I believe that Harry Croswell may be best explained by a story he told about himself. One of his victims, a local Justice of the Peace named Hagedorn, spotted the young newspaperman about to cross a street in the river port boom-town of Hudson, New York (above). It sat on the east bank of the river, about 30 miles south of Albany. Without warning Hagedorn, an enormous man, leaped from the driver’s seat of his wagon and confronted the unsuspecting Harry. Standing toe to toe, Justice Hagedorn hotly accused Harry of slandering him in his newspaper, and threatened to whip Harry soundly. Harry calmly responded that he did not believe that Hagedorn would “whip” him. The offended justice exploded in a stream of profanity and insults, and then, without touching Harry, spun on his heels, remounted his carriage again and whipped his “poor horse” instead. As the angry Justice disappeared down the street a witness asked Harry how he could have been so certain the J.P. would not have used a horse whip on him, to which Harry replied, “Mainly because I planned to run away.”
Speaking for Harry's defense before the New York state Supreme Court, on February 13, 1804, was Jefferson's nemeses, Alexander Hamilton himself. He argued that the only restraint on publishers should reside not with the government and politicians, but with the “occasional and fluctuating group of common citizens” sitting on juries. Only if a charge was untrue, and only if the writer had reason to know it was untrue, should it be considered slander; or so argued Alexander Hamilton.
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