Seditious Libel

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Seditious Libel

Written or spoken words, pictures, signs, or other forms of communication that tend to defame, discredit, criticize, impugn, embarrass, challenge, or question the government, its policies, or its officials; speech that advocates the overthrow of the government by force or violence or that incites people to change the government by unlawful means.

The crime of seditious libel was used by the British Crown to stifle political opponents and consolidate power in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. English juries were permitted only to decide the factual issue of whether or not the defendant had communicated the speech in public; judges decided the legal issue of whether the communication constituted seditious libel. Truth was not a defense, and malicious intent to cause Sedition was not an element of the crime.

In the United States, legal experts disputed whether the English Common Law of seditious libel remained intact after the American Revolution. Federalist Party members in Congress concluded that it did, enacting the Sedition Act of 1798, which made it a crime to "write, print, utter or publish … any false, scandalous and malicious" words against the government, the president, or Congress. The U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the debate in new york times co. v. sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 84 S.Ct. 710, 11 L.Ed.2d 686 (U.S. 1964), holding that the First Amendment forbids public officials from recovering money damages for libel in civil court, unless they can prove that the allegedly injurious speech was defamatory, false, and made with "actual malice," or in reckless disregard of the truth.


Censorship; Freedom of Speech; Freedom of the Press; Libel and Slander.

References in classic literature ?
Those who have sufficient power usually imprison or put to death any one who tries to shake their faith in their own excellence or in that of the universe; it is for this reason that seditious libel and blasphemy have always been, and still are, criminal offences.
After his successful defense of Rupert Murdoch's News in 1960 in a seditious libel case, John Jefferson Bray made a powerful enemy who coveted the position that Chief Justice Bray would come to hold; an enemy who would then ruthlessly target Bray's unconventional private life.
In 1735, a jury found John Peter Zenger of the New York Weekly Journal not guilty of committing seditious libel against the colonial governor of New York, William Cosby.
Our Founding Fathers viewed those royal governors who prosecuted colonists for seditious libel (and who presumed to dictate what could be published) to be anathema to the unalienable right of liberty, so they placed in the Bill of Rights an amendment designed to end that practice.
Seditious libel punishes criticism of the government.
The Premier, who was also the Attorney-General, ordered that all copies of this tract were to be seized and one Witness was charged with the obscure crime of seditious libel.
He was sent to jail on several occasions, including 12 months for seditious libel, and was derided by the establishment.
IN 1810 THE English publisher, bookseller, and radical Richard Carlisle was sentenced to three years in prison for blasphemy and seditious libel.
36) By the 1830s (if not well before), "the civil remedy [for libel] had virtually pre-empted the field of defamation" in criminal libel prosecution, with the exception of seditious libel.
For example, the second essay maintains that the famous John Peter Zenger seditious libel case "was as much a religious as a political or legal phenomenon" because "like the religious awakenings, the Zenger trial reflected the skepticism for human authority felt by ordinary people who possessed a deep faith in the existence of God and truth" (p.
1) In fact, the United States, in early seditious libel cases, embraced the notion that truth was an "aggravating circumstance.