The Correspondence of Thomas Jefferson
FREEDOM OF THE PRESS / FALSEHOODS
Conscious that there was not a truth on earth which I feared should
be known, I have lent myself willingly as the subject of a great
experiment, which was to prove that an administration, conducting
itself with integrity and common understanding, cannot be battered
down, even by the falsehoods of a licentious press, and consequently
still less by the press, as restrained within the legal and wholesome
limits of truth. This experiment was wanting for the world to
demonstrate the falsehood of the pretext that freedom of the press is
incompatible with orderly government. I have never therefore even
contradicted the thousands of calumnies so industriously propagated
against myself. But the fact being once established, that the press is
impotent when it abandons itself to falsehood, I leave to others to
restore it to its strength, by recalling it within the pale of truth.
Within that it is a noble institution, equally the friend of science
and of civil liberty.
It would seem impossible that an
intelligent people, with the faculty of reading and right of thinking,
should continue much longer to slumber under the pupilage of an
interested aristocracy of priests and lawyers, persuading them to
distrust themselves, and to let them think for them.
to Thomas Seymour, 11 February 1807