Source: Truth Seeker
Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “Hysteria in Virginia”
Date of publication: 5 October 1901
Volume number: 28
Issue number: 40
|“Hysteria in Virginia.” Truth Seeker 5 Oct. 1901 v28n40: p. 627.|
|Virginia Constitutional Convention; freedom of speech (restrictions on); McKinley assassination (government response: criticism).|
Hysteria in Virginia
The Virginia Constitutional Convention, scared
by sensationalism in newspapers, has eliminated the clause in its Bill of Rights
guarauteeing [sic] freedom of speech and press.
It is remarkable, comments the Detroit Evening News, that emotional insanity should have affected an entire deliberative body in this wise. It is exceedingly unfortunate for Virgina [sic] that an overwhelming national tragedy should have occurred at a time when momentous questions were being decided for an indefiuite [sic] term of years, and an immense pity that an isolated incident, no matter how important, should have been so timed as to materially influence the formation of fundamental laws. The fathers of the republic and the framers of the earlier state constitutions saw clearly that free government, without free speech and a free press, could not be maintained. They realized that if it were competent for those in authority to restrict criticism of their official acts or the circulation of information concerning those acts, a wide gate would be left open for the entrance of every form of tyranny and abuse. It is only by the utmost liberty of discussion that a free people may protect their own interests, and secure the exposition and correction of any wrongs aud [sic] errors of which their chosen representatives may be guilty. History and logic unite in declaring that there is no greater temptation to despotism and no more prolific source of oppression than the power to silence condemnation.
That Virginia, of all the states of the Union, should have so soon forgotten the lessons which had been so bitterly impressed upon the colonists, and should have drifted so far from the wise precepts to which those lessons gave birth, is both pitiful and alarming.
It may be argued that the hysteria of the moment, bred of disgust, sorrow, and shock, produced by the crime of Czolgosz, will pass shortly, and that no legislature will ever be found to avail itself of the power thus conferred. It would be gratifying to believe that the argument is well founded, and the fundamental principles of liberty are so deeply engraved on the hearts of the American people that they cannot be obscured except momentarily by some sudden and violent excitement; but the extremes to which partisan politics will carry legislative bodies are so well understood that no sane observer of governmental activities will be willing to trust such authority in their hands. If the people of Virginia agree to such a surrender of their liberties and create this opportunity for oppression, they may be sure that the man and the occasion will arise when it will be grasped, and it is quite as likely to be used for evil purposes and for the protection of a corrupt machine from just condemnation as for the suppression of enemies of society.