricated at our feet and the glorious sun gilding the tops of the mountain and giving life to all nature. But you are impatient to hear of the importance of a pretty press in the lives of my countrymen. Forgive me if I speak of my preference for life out of months rather than begin at once to tell you of the torture of my experience. On the gridiron of the newspaper if you will step this way by this portico the faces the east. The whole house has been in an almost constant state of rebuilding from the time that I
first leveled up the summit. And began to lay out the ground half a century ago. I hope that I shall always find the place unfinished. Architecture is my delight. And putting up. And putting down one of my favorite amusements. Now off to you sir through these folding doors into the parlor the busts of Alexander and Napoleon there on the pedestals on each side of the door on the walls are portraits of. God Ted and Magellan Franklin Washington Hamilton and many other remarkable men. In the dining room and elsewhere scriptural paintings. Among them the ascension of Saint Paul. The Holy Family. The scourging of Christ. And the crucifixion and into my library.
Please step over those books on the floor. It's a habit of mine to have sometimes 20 or more of them open on the floor at once as I find it aids me to read first one then another. As I gather information to it applied to my correspondence. Please take this chair. You will find tobacco there beside you. The freedom of the Prius. I have always d one of the essential principles of our government. While President of the United States are you know great at the experiment of complete freedom of the press from control or censorship by government. During that time a distinguished French citizen after visiting America was asked by Napoleon. What kind of a government is that of the United States. Your pride. It is one. Which you can neither feel nor see Napoleon the military conqueror. No more questions. I was
persuaded the beginning of my career that the good sense of the people will always be found to be the best army. The people may be led astray for a moment but will soon correct themselves. They are the only censors of the governors give the people full information of that affairs through the channel of the public papers and contrive that those papers should penetrate to the whole mass of the people. The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people. The very first object should be to keep that right and had it been left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government I should not have hesitated a moment to prefer the latter. But I mean that every man should receive those papers. And be capable of reading. I cherish therefore the spirit of the people where the press is free and every man able
to read all is safe. So I believe from almost the beginning of my public life. In the administration of President Adams the Federalist brought into the house of Congress a sedition bill which among other enormities undertook to make printing certain matters criminal with the First Amendment to the Constitution had explicitly forbidden abridgement of freedom of speech or of the press. Indeed this bill and the alien bill both was so palpably in the teeth of the Constitution as to show they meant to pay no respect that the law was adopted.
Seditious libel was defined as any statement tending to weaken the public confidence in the federal officials. The party in power attempted to suppress freedom of speech and crush political opposition in the noble name of national patriotism. The alleged justification was the danger to the country from revolution in France aided and abetted by disloyal Americans so they claim the party in power exploited the foreign situation to their own advantage and grossly underestimated the patriotism of the American people. I consider the Alien and Sedition laws as merely an experiment on the American mind to see how far it would be an avowed violation of the Constitution. It was at this time leading Republican journalists such as Thomas Cooper and James Thompson Callander were prosecuted and added to the list of victims of the sedition law. And there were
some 25 arrests under the Sedition Act 15 indictments and 11 trials resulting in 10 convictions. This campaign of intimidation was supplemented by a number of actions under the common law of seditious libel which yielded five more convictions. The Federalists argued that the victims of their prosecutions were given the chance of proving the truth of their statements as a defense. But the judges in these trials so acted. That the defendants could not secure witnesses and documents that would enable them to prove that their political assertions were in fact truthful statements as well as most other Republicans were able to do it contributed what I could afford to the support of the Republican papers and princes paid sums of money for the be the Albany register and other papers when they were staggering under the Sedition laws. I contributed to the paying of the fines of calendar himself of Holt.
Brown and others suffering under that law. I made Virginia a haven for journalists and others fleeing the Sedition Act. I resisted this tyranny over the press as best I could Mr. Madison and I father the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions in an attempt to rally the states in support of civil liberty. During this time in the newspapers I myself was a fair mark for every man's do it. I believe some in doge themselves in this exercise. Who would not have done it had they known me otherwise than through these impure and injurious channels. It is a treatment and for the singular kind of offense that of having obtained by the labors of a life being devoted to opinions of a part of one's fellow citizens. However these moral evils must be submitted to like the physical scourges of Tempest and fire. After my election to the presidency I pardoned all who were still serving
us by violating the Sedition Act declaring that I considered that law. To be nullity as absolute and as probable as if Congress had altered us to fall down and worship a golden image. Yet I was no advocate of a licentious pris but I had many unhappy moments is the chief of a government that followed the policy of full root liberty to the press. I remember this in my mind. The things they really tell you. As president will be burnt. Jefferson has denied the right of property marriage natural affection chastity and decency to destroy the reputation of Washington and aims at the overthrow of the Constitution.
Public opinion Mr. Jefferson stands convicted irrevocably of hypocrisy. And treachery of cowardice. He would be elected to the presidency. Is that moment set on our holy religion. Our churches will be prostrated and some of us under the title love goddess of reason reside in the sanctuary is now devoted to the worship of the most high. It was in for Mr Jebus and resided nearly seven years that he sucked in the poisonous doctrines that have corrupted his heart and brain. It was in France that his disposition to theory and his skepticism in religion government acquired full strength and vigor. Mr. Jefferson is known to be a theorist in politics as well as in philosophy and he is a philosopher in the worse French sense of the word and as such
is a known enemy to the federal Constitution. It can be proved that the honorable Thomas Jefferson the man who obtained his estate and property by fraud and robbery Jefferson wrote it and robbed a widow and her fatherless children. The legacy was ten thousand pounds sterling acting as executor of the estate by keeping the property and paying off his victim in what was paper money. Ya. Ya. Although frequently is solicited by my friends I never would descend to a newspaper refutation of calumny. I never in any instance appealed to the retribution of the law. Yes I know that I might have filled the courts of the United
States with actions for these slanders and have ruined perhaps many persons who are not innocent. But this would be no equivalent for the loss of character. I left them there for you that are proof of their own consciences. If they do not condemn them. There were yet to come a day when the false witness will meet a judge who has not slept over the Son. Had I undertaken to answer the calendars of the newspapers it would have been more than all of my own time and that of 20 aides could affect for a while I should be answering one calumny. Twenty new ones would be invented. I thought it better to trust to the justice of my countryman that they would judge me by what they saw of my conduct on the stage where they placed me and what they knew of me before the epoch when a particular political party is supposed might answer some viewer there as to vilify me in the public eye. This is an injury to which duty requires everyone to
submit from the public think proper to call into its council. That is indeed the chief consolation for being hated by so many who without the least personal knowledge cover me with their implacable hatred. The only return I will ever make them will be to do them all the good I can in spite of their teeth. But my view was generally not comprehended the celebrated traveler angiography about an humbled call on me at the president's house one day and taking up one of the day's newspapers which lay upon the table. He was shocked to find its columns teeming with the most wanton abuse against me. He threw it down with indignation exclaiming Why do you not have a pillow Hung who dares to write these abominable lies. I remember that I replied. What. Hang the guardians of the public morals no sir. Rather would I protect the spirit of freedom which dictates even that degree of abuse.
Put that paper in your pocket. My good friend carry it with you to Europe and when you hear anyone doubt the reality of American freedom. Show them that paper and tell them where you found it. Better than humble if the president's house far from convinced that my ignoring this cottages of the newspapers was sound policy. He fear the artillery of the press leveled against my administration would mislead the people he feared too. That although we had banished from the land religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered I was countenancing a political intolerance as despotic as wicked and as capable of his bitter and bloody results. He prophesied that our Republican government if it proved too weak to protect itself from slander and would lack energy to preserve itself at the polls was that to deceive people maddened by false would would drive us from office. I was willing to take that risk. It was with the pleasure then that after the election of
804 had vindicated my experiment I was able to send better and humble to tell you the votes and a copy of my second inaugural address. Then I remarked to our citizens that during this administration. And in order to disturb it the artillery of the press has been leveled against us charged with whatsoever its licentiousness could devise or dare. These abuses of an institution so important to freedom and science are deeply to be regretted in as much as they tend to listen its usefulness and to separate safety. They might indeed have been corrected by the wholesome punishments reserved and provided by the laws of the several States against false hood and defamation. But public duty is more urgent press on the time of public servants and the offenders have therefore been left to find their punishment in the public indignation. Nor was it an interesting to the world that
an experiment should be fairly and fully made where the freedom of discussion unaided by power is not sufficient for the propagation and protection of truth. Whether a government conducting itself in the true spirit of its constitution with zeal and purity and doing no act which it would be unwilling the whole world should witness can be written down by false hood and defamation. The experiment has been tried. You have witnessed the see. Our fellow citizens of looked on cool and collected. They saw the latent source which these outrages proceeded. They gathered around their public functionaries and when the Constitution called them to the decision by suffrage they pronounced their verdict on honorable to those who had served them and can solitary to the friend a man who believes he may be intrusted with his own affairs. No inference is he had intended that the law was provided by the states against false and
defamatory publications should not be enforced. He who has time renders a service to public morals and public tranquillity in reforming these abuses by the salutary coercions of the law. But the experiment is noted to prove that since truth and reason have maintained their ground against false opinions. In league with false facts the press can find truth needs no legal restraint. The public judgement will correct false reasonings and opinions on a full hearing of all parties. No other definite line can be drawn between the an estimable liberty of the press and its demoralizing licentiousness if there is to be improprieties which this rule would not restrain. Supplement was sought in the censorship of public opinion. I had hoped that private individuals through legal suits in the courts
would have a wholesome effect on restoring the integrity of the press. Nothing was done. I did not fit under the Sedition laws of John Adams but I must confess I was deeply disappointed in the manner in which the American press of that day had to do was the boon of freedom in eighteen hundred seventy some months before I retired from the presidency. I received a letter from John Novello a boy of seventeen or lived in Danville Kentucky. He wanted help in preparing for his career. He asked my advice on two questions. He was quickest to me it was what are the best books on social and political philosophy. How should a newspaper be conducted in order to be most useful. I have a copy of my answer here from my letter file with your permission I will read what I wrote to this boy who was thinking of becoming a journalist and later did become a newspaper editor. How should a newspaper be conducted so as to be
most useful. I answer by restraining it to true facts and sound principles only. Yet I fear such a paper I would find few subscribers. It is a melancholy truth that a suppression of the press could not more complete to deprive the nation of its benefits than is done whenever it abandons and prostitute itself to force it. Nothing could be believed which was seen in the newspapers. I wrote to John Novello In eighteen hundred seventy that truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are able to confront the liars of the day with facts within their own knowledge. I really look with commiseration over the great body of my fellow citizens who are reading newspapers who lived and died in the belief. That they had really known something of what had been passing in the world in their time.
General facts may indeed have been collected from newspapers such as that Europe was at war that of Poland was a successful one. That he had subjected a great portion of Europe to his will. Cetera et cetera. But no details could be relied on at that time. The man who never looked into a newspaper was better informed than he who read one in as much as he who knows nothing is nearer the truth than he whose mind is filled with false words and enters. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts from conversation with others. But how can a newspaper become more useful. I suggested to Don Novello who wanted to become a journalist or perhaps an editor might begin a reformation in some such way as this divide his paper into four chapters heading the first truths. The second probability is the third possibilities and the fourth lies
the first chapter of truths would be very short as it would contain little more than authentic papers and information from such sources as the editor would be willing to risk his own reputation. The second of probabilities would contain what from a mature consideration of all circumstances his judgment should conclude to be probably true. This should contain too little rather than too much. The third and fourth containing possibilities and lies should professedly be for those readers who would rather have lies for their money than the blank paper they occupy. Such an editor too would set his face against the demoralizing practice of feeding the public mind a bitterly on slander and the depravity of taste which this Norse use diet induces. Defamation is becoming a necessity of life in so much that a dish of tea at breakfast in the morning or a dinner in the evening cannot be digested without this
stimulant. Even those who do not believe these abominations still read them with complaisance instead of the apartments in indignation which would fill a virtuous mind. They betray a secret pleasure in the possibility that some may believe them though they do not themselves. It seems to escape them that it is not he who prints but he who pays for printing a slander. Who is its a real author. Thus in the last analysis the public is responsible. This is what I wrote John Nadel In eighteen hundred seven. Now let me answer the surprise on your countenance and give you this letter from my father. I never believed in censorship by the government. It is so difficult to draw a clear line of separation between the abuse and the wholesome use of the press that I have found it better to trust the public judgement than the government official with the discrimination between truth and force. You have asked for information on my experiences and views of the principal and
the performance of a pretty oppressed in our country. I have tried to answer you by telling of my intense devotion to the principle of a free press. Even when my own eye was attacked and I have reasserted my belief in the supreme usefulness of a truthful press I am convinced that there is not of truth on earth which I fear should be known. As president of the United States I lend myself willingly as the subject of a great experiment this experiment proved that I know ministration conducting yourself with integrity and common understanding cannot be bettered down by the falsehoods of a licentious press. This fact I have established that the press is impotent when it abandons itself to follow suit. I leave to you and to others to restore the press to its strength by recalling it within the pale of truth. Despite my own sufferings of the hands of the scribblers for these presses my trust was never
extinguished. I wrote in 1823 to Lafayette saying but the only security of all. Is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The education it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary to keep the political waters pure. A free and honest press is indispensable. If America is to remain the world's best hope. If you ask me then as we sit here in my library I want a cello for my summing up. I would repeat what I said in my farewell to the citizens of Washington. The station which we occupy among the nations of the earth is honorable but all trusted with the destinies of this solitary Republic of the world. The only monument of human rights and the sole depository of the sacred fire of freedom and self-government. From hence it is to be
lighted up in other regions of the earth. If other regions of the earth shall ever become susceptible of its influence. All mankind or they end with us go to Joyce and it's prosperous and sympathize in its adverse fortunes as involving everything Dio to man and to what separate phases of interest or convenience or not these considerations to animators. To what compromises of opinion and inclination to maintain harmony and union among ourselves and to preserve from all danger this hallowed ark of human hope and happiness. The differences of opinion should arise among men on politics on religion and on every other topic of human inquiry. And that these should be freely expressed in a country where all our faculties are free is to be expected by these valuable privileges much perverted when permitted to disturb the harmony of social intercourse and to lessen the tolerance of opinion to the honor
of society. Here it has been characterized by a just and generous liberality and an indulgence of those affections which without regard to political creeds constitute the happiness of life. Was war. Little. Or of the. You have just heard the experiment of a free press another in the transcribed series on the Jeffersonian parenting plans of the noted historian and biographer and prepared with his counsel authentic and historical spirit while imaginative inform these programs grama ties ideas which are the enduring possession of all Americans and all free people. Today's programme
starring Claude Raines as Thomas Jefferson was written by George Propes with special music composed and conducted by Vladimir Selenski. This program was produced and directed by Frank. Listen next week for another in this series of programmes on the Jeffersonian heritage. These programmes are prepared and distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasts. The programme you have just heard is made possible under a grant from the fund for adult education an independent organization established by the Ford Foundation.
The Jeffersonian heritage
Experiment of a free press
Producing Organization
National Association of Educational Broadcasters
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program dramatizes Thomas Jefferson's role in establishing freedom of the press in the United States.
Series Description
This series dramatizes the ideas of Thomas Jefferson, which are"the enduring possessions of all Americans and all free peoples," while being "authentic in historical spirit" and "imaginative in form."
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Actor: Rains, Claude, 1889-1967
Advisor: Malone, Dumas, 1892-1986
Composer: Schmidt, Karl
Conductor: Solinsky, Vladimir
Director: Papp, Frank, 1909-1996
Producer: Papp, Frank, 1909-1996
Producing Organization: National Association of Educational Broadcasters
Subject: Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826.
Writer: Probst, George E.
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 52-23-9 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:30:00?
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Chicago: “The Jeffersonian heritage; Experiment of a free press,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 25, 2024,
MLA: “The Jeffersonian heritage; Experiment of a free press.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 25, 2024. <>.
APA: The Jeffersonian heritage; Experiment of a free press. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from