Upon the whole, therefore, I am fully satisfied that no power is given by the Constitution to control the press, and that such laws are expressly prohibited by the amendment. I think it inconsistent with the nature of our Government that its administration should have power to restrain animadversions on public measures, and for protection from private injury from defamation the States are fully competent. It is to them that our officers must look for protection of persons, estates, and every other personal right; and, therefore, I see no reason why it is not proper to rely upon it for defence against private libels.
The inaugural address of President Jefferson has been given the first place under this period, notwithstanding the fact that it was not at all an oration. The inaugural addresses of presidents Washington and Adams were really orations, although written, depending for much of their effect on the personal presence of him who delivered the address; that of Jefferson was altogether a business document, sent to be read by the two houses of Congress for their information, and without any of the adjuncts of the orator.
It is impossible, nevertheless, to spare the inaugural address of the first Democratic President, for it is pervaded by a personality which, if quieter in its operation, was more potent in results than the most burning eloquence could have been. The spirit of modern democracy, which has become, for good or evil, the common characteristic of all American parties and leaders, was here first put into living words. Triumphant in national politics, this spirit now had but one field of struggle, the politics of the States, and here its efforts were for years bent to the abolition of every remnant of limitation on individual liberty. Outside of New England, the change was accomplished as rapidly as the forms of law could be put into the necessary direction; remnants of ecclesiastical government, ecclesiastical taxes of even the mildest description, restrictions on manhood suffrage, State electoral systems, were the immediate victims of the new spirit, and the first term of Mr. Jefferson saw most of the States under democratic governments. Inside of New England, the change was stubbornly resisted, and, for a time, with success. For about twenty years, the general rule was that New England and Delaware were federalist, and the rest of the country was democratic. But even in New England, a strong democratic minority was growing up, and about 1820 the last barriers of federalism gave way; Connecticut, the federalist “land of steady habits,” accepted a new and democratic constitution; Massachusetts modified hers; and the new and reliably democratic State of Maine was brought into existence. The “era of good feeling” signalized the extinction of the federal party and the universal reign of democracy. The length of this period of contest is the strongest testimony to the stubbornness of the New England fibre. Estimated by States, the success of democracy was about as complete in 1803 as in 1817; but it required fifteen years of persistent struggle to convince the smallest section of the Union that it was hopelessly defeated.