I have halted at Fayetteville to allow my columns to close up.
Headquarters, Department of the Tennessee, Fayetteville Tennessee
November 9, 1863
J.B. Bingham, Esquire, Editor “Memphis Bulletin
Yours of October 30th overtook me here, as I paused for my column to close up. I admit I find it difficult to define clearly my wishes as to the conduct of the Press in this Department.
The insatiable desire for “news” startling & poignant is so great, that an Editor, catering to the taste of the public, must prepare his food accordingly. I believe in Freedom as near absolute, as is consistent with safety. I believe in free thought, free speech and free Press. But the moment we think we see that each of these freedoms must be limited, else in bad hands, they generate discord, confusion and War; resulting in Military Rule, Despotism and no freedom at all, thus forming a circle of events, which the history of every old nation has exemplified.
You or any fair man, looking back on the history of our own country for the past forty years must admit, that the Press has gradually intensified the feelings of mutual jealousy and hatred between the North and the South till war not only resulted, but was bound to result. You see yet the Press of each Section, instead of healing the gap, is vigorously widening it. Now, this country must be united, by the silken bonds of a generous and kindly union if possible; or by the harsh, steel bands of a Despot otherwise. Of course we all prefer the former. In that event, the Press will have freedom regulated by Statute Law. In the other, their freedom will be one sided as in France, a freedom to praise and sustain the Government, but death to oppose.
If all men were good, we would need no Law or restraint, but unfortunately, some will steal and murder, and commit all sorts of crime and therefore punishment and pain must be resorted to. So if the Editors were filled with a desire to do right they would allay rather than arouse the passions of men. They would publish the Truth alone, and would slander nobody; but unfortunately some editors have an object to serve, to pull down one man or interest, to elevate another and so on. Now you know, and every Editor is conscious when he does right, but he may have some motive to serve, that biasses his judgment. Therefore even in peaceful times, I would make every Publisher liable in money for the Truth of every thing he prints. I would not allow him to publish anonymous precis and throw off by saying, the author was so & so. I would make the Editor responsible. 1st: that all, he publishes is true. 2nd—that the publication was necessary to the Public good. Even if true, I would make him liable as in slander and libel, and in times of War and Insurrection, I would restrict them altogether, for the reasons, that in Wars & Insurrection which suspend the functions of the Courts and Civil Offices, the executive of a nation by his Army and Navy must control all the Physique and Morale of the Nation, to restore such Peace and quiet, as will enable the courts to resume their sway.
In my Department I contend, that subordinate to the Powers above, I have a right to use every man, every influence, every moral, intellectual and physical power, within my limits to restore quiet, order, Peace and finally produce the restoration of the Civil Power when “eo instante” this Civil Government having regained its vitality, resumes its wonted control. These ideas are very general and not very specific but they give you the Key to my conduct.
If a man disturbs the Peace, I will kill or remove him, if he does anything wrong. There is no Civil Power in existence. The Military Power does exist and must act, for we must have some Law. “Nature abhors Anarchy”: As of a man so of a combination, or the Press, or anything. All must act in concert to stop War, strife & anarchy. When these are done, Peace restored, Civil Courts & Law respected, then you and all are free again.
W. T. Sherman Major General