[Thomas Cooper, guest-blogging, August 25, 2009 at 5:51pm] Trackbacks
Address to the Readers of the Sunbury and Northumberland Gazette, June 29, 1799:

Having no correspondence to communicate, it is my duty to fill up the vacant columns of the week as well as I am able; and as this is the last opportunity I shall have to intrude on the patience of the public in the capacity of Editor, I shall dedicate the space that is left to a subject of some importance.

There is a party in this country accused of an indiscriminate opposition to the measures of government; who in their turn insinuate an indiscriminate support of every measure calculated to increase the power of the Executive at the expence of the interest of the country. Like all other party accusations, these are doubtless too violent on both sides; but I cannot help thinking that of late years, measures have been adopted and opinions sanctioned in this country, which have an evident tendency to stretch to the utmost the constitutional authority of our Executive, and to introduce the political evils of those European governments whose principles we have rejected. I do not feel myself in any degree authorized to reflect on the motives or undervalue the judgment of the gentlemen, whose conduct and opinions I disapprove. With superior talents, and more ample means of information, they may well be in the right: But these do not confer infallibility; and therefore the tendency of the measures pursued, however praise worthy the motives which have led to them, is a fair object of decent and temperate discussion.

I can best illustrate my meaning by supposing a case. Let me place myself in the President's chair, at the head of a party in this country, aiming to extend the influence of the governing powers at the expence of the governed; to increase the authority and prerogative of the Executive, and to reduce by degrees to a mere name, the influences of the people. How should I set about it? What system should I pursue?

1st. As the rights reserved by the State Governments and the bounds and limits set by the Constitution of the Union, are the declared barriers against the encroachments of entrusted power, my first business would be to undermine that Constitution, and render it useless, by claiming authority which, though not given by the express words of it, might be edged in under the cover of general expressions or implied powers — by stretching the meaning of the words used to their utmost latitude, — by taking advantage of every ambiguity — and by quibbling upon distinctions to explain away the plain and obvious meaning. It would be my business to extend the powers of the Federal Courts and of Federal Officers — to encroach upon the State jurisdictions — to throw obloquy on the State Governments as clogs upon the wheel of the General Government — for that purpose to promote a spirit of party among them, and subject to accusations of disaffection those who were opposed to the measures I would pursue. In addition to this I would now and then exercise trifling acts of authority not granted by the Constitution, under some undefined notion of prerogative. If by such means one encroachment should be made good, it would be a precedent for another, until the public by degrees would become accustomed and callous to them.

2. My next object would be to restrict by every means in my power the liberty of the press. For the free discussion of public characters is too dangerous for despotism to tolerate. Hence I would multiply laws against libel and sedition, and fence round the characters of the officers of government by well contrived legal obstacles. Whatever should tend to bring them into contempt should be sedition, however contemptible or reprehensible they might be. Hence too, I would impress the idea that all who were opposed to my measures were enemies of the government, that is (in my construction) of their country. It should be the business of my partizans to inculcate this, and cry down all such persons as dangerous and seditious, as disturbers of the peace of society, and desirous of overturning the Constitution. The obloquy induced by these charges, dwelt upon in the public prints under my controul, and vociferously urged by the dependants of office in private conversation, would make opposition to my measures obnoxious and dangerous, and suppress all political conversation.

For the rest of the address, please click here, and go to page 3.