The Founders on Freedom of the Press

Below are a selection of quotes from the Founding generation on the importance of the freedom of the press.

(1) Benjamin Franklin, Apology for Printers (1731)

“Printers are educated in the Belief, that when Men differ in Opinion, both Sides ought equally to have the Advantage of being heard by the Publick; and that when Truth and Error have fair Play, the former is always an overmatch for the latter.”

(2) John Peter Zenger, The New-York Weekly Journal (1733)

The loss of liberty in general would soon follow the suppression of the liberty of the press; for it is an essential branch of liberty, so perhaps it is the best preservative of the whole.  Even a restraint of the press would have a fatal influence.  No nation ancient or modern has ever lost the liberty of freely speaking, writing or publishing their sentiments, but forthwith lost their liberty in general and became slaves.”

(3) Massachusetts Constitution (1780)

“The liberty of the press is essential to the security of freedom in a State; it ought not, therefore, to be restrained in this commonwealth.”

(4) Thomas Jefferson to Dr. J. Currie (1786)

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

(5) Thomas Jefferson to William Green Mumford (1799)

“[T]o preserve the freedom of the human mind then & freedom of the press, every spirit should be ready to devote itself to martyrdom; for as long as we may think as we will, & speak as we think, the condition of man will proceed in improvement.”

(6) James Madison, Report on the Virginia Resolutions (1800)

“[T]o the press alone, chequered as it is with abuses, the world is indebted for all the triumphs which have been gained by reason and humanity over error and oppression.”

 

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