1742: David Hume’s ‘Essays Moral, Political and Literary’

Portrait by Allan Ramsay, c. 1754 (Public Domain)


Hume’s Essays Moral, Political and Literary from 1742 contain a philosophical argument for freedom of the press:


“But I would fain go a step further and assert that such a liberty is attended with so few inconveniences that it may be claimed as the common right of mankind …”
– David Hume, Essays Moral, Political and Literary, 1742


In 1770, the Scottish philosopher has changed his mind. The argument is erased from the following editions of the essays. Instead, the “unbounded liberty of the press” is “one of the evils” associated with mixed forms of government. The American patriots ignore Hume’s backpedaling and an early unedited version of the essay circulates widely in the American press under the title “the celebrated Mr. Hume’s Observations on the Liberty of the Press”.