Freedom of speech has been in the news a lot lately as the nation, like a ship on the high seas, lists left and right in the heavy political storms of our day.
Our nation has weathered heavy storms in the past with the nadir, arguably, being during the Civil War. The Lincoln administration was heavy-handed with the press and freedom of speech at that time. It is within this context that Copperhead, C. Chauncey Burr, wrote the following.
August Glen-James, editor
None but a depraved people will long consent to the loss of this freedom.
The freedom of speech and of the press guaranteed in this Article [i.e., First Amendment--editor] is a right so sacred that none but the most desperate or reckless of tyrants has dared to destroy it. To deny a man this freedom, is to attempt the subjugation of his mental life. None but a demoralized and debased people ever submitted to an abridgment of this right. In the old republics of Greece, thought and speech were always free. Words, were revenged only by words. It is for this reason that the literature of Greece is so full of force, nobility, and genius. And Greece gave these great lessons of freedom to the Roman Republic. The laws of Rome only restrained deeds. Writing and speaking were free, even for a long time after the Republic fell. Cæsar permitted the largest liberty of speaking and writing. Even his own soldiers sung the most revolting scandals about him up and down the lines of the army without punishment. His successor, Augustus, was equally tolerant of the utmost liberty of speaking and writing. Said he, “Let us not punish words but deeds. Let all men’s words be free.” Even Tiberius declared: “in a free State, speech and thought, word and feeling must be free.” Such was the character of the Roman people at that time, that their rulers were forced to yield gracefully this boon of free speech. None but a depraved people will long consent to the loss of this freedom.