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stitution, and the necessity of checks in all other parts of good government has been so clearly and learnedly explained, I find myself so far enlightened as to suspect some check may be proper in this part also; but I have been at a loss to imagine any that may not be construed an infringement of the sacred liberty of the press. At length, however, I think I have found one that, instead of diminishing general liberty, shall augment it; which is, by restoring to the people a species of liberty of which they have been deprived by our laws, I mean the liberty of the cudgel. In the rude state of society prior to the existence of laws, if one man gave another ill language, the affronted person would return it by a box on the ear; and if repeated, by a good drubbing; and this without offending against any law: but now the right of making such returns is denied, and they are punished as breaches of the peace; while the right of abusing seems to remain in full force: the laws made against it being rendered ineffectual by the liberty of the press.
My proposal then is, to leave the liberty of the press untouched, to be exercised in its full extent, force, and vigor; but to permit the liberty of the cudgel to go with it pari passu. Thus, my fellowcitizens, if an impudent writer attacks your reputation, dearer to you perhaps than your life, and puts his name to the charge, you may go to him as openly and breakTiis head. If he conceals himself behind the printer, and you can nevertheless discover who he is, you may in like manner waylay him in the night, attack him behind, and give him a good drubbing. Thus far goes my project as to private resentment and retribution. But if the public should ever happen to be affronted, as it ought to be, with the conduct of such writers, I would not advise proceeding immediately to these extremities ; but that we should in moderation content ourselves with tarring and feathering, and tossing them in a blanket.
If, however, it should be thought that this proposal of mine may disturb the public peace, I would then humbly recommend to our legislators to take up the consideration of both liberties, that of the press, and that of the cudgel, and by an explicit law mark their extent and limits; and at the same time that they secure the person of a citizen from assaults, they would likewise provide for the security of his reputation.
[The Letters, Essays, Sfc. contained in this section, were chiefly written by Dr. Franklin for the amusement of his intimate society in London and Paris; and were by himself actually collected in a small port-folio, endorsed as above. Several of the pieces were either originally written in French, or afterwards translated by him into that language, by way of exercises.]
In the first chapter of Job we have an account of a transaction said to have arisen in the court, or at the levee, of the best of all possible princes, or of governments by a single person, viz. that of God himself.
At this levee, in which the sons of God were assembled, Satan also appeared.
It is probable the writer of that ancient book took his idea of this levee from those of the eastern monarchs of the age he lived in.
It is to this day usual at the levees of princes, to have persons assembled who are enemies to each other, who seek to obtain favor by whispering calumny and detraction, and thereby ruining those that distinguish themselves by their virtue and merit. And kings frequently ask a familiar question or two, of every one in the circle, merely to show their benignity. These circumstances are particularly exemplified in this relation.
If a modem king, for instance, finds a person in the circle who has not lately been there, he naturally asks him how he has passed his time since he last had the pleasure of seeing him? the gentleman perhaps replies that he has been in the country to view his estates, and visit some friends. Thus Satan being asked whence he cometh? answers, "From going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it." And being further asked, whether he had considered the uprightness and fidelity of the prince's servant Job, he immediately displays all the malignance of the designing courtier, by answering with another question: "Doth Job serve God for naught? Hast thou not given him immense wealth, and protected him in the possession of it? Deprive him of that, and he will curse thee to thy face." In modern phrase, Take away his places and his pensions, and your Majesty will soon find him in the opposition.
This whisper against Job had its effect. He was delivered into the power of his adversary, who deprived him of his fortune, destroyed his family, and completely ruined him.
The book of Job is called by divines a sacred poem, and with the rest of the Holy Scriptures, is understood to be written for our instruction.
What then is the instruction to be gathered from this supposed transaction?
Trust not a single person with the government of your state. For if the Deity himself, being the monarch, may for a time give way to calumny, and suffer it to operate the destruction of the best of subjects; what mischief may you not expect from such power in a mere man, though the best of men, from whom the truth is often industriously hidden, and to whom falsehood is often presented in its place, by artful, interested, and malicious courtiers?
And be cautious in trusting him even with limited powers, lest sooner or later he sap and destroy those limits, and render himself absolute.
For by the disposal of places, he attaches to himself all the placeholders, with their numerous connexions, and also all the expecters and hopers of places, which will form a strong party in promoting his views. By various political engagements for the interest of neighboring states or princes, he procures their aid in establishing his own personal power. So that, through the hopes of emolument in one part of his subjects, and the fear of his resentment in the other, all opposition falls before him.