Author Carles Slack, whose new book chronicles the prosecutions of Thomas Cooper and other newspaper editors who wrote articles critical of President John Adams, will speak at Priestley House on Sunday, June 28 at 2 pm in the Pond Building.
Titled Liberty’s First Crisis, Slack’s book examines the political issues and international conditions that led President Adams and other Federalists to enact the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. The Federalists controlled the White House, the Congress, and the Supreme Court, and they used these laws to prosecute Cooper and others whose writings they saw as undermining the authority of the federal government.
All the while, the Federalists readily exercised their right to verbally attack their out-of-power foes, the Democratic-Republicans.
Published by Atlantic Monthly Press, the book describes how Cooper, a close friend of Dr. Priestley and editor of the Sunbury and Northumberland Gazette, was brought to trial in federal court in Philadelphia in April 1800. He was charged with publishing material in 1799 that libeled the president.
Cooper asked the court to subpoena President Adams as a hostile defense witness, but the presiding judge – Justice Samuel Chase of the U.S. Supreme Court – scolded Cooper for thinking that Adams would be called to testify: “Sir, this cannot be permitted,” the judge declared.
Convicted following a one-day trial, Cooper spent six months in prison. He lived in Priestley House following his release.
Other editors targeted by the Federalists included Benjamin Franklin Bache, a grandson of Benjamin Franklin. Bache’s newspaper, the Philadelphia Aurora, frequently attacked President Adams.
Slack’s presentation will take place in the Pond Building beginning at 2 p.m. The author, who lives in Connecticut, has published several other books, including Noble Obsession: Charles Goodyear, Thomas Hancock, and the Race to Unlock the Greatest Industrial Secret of the Nineteenth Century.