What Would the Founders Do?: Liberty and Slander

Not one of us has ever written what he thinks on the internet without being rewarded with attacks personal, unfair and scurrilous.

Blog moderators tend to let it slide, First Amendment and all that.

What Would the Founders Do, somebody asked the other day.

As usual, Ben Franklin supplies the needed wisdom:


“… I have been at a loss to imagine any that may not be construed an infringement of the sacred liberty of the press. At length, however, I think I have found one that, instead of diminishing general liberty, shall augment it; which is, by restoring to the people a species of liberty, of which they have been deprived by our laws, I mean the liberty of the cudgel.

“In the rude state of society prior to the existence of laws, if one man gave another ill language, the affronted person would return it by a box on the ear, and, if repeated, by a good drubbing; and this without offending against any law. But now the right of making such returns is denied, and they are punished as breaches of the peace; while the right of abusing seems to remain in full force, the laws made against it being rendered ineffectual by the liberty of the press.

“My proposal then is, to leave the liberty of the press untouched, to be exercised in its full extent, force, and vigor; but to permit the liberty of the cudgel to go with it pari passu. Thus, my fellow-citizens, if an impudent writer attacks your reputation, dearer to you perhaps than your life, and puts his name to the charge, you may go to him as openly and break his head. If he conceals himself behind the printer, and you can nevertheless discover who he is, you may in like manner way-lay him in the night, attack him behind, and give him a good drubbing.”

I’m a devout Franklinist, BTW. Liberty of the Cudgel. I like it, bigtime. Word up.

Tom Van Dyke

Tom Van Dyke, businessman, musician, bon vivant and game-show champ (The Joker's Wild, and Win Ben Stein's Money), knows lots of stuff, although not quite everything yet. A past contributor to The American Spectator Online, the late great Reform Club blog, and currently on religion and the American Founding at American Creation, TVD continues to write on matters of both great and small importance from his ranch type style tract house high on a hill above Los Angeles.


  1. Is there and opening in your band, Mr. van Dyke? As I’m sure you know, Mr. Franklin invented the glass harmonica–a beautiful, beautiful instrument of great seriousness–I’d buy one today, if I only had $12,000. Bach works extremely well on this instrument–check it out. Beware though, people were imprisoned for playing this instrument–it was believed to have caused serious madness. True story.


  2. Tom, I can’t understand why you’d promote such measures that would compromise the hegemony of us lawyers and bloggers. Shall we yield our rule by Roget’s to a rule by cudgel? Let it never be! That board with a nail in it may have defeated us. But the humans won’t stop there. They’ll make bigger boards and bigger nails, and soon, they will make a board with a nail so big, it will destroy them all!

  3. This is why anonymity is important.

    While there are a great many lies about my life that would make me want to beat someone up for telling them, there are even more truths.

    • “If I’d written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people – including me – would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today.” — Hunter S. Thompson

  4. I’m with Tom on this. Surely if I were running for office and the press defames me and therefore costs me not just the election, future opportunities as well. Or maybe just causes me to have to explain to a long list of friends and relatives that what they said is just not true, they have injured me. Then surely I should be able to sue them

    • Mr. Murali, I favor the “drubbing” part. But I don’t want to spoil the lawyers’ fun, either. If they can ply their trade within the bounds of the First Amendment and our sacred liberty of the press, rock on.

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