Cooper—On the Moral Responsibility of the Press

American Thought

lamp of learningJames Fenimore Cooper returns from Europe to publish an open letter to his fellow Americans.

THERE is one thing in Cooper I like, too, and that is
That on manners he lectures his countrymen gratis;
Not precisely so either, because, for a rarity,
He is paid for his tickets in unpopularity.
Now he may overcharge his American pictures,
But you’ll grant there’s a good deal of truth in his strictures;
And I honor the man who is willing to sink
Half his present repute for the freedom to think,
And, when he has thought, be his cause strong or weak,
Will risk t’ other half for the freedom to speak
Caring naught for what vengeance the mob has in store,
Let that mob be the upper ten thousand or lower.

—Lowell, A Parable for Critics.

Extract from

A Letter to His Countrymen.
J. Fenimore Cooper.

jfenimore cooperTHERE seems to be an opinion prevalent among some of the, editors of this country, that they who conduct the public press, are invested with peculiar privileges. The press is either a powerful instrument of good, or a terrible engine of evil. They who control it, do not possess a single right that is not equally the property of every one of their fellow-citizens; while, in place of these imaginary immunities, they exercise the self-assumed office under a moral responsibility that should cause every man of principle to hesitate before he undertakes duties so grave. A grosser abuse of accidental circumstances cannot be imagined, than that of a man of envious and malignant temperament, pouring out the workings of an evil spirit, under favour of these extraordinary means of publicity, carrying pain into the bosoms of families, making his crude opinions the arbiters of reputation, and pulling down, without the talent to build up again. The misconception on the subject of these imaginary privileges, has arisen from the fact that abitrary governments, aware of the influence of the journals, having curtailed even the power to do good, and free governments having restored to them this unquestionable right, some, who identify their own selfishness too closely with principles which ought to be sacred, have fancied that the emancipation from a wrong has brought with it a charter for licentiousness.

This TML post courtesy of Democratic Thinker, with formatting and photo adjustments by TML.

The Moral Liberal recommends as a Christmas gift, or as an addition to your family library, Charles Dickens all-time classic, David Copperfield (Modern Library Classics)