Back to top

Libelous Letter

The Newspaper Article that Brought about Freedom of the Press

The following article appeared in the Novascotian on January 1, 1835. It began at the bottom of the second column of page 2.  This printing sparked the beginning of Freedom of the Press in the British Colonies.

There is no truth at all i' the oracle; The Sessions shall proceed - this is mere falsehood                                           SHAKESPEARE Mr. Howe,

Sir. -- Living as we do in a free and intelligent Country, and under the influence of a Constitution which attaches to our rulers the salutary restrictions of responsibility in all matters of government, is it not surprising that the inhabitants of Halifax, should have so long submitted to those shameful and barefaced impositions and exactions, which have from year to year been levied on them, in the shape of Town and Country Taxes. Repeated attempts have from time to time been made, by independent minded persons among us, to excite amongst their countrymen some spirit of resistance or opposition to those unwarrantable and unequal exactions, which have been drained from the pockets of the public.  But it seems to me that the torpid indifference to public matters which has hitherto been the general characteristic of the people, has at length become quickened and aroused by a calm and deliberate reflection on what must be their future condition if they any longer neglect to look after the servants of the State.  In a young and poor country, where the sons of rich and favoured families alone receive education at the public expence - where the many must toil to support the extortions and exactions of a few ; where the hard earnings of the people are lavished on an Aristocracy, who repay their ill timed generosity with contempt and insult ; it requires no ordinary nerve in men of moderate circumstances and humble pretensions, to stand forward and boldly protest against measures which are fast working the ruin of the Province.  Does there, Mr. Editor, exist in any free state, save Nova Scotia, a responsible Magistracy, who would for thirty years brave and brook the repeated censures of the Press, without even attempting a justification of their conduct, or giving to the public some explanations that might refute those unjust and licentious libels, which have repeatedly been a disgrace to them or to the press of the country.  Are the journals of our land exclusive ; do they admit only the wild and reckless portion of the people, and shut their columns against the sober and discreet supporters of the men in power?  I cannot think this, Mr. Howe ; and yet weeks have elapsed since charges too grave to be slighted and too plain to be misunderstood, have been placed through the medium of the press, before the eye of the public, and yet no champion of the sacred hand has taken the field to deny or to explain.  I candidly and willingly admit that there are in the ranks of the Magistracy, individuals justly entitle to the esteem and respect of their fellow townsmen, but they have mostly left the arena, disgusted with the scenes that were enacted by theirmore active and energetic brethren.  I will venture to affirm, without the possibility of being contradicted by proof, that during the lapse of the last 30 years, the Magistracy and Police have, by one stratagem or other, taken from the pockets of the people, in over exactions, fines, &c.&c. a sum that would exceed in the gross amount £30,000 ; and I am prepared to prove my assertions whenever they are manly enough to come forward and justify their conduct to the people. - Can it not be proved, and is it not notorious, that one of the present active Magistrates has contrived for years, to filch from one establishment, and that dedicated to the comfort of the poor and destitute, at least £ 300 per annum?  Can it not be proved, that the fines exacted in the name and on the behalf of our Sovereign Lord the King, have annually for the last 30 years exceeded £200 ; and of this sum His most Gracious Majesty has received about as much as would go into the Royal coffers, if the long dormant claim of the Quit Rents was revived imprudently.  Is it not known to every reflecting and observant man, whose business or curiosity has led him to take a view of the municipal bustle of our Court of Sessions, that from the pockets of the poor and distressed at least £1000 is drawn annually, and pocketed by men whose services the Country might well spare.  These things, Mr. Howe, cannot much longer be endured, even by the loyal and peaceable inhabitants of Nova Scotia.  One half of the most respectable of the middling orders have this year been sued or summoned for the amount of their last years' Poor and County Rates ; and nearly the whole town have appealed or are murmuring at the extravagant amount of the assessment for the present year.  I will venture to affirm, and have already affirmed in a former number that £1500 ought to defray all ordinary expences for the County ; and by the speech of His Excellency at the opening of the Session, we are informed that the people of England have, with their wonted generosity, relieved us of a large portion of the extraordinary expenses which the visitation of Providence rendered necessary.  In fine, Mr. Howe, the affairs of the County have been for years conducted in a slovenly, extravagant and unpopular manner, and the people have been entirely in the dark, as regards the collection and appropriation of their monies ; but they have now amongst them a Chief Magistrate, who has pledged himself to be candid, and I trust we will find him impartial also.  I am neither a flatterer nor physiognomist, but I cannot help observing in the martial tread and manly mien of our present Governor. some of the outwards features of the late Sir John Sherbrooke, and if the inward man be corresponding, there is yet some hope for

                                                                                                  THE PEOPLE.