Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Diluting the Message of 9/11

Following the lead of our Denier-in-Chief, liberal colleges are on the march to find ways to dilute the message of September 11th to students who were only in grade school ten years ago on this date.

The most notable example is Marietta College, which tried to force Conservative students who had planted an American Flag garden on the campus to include flags of other nations in their memorial.  The premise was that other nation’s had citizens die on that day and that other nations are part of the Wide World of Terrorism.

That may be, but September 11th was the most fatal single-day instance, and happened on American soil.  Not British.  Not French.  Not Indian.  Certainly not Saudi Arabian.  9/11 happened here – in New York City, in Washington, D.C., and in Pennsylvania.  It was an attack on America, not the world.  They might have shared our suffering, but it was a deliberate attack on our country, our specific way of life, our various ways of worship, and our economy. 

Many Americans are not aware of exactly why the Colonists were so insistent upon the addition of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution.  Thomas Jefferson didn’t think it was necessary.  Alexander Hamilton vehemently opposed it in the Anti-Federalist Papers.  But James Madison included them anyway.
The Bill of Rights was seeded in a British institution called The Court of Star Chamber, so-called for the star pattern in the ceiling of Westminster Palace where its meetings were held.  The Court of Star Chamber was a court of law which evolved from meetings of the king's royal council. Although its roots go back to the medieval period, the court only became powerful as a separate entity during the reign of Henry VII.  In 1487 the court became a judicial body separate from the king's council, with a mandate to hear petitions of redress.

In a sense, the court was originally a supervisory body; its members oversaw the operations of lower courts. Its members could also hear cases by direct appeal.  Members of the court were either privy councilors or judges drawn from the courts of common law.  The court’s mandate expanded under the Tudors to include instances of public disorder.  Judges received petitions involving property rights, public corruption, trade and government administration, and disputes arising from land enclosures. Under the leadership of Thomas Wolsey and Archbishop Cranmer, the Court of Star Chamber became a political weapon for bringing actions against opponents to the policies of Henry VIII, his ministers, and his Parliament.

Although the court was initially a court of appeal, Henry VIII and his councilors, Wolsey and Cranmer, encouraged plaintiffs to bring their cases directly to the Star Chamber, bypassing the lower courts entirely.  While the court could order torture, prison, and fines, it did not have the power to impose the death sentence. Under the Tudors, Star Chamber sessions were public.

The power of the court of Star Chamber grew considerably under the Stuarts, and by the time of Charles I, it became a byword for misuse and abuse of power by the king and his circle. James I and his son Charles used the court to examine cases of sedition, which, in practice, meant that the court could be used to suppress opposition to royal policies.  The court was also used to try nobles too powerful to be brought to trial in the lower courts. Court sessions were now held in secret, with no right of appeal, and punishment was swift and severe to any enemy of the crown.

Charles I used the Court of Star Chamber as a sort of Parliamentary substitute during the years 1628-40, when he refused to call Parliament into session.  Finally, in 1641, Parliament abolished the hated Star Chamber, though its name still designates arbitrary, secretive proceedings in opposition to personal rights and liberty.

The British colonists carried these rules over to the colonies.  On November 5, 1733, John Peter Zenger published the first issue of The New York Weekly Journal, a newspaper dealing in political satire.  He printed another man's document that criticized New York Gov. William Cosby. Zenger was listed as the printer, but the editorial policy was in the hands of attorney Andrew Hamilton, who anonymously printed his assaults on Gov. Cosby every Monday.  Cosby, angered by the criticism, first asked the Assembly's permission to have a public burning of the New York Weekly Journal.  When they refused, Cosby had Zenger arrested on a charge of seditious libel.  Publishers and writers in the colonies were often fined, jailed, and forced to print retractions for the crime of arousing the people against the government, even if the charges against the public official were true.

Acording to author Leonard W. Levy, in his book, Freedom of the Press from Zenger to Jefferson [first published in 1966, and later reprinted in 1996] Zenger claimed, in an “apology” for missing an issue, that even though he was in jail without supplies, he could still publish by speaking through a hole in the door with the help of his wife and servants. Often, publishers didn’t “edit” the content of what they published.  The paper and the article were said to be financed by one of the opposition factions in New York politics, possibly by Alexander, who along with William Smith, was disbarred for objecting to the two-man court that Cosby hand-picked.

Andrew Hamilton was appointed as Zenger’s defense after his disbarred ex-lawyers, James Alexander and William Smith, drew the attention of Benjamin Franklin in the case. Franklin persuaded Hamilton to accept the challenge. The judge in the case gave the jurors an order to ignore whatever “slander” Hamilton tried to throw at them and deal a guilty verdict to Zenger based on his charge of printing false, scandalous, and malicious articles about the governor.  After much battling in the courtroom Hamilton said “The question before the court and you, gentlemen of the jury, is not of small nor private concern...No! It may in its consequences affect every free man that lives under a British government on the main of America. It is the best cause of liberty but no man has the right to say so. ...”

Hamilton was successful in convincing the jury that whether words are libelous depends on whether the reader considers them true.  During his address to the jury, Hamilton gave them examples of victims of the seditious libel law.  Governor Nicholson (at one time, of Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina) met one of his clergymen by whom he felt offended. 

“…and as usual with him,” Hamilton related, “(under the protection of his Commission) used [abused] the poor Parson with the worst of Language, threatened to cut off his Ears, slit his Nose, and at last to shoot him through the Head.  The Parson, being a reverend man, continued all this Time uncovered in the Heat until he found an opportunity to fly for it; and coming to a Neighbour’s House felt himself very ill of a fever, and immediately writes for a doctor; and that his Physician might be the better judge of his Distemper, he acquainted him with the Usage (the Governor’s abuse) he had received; concluding that the Governor was certainly mad, for that no man in his senses would have behaved in that manner.  The Doctor unhappily shews the Parson’s Letter; the Governor came to hear of it; and so an Information [a charge] was preferred against the poor man for saying he believed the Governor was mad; and it was laid in the Information to be false, scandalous, and wicked, and wrote with Intent to move Sedition among the People, and bring His Excellency into Contempt.”

Hamilton explained that by an order of Queen Anne the prosecution was halted, but that Nicholson was famous for bringing charges against various and sundry gentlemen.  Hamilton oratory before the jury – he went over the judge’s head to continue his plead directly to the jury – is famous for his defense of freedom of speech and freedom of the press and laid the groundwork for the Bill of Rights some 58 years later.
In one of the famous – and anonymous (James Alexander) - “Cato” letters [‘Cato’ was the joint pseudonym of the Whig political journalists John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon.  Their essays, first published in London newspapers beginning in 1720, were collected in four volumes that went through six editions between 1733 and 1755.”]  to The Pennsylvania Gazette, the author wrote of how Caesar Augustus was the original tyrant who dictated that libel was an act of treason by the state, “libel” being considered any criticism of the state or its representatives, whether true or false.

“Thenceforward, every person’s Life and Fortune depended on the vile breath of informers.  The construction of words being arbitrary and left to the decision of judges, no man could write or open his Mouth without being in danger of forfeiting his head.  The punishment for writing Truth is Pillory, loss of ears, branding the face with hot irons, fine and imprisonment at the discretion of the court.”

Today, Liberals try to get around the First Amendment by invoking “political correctness”.   Once again, the government can infringe upon a group’s freedom of speech through a modern-day version of seditious libel – that the writer or speaker, or in the case of Marietta College, gardener’s – are endangering public safety by stirring up antagonism and so their speech will be completely abridged if the students do not make certain pacifying “amendments”.  The government, or some subordinate authority, sets itself up as the judge of free speech.

The Zenger trial upset this ancient precedent for stifling criticism, innocuous satire, and even political affiliation.  The defenders of freedom of the press and freedom of speech predicted that those in power will always find a way to exert their influence on free speech.

Levy writes, “Had John Peter Zenger attacked the New York General Assembly instead of Gov. Cosby, he would have been summarily convicted at the bar of the house and then jailed, and in all likelihood he would have remained unknown to posterity.  Happily, he was tried before a jury.  The Zenger case at best gave the press the freedom to print the “truth” – if the “truth” were no directed against the legislature.  The power of the legislature to punish nonmembers as well as members for alleged breach of privilege – criticism of the assembly – enabled it to control the press.  Indeed, long after the right to publish without first obtaining government approval or license had been won, the provincial legislatures continued to regard the unlicensed publication of their votes and proceedings as a breach of privilege.  This information, of the most vital interested to the public, could be printed only after first being submitted to the speaker of the house for his examination and signature.”

“The common law’s definition of criminal libels meant that the press was free from censorship in advance of publication, but was subject to subsequent punishment for bad or wrong sentiments about government.”
Levy tells us that “The persistent image of colonial America as a society that cherished freedom of expression is a sentimental hallucination that ignores history.”  Benjamin Franklin’s brother was jailed in Boston for insinuating in his newspaper that the provincial government was not taking effective action against coastal pirates.  Samuel Mulford was summarily expelled from the New York Assembly for having suggested that the people ought to clean out some of the members of that body.  Printer Andrew Bradford was imprisoned for publishing a letter allegedly reflecting on the government of Great Britain.  And the Rev. John Checkley was convicted in Massachusetts for distributing a book critical of Calvinistic doctrines.”
“James Madison wrote, ‘It would seem a mockery to say that now laws shall be passed preventing publications from being made, but that laws might be passed for punishing them in case they should be made.”

Now, almost 278 years after Zenger’s trial, we’re still battling for freedom of speech and freedom of the press.  Our modern Media has been granted a semi-official status to publicly questions officials.  Ordinary men and women do not enjoy that same sanction, particularly now, when the Media serves more as an adjunct of the government, rather than an independent watchdog.

The Media is complicit in policing public speech.  We may not criticize any element of society to which they – and the Democrat Party – have attached themselves.  Ordinary citizens, just like those of 15th and 16th Century Colonia America, reluctantly speak their opinions publicly, or even privately, for fear of reprisals.  A wrong word to someone of a particular political class can cost a person their job.
New York City Mayor Bloomberg was supposedly petitioned by 9/11 family members to reconsider his edict banning any clergy from participating in this Sunday’s 10th Anniversary ceremony of the September 11th attacks.  Apparently, either the mayor or the law considers it within his purview to deny this petition.
It is within a citizen’s “purview” to note this passage from Levy’s book concerning Hamilton’s defense of John Peter Zenger:  “…I think it is pretty clear, That in New-York a Man may make very free with his God, but must take special Care what he says of his Governour.”

Or this observation from Cato’s Letter No. 32:  “The exposing thereof of publick Wickedness, as it is a Duty which every Man owes to Truth and his Country, can never be a Libel in the nature of things; and they who call it so, make themselves no Complement; he who is affronted at the reading of the Ten Commandments would make the Decalogue [Greek for the Ten Commandments] a Libel, if he durst [dared], but he Tempts us at the same Time to form a Judgment of his Life and Morals, not at all to his Advantage.”

Or this, from Cato’s Letter No. 100:  “It is rediculous to argue from the Abuse of a Thing, to the Destruction of it.  Great mischiefs have happen’d to Nations from their Kings, and their Magistrates; ought therefore all Kings and Magistrates to be extinguish’d?  A Thousand enthusiastick sects have pretended to deduce themselves from the Scripture; ought therefore the Holy Writings to be destroyed?  Are all Men’s hands to be cut off, because they may, and sometimes do, steal and murder with them?  Or their Tongues to be pulled out, because they may tell lyes, swear, or talk Sedition?”

Finally, we might make this criticism of Marietta College in Ohio, borrowed from New York Weekly-Journal, Nov. 4, 1734:  “With what Propriety of Speech can we be said to have the Liberty of freely communicating our Sentiments upon any Points, when so great Endeavours are used to prevent its being done?  Have not the Authors all the Reason in the World to fear a Repetition of the Exorbitant Fines and sanguinary Cruelties that stain’d the Reigns preceding the Revolution?  Is it not a ridiculous Farce and an Affront to the common Sense of Mankind to talk of the Liberty of the Press enjoyed with Impunity in this Case?  We are unpunish’d, it is true; but whom are we to thank?  And how long shall we be so?  Gloiruos Liberty of the Press!  We may write what we please, but then we must take Care that what pleases us pleases our Masters, too.  We may Write! 

“But if we do not Write as they think fit, they’ll make us smart for it!  O glorious Liberty!  O rara felicitas temporum!”

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