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Not Now

The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 48, July 1944 - April, 1945

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

Jefferson and the Press. By Frank Luther Mott. Baton Rouge
(Louisiana State University Press), 1943. Pp. 65. $1.00.
Seldom has a public figure been more bitterly lampooned
by a politically partizan press than Thomas Jefferson, and
yet Jefferson was instrumental in getting a freedom of the press
clause written into the United States Constitution and re-
mained a firm defender of this principle until his death. Jef-
ferson, in urging that the principle of freedom of the press
be written into the Constitution, made clear his two-fold con-
viction that one of the most important functions of the press
should be to serve as a check upon the government and that
freedom from government control is essential if the press is
to carry out this function. From this viewpoint he never wavered,
though he became the object of much unjust criticism in the
newspapers of his day, according to the findings of Dr. Mott.
Frank Luther Mott, dean of the School of Journalism at the
University of Missouri and winner of the Pulitzer prize for
his writings in the history of American journalism, carefully
traces the relationship of Jefferson to the press from his en-
trance into public life until his death in 1826. Dr. Mott's
research should help to clear up certain points over which
there has been some controversy. First, he presents evi-
dence to show that Jefferson never supported unqualified free-
dom of the press, even though isolated statements from his
writings have been quoted to uphold such a view. Instead,
Jefferson maintained that the press should be free from any
control set up by Congress but that the State governments
should provide essential restraints against abuse through libel
and slander laws. It is a testimonial to Jefferson's wisdom and
foresight that the crystallization of the theory of freedom of
the press in the United States has followed almost exactly the
pattern advocated by Jefferson.
During that vitriolic period in which supporters of Hamilton
and of Jefferson lambasted each other through partizan news-
papers in language that knew no restraint, Jefferson's name
was closely linked with those of the journalists who fought his
enemies - Philip Freneau, Ben Franklin Bache, and James
Thompson Callender. Some stories accuse Jefferson of writing
many of the libelous and indecent articles that appeared in the
publications of these editors. Dr. Mott believes that the evidence
preponderantly exonerates Jefferson from this charge.


Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 48, July 1944 - April, 1945. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Accessed April 29, 2016.

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