The Trial of Harry Croswell
1804

Cinque

 

JAMES KENT
(1763-1847)

"Kent wrote a masterful opinion decreeing a new trial for Croswell. The power of his personality and his reasoning persuaded his fellow associate justices, Livingston and Thompson, to abandon their Jeffersonian principles and agree with him -- at first. But Chief Justice Lewis, by now running hard for Governor, wrote a contrary opinion of his own. He also paid Livingston a little visit, whereupon Livingston suddenly changed his mind. The court thus divided two and two, and the motion for a new trial was denied. New York senators and assemblymen, having heard Hamilton's eloquence, had set to work on a truth-in-libel bill that was certain to pass; the Chief Justice was upholding a legal principle that was about to be officially invalidated. So the case was simply dropped. Its impact, however, was important: [o]ther states would soon follow New York's lead, transforming Harry Crosswell's case from a cause celebre into one of the bulwarks of our free press."

-Great Crimes & Trials, from "American Heritage Magazine" by Thomas J. Fleming NY 1973 (Reprint of Article, Dec. 1967)

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