Catalog Archive
Auction 176, Lot 730

Early Challenge to Freedom of Speech

"[First Amendment] Petition of Thomas Cooper, President of the South Carolina College, Praying the Restoration of a Fine, with Interest, Incurred Under the Sedition Law of 1798...", U.S. Government

Subject: Document - First Amendment

Period: 1825 (published)

Publication: Sen. Doc. 30, 18th Congress, 2nd Session

Color: Black & White

5.6 x 8.8 inches
14.2 x 22.4 cm
Download High Resolution Image
(or just click on image to launch the Zoom viewer)

Fearing an impending war with France, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 which permitted a fine or imprisonment for publishing “false, scandalous or malicious writing“ against the government of the U.S. or its officers. Thomas Cooper, quite a character, published critical attacks on President John Adams in 1799 and was convicted of libel. He served a prison term and was fined. Adams’ support for and use of the unpopular Sedition Acts to punish critics probably cost him a second term. The law was allowed to expire in 1801. Cooper went on to become a judge and college president. His petition makes a strong case that the Sedition Act violated the First Amendment and hence was unconstitutional. Ultimately, Cooper was vindicated. His petition was acted on and his fine restored (with interest) by an Act of Congress. Octavo, disbound, 8 pages. No past auction records and only two institutional records located on OCLC.


Condition: B+

Disbound with light toning that is more prominent on the title page.

Estimate: $180 - $220

Sold for: $120

Closed on 2/12/2020