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Addison, Alexander (1759-1807) Liberty of speech, and of the press: a charge to the grand juries of the county courts of the fifth circuit of the state of Pennsylvania

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC04072 Author/Creator: Addison, Alexander (1759-1807) Place Written: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Type: Broadside Date: January 1799 Pagination: 2 p. ; 53.2 x 32.6 cm.

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC04072 Author/Creator: Addison, Alexander (1759-1807) Place Written: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Type: Broadside Date: January 1799 Pagination: 2 p. ; 53.2 x 32.6 cm.

Summary of Content: Article by Alexander Addison supporting the Sedition Act. Document is ripped along the side.

Background Information: The Alien and Sedition acts were so broadly written that hundreds of foreign refugees fled to Europe fearing detention. It was the Sedition Act, which sought to suppress criticism of ...the government, that produced the greatest fear within the Republican opposition. Federalist prosecutors secured indictments against 25 people, mainly Republican editors and printers. Ten people were convicted, one a Republican Representative from Vermont.
The most notorious use of the law took place in July 1798. Luther Baldwin, the pilot of a garbage scow, was arrested in a Newark, New Jersey tavern, on charges of criminal sedition. While cannons roared to celebrate a presidential visit to the city, Baldwin said "that he did not care if they fired through [the president's] arse." For his drunken remark, Baldwin was locked up for two months and fined.
Republicans accused the Federalists of conspiring to subvert fundamental liberties. In Virginia, the state legislature adopted a resolution written by James Madison declaring that states had the right to determine the constitutionality of federal laws, and that the Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional. Kentucky's state legislature went further, adopting a resolution written by Thomas Jefferson that held that the acts were "void and of no force." The Kentucky resolution raised an issue that would grow increasingly important in the years before the Civil War: Did states have the right to declare acts of Congress null and void?
In this charge to the grand juries in Pennsylvania's fifth district, Alexander Addison (1759-1807), president of Pennsylvania's county courts, defends the Sedition Act, arguing that it was necessary to restrain demagoguery.
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Full Transcript: It is of the utmost importance to a free people, that the just limits of their rights be well
ascertained and preserved: for liberty without limit is licentiousness; and licentiousness ...is the worst kind of tyranny....
Reputation, character, good name or opinion is a kind of property or possession, which every man, who has honestly acquired it, has a right to enjoy. Like any other possession or property, it cannot be taken away from us, but by our own acts… And not only individuals, but especially men in public station…have a right, for the sake of the benefits we receive from them, to reputation, good name and opinion;...
The exercise of those faculties of opinion…is part of our natural rights. But the principles of liberty require, that this right…be limited, so that it never infringe the right of reputation. It must represent a solemn truth or exercise of religion, as false or ridiculous, an established and useful principle or form of government as odious and detestable; a regular or salutary act or motive of the administration as unlawful, pernicious or dishonest; or an upright man as corrupt….
The principles of liberty, therefore, the rights of Man, require, that our right of communicating information, as to facts and opinions, be so restrained, as not to infringe the right of reputation.
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People: Addison, Alexander, 1759-1807

Historical Era: The New Nation, 1783-1815

Subjects: Government and CivicsLawSeditionJournalismCivil RightsBill of Rights

Sub Era: The Early Republic

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