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Chitty's Law Journal

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In looking at the development of the law of libel in this period, then, it is important to remember that the opposing political sides considered their differences far from petty. Each group was convinced that the activities of unscrupulous men (the other side) could endanger the very survival of republican institutions, which were historically fragile.

Even without a profound knowledge of specific political developments, the influence of political events on legal ones in this period is apparent. The trials under the Sedition Act are obvious examples, and there are many others. They are multiplied by the fact that most of the libel law in this period was developed on the state level. New York, for instance, was particularly fruitful in litigation of this sort. To take just two examples: between 1812 and 1813, the newspaper editor Southwick was involved in three libel suits with his political opponents; and a governor of the state, Morgan Lewis, was the plaintiff in a case which (to his advantage) limited an important doctrine announced in New York the very same year he brought his action.

The desire to keep a close watch on those in power was manifested in a series of decisions which developed the doctrine that petitions to a forum competent to redress the grievances complained of were not actionable.



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