DEFENDER OF FREEDOM OF
"The most memorable law case of
Hamilton, because of its public bearing, was the defense of Harry
Croswell, February, 1804, against a charge of libeling Thomas Jefferson,
President of the United States. Croswell was editor of a little newspaper,
The Wasp, in which he reprinted some tart comments on Jefferson by
John Holt. 'Holt says... the burden of the Federal Song is that Jefferson
paid Callender for calling Washington a traitor, a robber, a perjurer.
Croswell was indicted. Croswell tried
in vain to have his trial put off until James Thompson Callender could
be called as a witness to prove the truth of Croswell's charge.
Croswell was convicted, and the case
came into the Supreme Court of New York on a motion 'for a new Trial'.
Hamilton * was obliged to decline * Croswell's appeal to defend him
in the trial * from demands of other business. It was as well that
Hamilton's effort was reserved for Croswell's appeal, before the Court
of Errors at Albany, in February 1804.
In this instance, defending freedom
of the press, he recalls Andrew Hamilton who performed a similar service
in the case of John Peter Zenger. Alexander Hamilton's persuasiveness
in Croswell's appeal for a new trial... was an exposition of principles,
not a recital of debaters' points. He often conceded the ostensible
application of authorities relied on by his opponents, only to nullify
them as Star Chamber proceedings.
His theme was that 'The liberty of the
press consists in the right to publish with impunity truth, with good
motives, for justifiable ends, though reflecting on government, magistracy,
or individuals. ' The allowance of this right is essential to preservation
of free government.
Hamilton strengthened his argument,
lifted it into the sphere where the attorney is truly an officer of
the court by refusing to deal in dogma. He referred... with contempt
to the 'little, miserable conduct of the [colonial] judge in Zenger's
case ...' He ended with a noble warning: 'Never can tyranny be introduced
into this country by arms... the only way to crush it down is by a
servile tribunal. It is only by the abuse of the forms of justice
that we can be enslaved.'
On the last day of the May term Chief
Justice Lewis announced that the court was equally divided, so the
failed. " -Alexander Hamilton by Broadus Mitchell,
"But aroused public sympathy for
Croswell and Hamilton's side helped push through the legislature the
bill to correct the outworn dictum that the truth could not be introduced
as a defense to a charge of libel. It became law in 1805, after which
the court unanimously awarded Croswell a new trial. Hamilton's position
became the settled law of libel in the United States. His defense
of the obscure 'village printer' became part of the long struggle
of English-speaking peoples for freedom of
speech. " - The Rise and Fall of Alexander
Hamilton by Robert A. Hendrickson 1981