National Geographic : 1906 Jan
THE ANNUAL DINNER of kings and to put into the hands of the people the scepter of sovereignty. Feeble and ineffectual no doubt that first leaflet was, a mere rushlight emit ting but the faintest glimmer, but in three hundred years to what power has it grown-a blazing sun under whose searching glare there is no conceal ment. Ah, what battles the press has fought-for its own freedom first of all, for until that battle was won no other victory was possible. For its own freedom first, and then for the truth that makes all men free. I do not need to be reminded that what I assert concerning the effort and influence of the press as a whole can be contro verted with individual exceptions. Tyranny has never lacked apologists and defenders and error has always had its paid and perjured champions. But these exceptions have been so few and feeble that in the general summing up they may be neglected altogether. In the main the mighty enginery of the press has wrought for righteousness, for freedom and justice and truth. De scribing the condition of the English laborers in the days of the Stuarts Lord Macaulay could think of no phrase of deeper commiseration than to say "They had no newspaper to plead their cause." What a tribute that is to the universality with which the press of our day can be relied upon to inter pose its everlasting prohibition "Thou shalt not" between the weak and those who would oppress and despoil them. It was Lord Disraeli, I believe, who first characterized the English press as the Fourth Estate. Here in America it is the first estate. It wields incom parably more power than any House or Senate or President, for it makes houses and senates and presidents. It may not make judges, possibly, but it has sometimes been suspected of hav ing a large share in making decisions. "I don't know," said Mr Dooley, "whether the Constitution follows the flag or the flag follows the Constitution, butIdoknowthataslongastheSu preme Court keeps one eye on the newspapers and another on the election returns it won't go very far wrong." (Applause and laughter.) The news papers may not always use their great power wisely and honestly and well. But when was ever great power, except that which dwells with Omnipotence itself, used always wisely and honestly and well? "There were doubtless a good many verdicts for the plaintiff that ought to have been for the defend ant," said an old judge once in describ ing a district over which he had for merly presided, "and there were a good many verdicts for the defendant that ought to have been for the plaintiff, but in the main justice was done." In some few cases the American press may cause pain to the innocent, but in ten thousand cases it puts the, fear of God into the heart of the guilty. It may not always uphold the virtuous as it should, but it follows with sleep less vigilance upon the trail of the doers of evil. Sometimes it may "bend the pregnant hinges of the knee" in the presence of ill-gotten wealth, "that thrift may follow fawning," but more often it pinions in the pillory of public condem nation and contempt the dollar-mad devotees of high and unholy finance. Its editorial columns may sometimes be timid or corrupt, but everywhere and all the time it prints the news. And therein lies its greatest power, thereby it renders its most important, nay its altogether indispensable service. Pub licity has come to be the master word in our present day statecraft. Strange that we have been so long learning it. Strange that we could not have sooner read the real significance of that first mighty commandment, thundered by Jehovah into the darkness and disorder of a world that was without form and void, "Let there be light!" Let there be light that those whose deeds are evil 3'