Editor’s Scratchpad

Friday, June 22, 2001

Ribbing the president
is the American way

We occasionally get complaints from readers who take issue with the less-than-flattering way presidents or other senior officials are sometimes portrayed by our editorial cartoonists.

Such portrayals, permitted under the First Amendment's provision of freedom of the press, go back to the beginning of the republic. Well, almost. Congress passed the Sedition Act in 1797 that declared "scandalous and malicious writing," and presumably cartoons, to be a high misdemeanor. About 25 editors went to jail and newspapers were shut down.

James Madison, primary author of the First Amendment, and Thomas Jefferson were appalled. As soon as President Jefferson took office in March 1801, he pardoned all 25 and allowed the Sedition Act to lapse. Since then, making fun of government leaders has been considered a sign of robust democracy and something that sets America apart from most other nations.

--Richard Halloran

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