|Federalist, US Consul to Cadiz, first Auditor of the US Treasury
Federalist, US Consul to Cadiz, first Auditor of the US Treasury (appointed by George Washington). Letter written and signed by Harrison, dated June 3, 1803, to New York lawyer and jurist PETER van SCHAACK (1747-1832). Terrific political content concerning the famous libel case of HARRY CROSWELL (1778-1858), Federalist editor of the aptly-named New York Wasp, who had attacked President Thomas Jefferson in print. As a result, he was being sued for libel under New York law by Jefferson's Democratic Republicans.
In an interesting stroke of poetic irony, Croswell was helped in his defense by Arch-Federalist Alexander Hamilton, who is mentioned in this letter. When the Federalists where in power, Hamilton had supported the enactment of the Sedition Act, which essentially made criticism of the government illegal. Now that a Federalist editor was under a similar attack, he changed his tune and became an ardent defender of free speech. Jefferson himself had normally been a supporter of free speech, but selectively prosecuted his Federalist critics once in power.
In the letter, Harrison suggests various strategies for Croswell to employ, including arguing that state courts did not have jurisdiction over a libel case involving the US President, as well as suggesting that the defense should provide evidence to support the claims for which he was being tried. This would put the judge and plaintiff in a catch-22 situation, in that to refuse to accept such evidence "will establish that the Truth of the charge is no protection to the printer; & how the staunch opponents of the Gag-Law can avow that doctrine, I must own that I am at a loss to discover." The "Gag Law" was a popular term for the Sedition Act opposed so vigorously by Jefferson's party. Fantastic and very rare political content from the innermost circle of the Federalist Party as they do battle with the ascendant Jeffersonion Republicans. Full transcript provided. $1595.00*