Monday, July 4, 2016

The First Amendment and Hand Cranked Printing Presses

On this Independence Day, a little history lesson. "The Press" did not mean "journalists" when our nation was founded. It did not mean television, radio, or the internet. It did not mean respectable owners of newspapers or members of the White House Press Corps or people with Journalism Degrees or writers who make their living as full time reporters or only respectable bloggers or official licensed anything.

It meant "The Printing Press" of the type seen above, which is what Benjamin Franklin, Printer, used to print newspapers, broadsides, editorials, and -  to make a living - various advertising and other works for hire.  It meant anyone who owned a press or who could pay for something to be printed.

Franklin had a LOT to say about "freedom of the Press" and the right to freely publish things that offended some people.  

Most of the concepts we still apply to "Freedom of the Press" came from Franklin's own experience. His older brother James was a Printer, and was jailed for a month for printing some political outrage and then refusing to divulge the name of his source. Franklin, his apprentice, was 16 at the time and the court tried to force him to share the name as well. He stubbornly refused. He later wrote:
"During my brother's confinement, which I resented a good deal, notwithstanding our private differences, I had the management of the paper; and I made bold to give our rulers some rubs in it, which my brother took very kindly, while others began to consider me in an unfavorable light, as a young genius that had a turn for libelling and satire. My brother's discharge was accompany'd with an order of the House (a very odd one), that 'James Franklin should no longer print the paper called the New England Courant.'" 
James got around that ban by releasing Ben from his apprenticeship (basically "graduating" him), and putting Ben's name on the masthead.

Then, as now, stubborn and recalcitrant "printers" are essential to prevent the never-ending attempts to censor Everyman. "Hate Speech" laws and "Blasphemy" laws are two sides of the same anti-Constitutional coin.  Freedom of the Press means both the right to print things the Printer himself disagrees with, and the right to print things that offend some people or even "all" people.

Just like in Franklin's day, sometimes the *authors* will need to be anonymous. But the Printers need liberty to make their platforms - whether Google or Facebook or Amazon or Wordpress or the New York Times  - available to all viewpoints without any government interference whatsoever.

In 1731, Franklin printed an advertisement from a ship captain who said he would not accept priests from the Church of England as his passengers.  Since America was still a colony of Great Britain, the Church of England was the OFFICIAL government-supported religion, and King George was the head of it. Other denominations were persecuted and "upstanding community leaders" were indignant over the advertisement.

Below is the full text of Franklin's response to the mob of pre-Twitter outrage:

An Apology for Printers by Benjamin Franklin

"Being frequently censured and condemned by different persons for printing things which they say ought not to be printed, I have sometimes thought it might be necessary to make a standing apology for myself, and publish it once a year, to be read upon all occasions of that nature. Much business has hitherto hindered the execution of this design; but having very lately given extraordinary offence by printing an advertisement with a certain N.B. at the end of it, I find an apology more particularly requisite at this juncture, though it happens when I have not yet leisure to write such a thing in the proper form, and can only in a loose manner throw those considerations together which should have been the substance of it. 

I request all who are angry with me on the account of printing things they don't like, calmly to consider these following particulars: 

1 . That the opinions of men are almost as various as their faces; an observation general enough to become a common proverb, "So many men so many minds"; 

2. That the business of printing has chiefly to do with men's opinions; most things that are printed tending to promote some, or oppose others; 

3. That hence arises the peculiar unhappiness of that business, which other callings are no way liable to; they who follow printing being scarce able to do anything in their way of getting a living, which shall not probably give offence to some, and perhaps to many; whereas the smith, the shoemaker, the carpenter, or the man of any other trade,  may work indifferently for people of all persuasions, without offending any of them; and the merchant may buy and sell with Jews, Turks, heretics and infidels of all sorts, and get money by every one of them, without giving offence to the most orthodox, of any sort; or suffering the least censure or ill-will on the account from any man whatever; 

4. That it is as unreasonable in any one man or set of men to expect to be pleased with everything that is printed, as to think that nobody ought to be pleased but themselves; 

5. Printers are educated in the belief, that when men differ in opinion, both sides ought equally to have the advantage of being heard by the public; and that when truth and error have fair play, the former is always an overmatch for the latter. Hence they cheerfully serve all contending writers that pay them well, without regarding on which side they are of the question in dispute; 

6. Being thus continually employed in serving both parties, printers naturally acquire a vast unconcernedness as to the right or wrong opinions contained in what they print; regarding it only as the matter of their daily labor. They print things full of spleen and animosity, with the utmost calmness and indifference, and without the least ill-will to the persons reflected on, who nevertheless unjustly think the printer as much their enemy as the author, and join both together in their resentment; 

7. That it is unreasonable to imagine printers approve of everything they print, and to censure them on any particular thing accordingly; since in the way of their business they print such great variety of things opposite and contradictory. It is likewise as unreasonable what some assert, "That printers ought not to print anything but what they approve;" since if all of that business should make such a resolution, and abide by it, an end would thereby be put to free writing, and the world would afterwards have nothing to read but what happened to be the opinions of printers; 

8. That if all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed; 

9. That if they sometimes print vicious or silly things not worth reading, it may not be because they approve such things themselves, but because the people are so viciously and corruptly educated that good things are not encouraged. I have known a very numerous impression of Robin Hood's songs go off in this province at 2 s. per book, in less than a twelvemonth; when a small quantity of David's Psalms (an excellent version) has lain upon my hands above twice the time; 

10. That notwithstanding what might be urged in behalf of a man's being allowed to do in the way of his business whatever he is paid for, yet printers do continually discourage the printing of great numbers of bad things, and stifle them in the birth. I myself have constantly refused to print anything that might countenance vice, or promote immorality; though by complying in such cases with the corrupt taste of the majority I might have got much money. 

I have also always refused to print such things as might do real injury to any person, how much soever I have been solicited, and tempted with offers of great pay; and how much soever I have by refusing got the ill-will of those who would have employed me. I have hitherto fallen under the resentment of large bodies of men, for refusing absolutely to print any of their party or personal reflections. In this manner I have made myself many enemies, and the constant fatigue of denying is almost insupportable. 

But the public being unacquainted with all this, whenever the poor printer happens either through ignorance or much persuasion, to do anything that is generally thought worthy of blame, he meets with no more friendship or favor on the above account, than if there were no merit in it at all. Thus, as Waller says. "Poets lose half the praise they would have got Were it but known what they discreetly blot;" yet are censured for every bad line found in their works with the utmost severity. 

I come now to the particular case of the N. B. above-mentioned, about which there has been more clamor against me, than ever before on any other account. 

In the hurry of other business an advertisement was brought to me to be printed. It signified that such a ship lying at such a wharf would sail for Barbados in such a time, and that freighters and passengers might agree with the captain at such a place. So far is what's common; but at the bottom this odd thing was added, "N. B. No Sea-hens nor Black Gowns will be admitted on any terms." I printed it, and received my money; and the advertisement was stuck up round the town as usual. I had not so much curiosity at that time as to enquire the meaning of it, nor did I in the least imagine it would give so much offence. 

Several good men are very angry with me on this occasion. They are pleased to say I have too much sense to do such things ignorantly, that if they were printers they would not have done such a thing on any consideration, that it could proceed from nothing but my abundant malice against religion and the clergy. They therefore declare they will not take any more of my papers, nor have any further dealings with me, but will hinder me of all the custom they can. All this is very hard! 

I believe it had been better if I had refused to print the said advertisement. However, it's done, and cannot be revoked. I have only the following few particulars to offer, some of them in my behalf, by way of mitigation, and some not much to the purpose; but I desire none of them may be read when the reader is not in a very good humor: 

1. That I really did it without the least malice, and imagined the N. B was placed there only to make the advertisement stared at, and more generally read; 

2. That I never saw the word Sea-hens before in my life; nor have I yet asked the meaning of it. And though I had certainly known that Black Gowns in that place signified the clergy of the Church of England, yet I have that confidence in the generous good temper of such of them as I know, as to be well satisfied such a trifling mention of their habit gives them no disturbance; 

3. That most of the clergy in this and the neighboring provinces, are my customers, and some of them my very good friends; and I must be very malicious, indeed, or very stupid, to print this thing for a small profit, if I had thought it would have given them just cause of offence ; 

4. That if I had much malice against the clergy, and withal much sense, it's strange I never write or talk against the clergy myself. Some have observed that it's a fruitful topic, and the easiest to be witty upon of all others; yet I appeal to the public that I am never guilty this way, and to all my acquaintances as to my conversation; 

5. That if a man of sense had malice enough to desire to injure the 
clergy, this is the most foolish thing he could possibly contrive for that purpose; 

6. That I got five shillings by it; 

7. That none who are angry with me would have given me so much to 
let it alone; 

8. That if all the people of different opinions in this province would engage to give me as much for not printing things they don't like, as I can get by printing them, I should probably live a very easy life; and if all printers were everywhere so dealt by, there would be very little printed; 

9. That I am obliged to all who take my paper, and am willing to think they do it out of mere friendship. I only desire they would think the same when I deal with them. I thank those who leave off, that they have taken it so long. But I beg they would not endeavor to dissuade others, for that will look like malice; 

10. That it's impossible any man should know what he would do if he were a printer; 

11. That notwithstanding the rashness and inexperience of youth, which is most likely to be prevailed upon to do things that ought not to be done, yet I have avoided printing such things as usually give offence either to church or state, more than any printer that has followed the business in this province before; 

12. And lastly, that I have printed above a thousand advertisements which made not the least mention of Sea-hens or Black Gowns; and this being the first offence, I have the more reason to expect forgiveness. 

I take leave to conclude with an old fable, which some of my readers have heard before, and some have not: 
"A certain well-meaning man and his son were traveling towards a market town with an ass which they had to sell. The road was bad, and the old man therefore rode, but the son went afoot. The first passerby they met asked the father if he was not ashamed to ride by himself, and suffer the poor lad to wade along through the mire; this induced him to take up his son behind him. 
"He had not traveled far, when he met others, who said, they are two unmerciful lubbers to get both on the back of that poor ass in such a deep road. Upon this the old man got off, and let his son ride alone. The next they met called the lad a graceless, rascally young jackanapes, to ride in that manner through the dirt, while his aged father trudged along on foot; and they said the old man was a fool for suffering it. 
"He then bid his son come down, and walk with him, and they traveled on leading the ass by the halter, till they met another company, who called them a couple of senseless blockheads, for going both on foot in such a dirty way, when they had an empty ass with them, which they might ride upon. The old man could bear it no longer. 'My son,' said he, 'it grieves me much that we cannot please all these people. Let me throw the ass over the next bridge, and be no further troubled with him.'" 

Had the old man been seen acting this last resolution, he would probably have been called a fool for troubling himself about the different opinions of all that were pleased to find fault with him. Therefore, though I have a temper almost as complying as his, I intend not to imitate him in this last particular. I consider the variety of humors among men, and despair of pleasing everybody; yet I shall not therefore leave off printing. 

I shall continue my business. I shall not burn my press and melt my letters. "

                                                             ~B. Franklin, 1731, Pennsylvania Gazette

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts with Thumbnails