WORTMAN, Tunis (d. 1822).
A Treatise Concerning Political Enquiry, and the Liberty of the Press
New York: Printed by George Forman ... for the author, 1800. 8vo. 296pp.
Expertly bound to style in half calf and period marbled paper covered boards, flat spine gilt
First edition of an important work on freedom of speech and the press in the early years of the Republic.
"Tunis Wortman, a New York lawyer who was prominent in Tammany politics, contributed pre-eminently to the emergence of American libertarianism in his book ... It is, in a sense, the book that Jefferson did not write, but should have. Devoid of party polemics and of the characteristically American preoccupation with legal and constitutional problems, it is a work of political philosophy that systematically presents the case for freedom of expression...the outstanding characteristics of the book are its philosophic approach and its absolutist theses" (Levy).
Writing in the wake of the Alien and Sedition Acts, Wortman argues that the premise of the Declaration of Independence that the people have the right to dissolve political bonds implies an "unlimited right" of individuals and society to express political opinions. For Wortman, a society interested in furthering knowledge or truth must leave speech "entirely unshackled." He held that open debate furthered the ability of society to arrive at the wisest course of action. He argued that the effect of the Alien and Sedition Acts was self-defeating, since coercion could not suppress thought, but only its expression, and so would inevitably lead to a lack of faith in the government, which he viewed as a worse consequence than any breach of peace.
Cohen 3603; Evans 39150; Leonard Levy, Legacy of Suppression (Cambridge, 1960), pp. 283-89; McCoy, Freedom of the Press W398; Sabin 105514.