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Overcoming Early Government Censorship

Posted by: | September 15, 2010 | No Comment |

Benjamin Harris published the first American newspaper, “Publick Occurences“, in 1690. 14 years passed before America saw another newspaper published.

The first and only edition of Publick Occurences

The first and only edition of Publick Occurences

Because Harris published the paper without a government license and and it contained “reflections of a very high order,” Harris’ newspaper was shut down after the first issue.

The “Boston News-Letter” may have been the first successful American newspaper, but newspapers still faced opposition and oppression from the government almost 90 years later in 1790.

Benjamin Franklin Bache, Benjamin Franklin’s grandson, published “The Philadelphia Aurora,” a newspaper that openly and outwardly opposed the Federalists in charge of government.

Because of denouncement against the government, Bache was thrown in jail, even though the First Amendment existed at the time.

Bache’s actions caused the government to implement the Sedition Act which made it:

criminal to “write, print, utter, or publish” any “false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either House of the Congress of the United States, or of the President of the United States” with “intent to defame” any such parties or to bring them “into contempt or disrepute; or to excite against them . . . the hatred of the good people of the United States, or to stir up sedition within the United States; or to excite any unlawful combinations therein, for opposing or resisting any law of the United States.”

Even though Bache had the freedom of press and speech, his writings were perceived so powerfully by the government that they created an act that basically prevented anyone from publicly disagreeing with the government.

Now with the Internet and everything available on the Internet at our disposal, we as citizens have the rightto share whatever we please as long as it isn’t libelous or slanderous.

Because of Bache, Harris and other 18th century publishers/writers, we truly have the freedoms of press, speech, religion, petition and assembly.

However it is the duty of the people, not the government, to uphold each other to standards of credibility and ethics.

Hopefully it will stay this way.

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