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FrRevol_151-200.indd 44 3/16/12 1:05 PM CHAPTER V Liberty ofthe Press, and State ofthe Police, During the Time ofthe Constituent Assembly. Not only does the Constituent Assembly claim the gratitude ofthe French people for the reform of the abuses by which they were oppressed; but we must render it the further praise ofbeing the only one ofthe authorities which have governed France before and since the Revolution which allowed , freely and unequivocally, the liberty of the press. This it no doubt did more willingly from the certainty of its having public opinion in its favor; but there can be no free government except on that condition. Moreover, although the great majority of publications were in favor of the principles of the Revolution, the newspapers on the aristocratic side attacked, with the greatest bitterness, individuals ofthe popularparty, who could not fail to be irritated by it.1 Previous to 1789, Holland and England were the only countries in Europe that enjoyed the liberty of the press secured by law. Political discussions in periodical journals began at the same time with representative governments; and these governments are inseparable from them. In absolute monarchies, a court gazette suffices for the publication of official r. Madame de Stael's statement must be interpreted in the historical context ofthe first years of the Bourbon Restoration, during which time the issue of the liberty of the press, one of the pillars of representative government, was widely debated in the Chamber of Deputies. Stael's friend Benjamin Constant was one of the most important and eloquent defenders of liberty of the press against its critics. Stael favored absolute liberty for books but defended the need for censorship ofjournals. For more information, see Hatin, Histoire politique et littiraire de la presse en France, vol. 8. For more information about freedom of the press in France since 1789, also see Avenel, Histoire de !a presse fran,caise depuis 1789 a nosjours; and Livois, Histoire de la presse fran,caise. 1: Des origins az88z. l94 FrRevol_151-200.indd 45 3/16/12 1:05 PM CHAPTER v. Liberty ofthe Press news; but that a whole nation may read daily discussions on public affairs, it is necessary that it should consider public affairs as its own. The liberty of the press is then quite a different matter in countries where there are assemblies whose debates may be printed every morning in the newspapers , and under the silent government of unlimited power. The censure prealable, or examination before printing, may, under the latter government , either deprive us of a good work or preserve us from a bad one. But the case is not the same with newspapers, the interest of which is momentary: these, if subjected to previous examination, are necessarily dependent on ministers; and there is no longer a national representation from the time that the executive power has in its hands, by means ofnewspapers , the daily molding of facts and reasonings: this makes it as much master of the public opinion as of the troops in its pay. All persons are agreed on the necessity ofrepressing by law the abuses of the liberty of the press; but if the executive power alone has the right of giving a tone to the newspapers, which convey to constituents the speeches of their delegates, the censorship is no longer defensive, it is imperative; for it must prescribe the spirit in which the public papers are to be composed. It is not then a negative but a positive power, that is conferred on the ministers of a country when they are invested with the correction, or rather the composition of newspapers. They can thus circulate whatever they want about an individual, and preventthat individual from publishing his justification. At the time ofthe revolution ofEngland, in 1688, it was by sermons delivered in the churches that public opinion was formed. The case is similar in regard to newspapers in France: had the Constituent Assembly forbidden the reading of"the Acts ofthe Apostles ,"2 and permitted only the periodical publications adverse to the aristocratic party, the public, suspecting some mystery because it witnessed constraint, would not have so cordially attached itself to deputies whose conduct it could not follow nor appreciate with certainty. Absolute silence on the part of newspapers would, in that case, be infinitely preferable, since the few letters that would reach the country 2. The main authors were Rivarol and Peltier. Also see Belanger eta!., Histoire generate de la...


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