Censorship Of The Press, a regulation by which books, pamphlets, and newspapers are subjected to the examination of certain civil or ecclesiastical officers, who are empowered to authorize or forbid their publication. Such a regulation was suggested by Plato, and an informal censorship existed in the times of Greece and Rome. Thus all the copies of the works of Protagoras were burned at Athens by sentence of the areopagus, because he had expressed doubts concerning the existenceoft.be gods. Satirical works and writings on magic were often condemned to the flames by the Roman emperors, and Diocletian ordered the sacred books of the Christians to be burned. After the church acquired a share in the civil power, it induced the state to condemn heretical books, and the writings of Arius were burned by edict of Constantine. Subsequently there were numerous enactments by popes and councils against the works of heretics, sanctioning the principle that books objected to by the church should be suppressed. This principle was maintained throughout the middle ages, authors often as a voluntary act of respect submitting their works before publication to the judgment of the higher clergy.
The first eminent instance of this kind was that of Autpert, a Benedictine monk, who in 708 sent his "Exposition of the Apocalypse': to Pope Stephen 111., begging him to publish the work and make it known. The invention of printing and the increasing number of books called forth new and stricter prescriptions of censorship, and there still remain copies of books printed in 1470 and 14S0 which are accompanied with solemn approbations and attestations in their favor. In 1486 Berthold, archbishop of Mentz, issued a mandate forbidding the publication of any work in the German language unless it should be first read and approved by one of four censors whom he appointed. Shortly after Pope Alexander VI. addressed a bull to the archbishops of Cologne, Mentz, Treves, and Magdeburg, according to which no book should be printed without" special express license from the clergy. Finally, in 1515, the council of the Lateran, assembled at Rome, decreed that in future no books should be printed in any town or diocese unless they were previously inspected and carefully examined by the bishop of the diocese or his deputy, or by the inquisitor of the diocese or his deputy, or if at Rome by the pope's vicar and the master of the sacred palace.
Every work which was approved was to be countersigned by the hand of the censor, and any publication not thus countersigned was to be burned and its author or editor excommunicated. Thus was a general censorship of the press consummated by the Roman Catholic church, which has since been enforced by that church in countries where it has had the power. Its "Index of Prohibited Hooks" was begun by the council of Trent, and has been from time to time republished and enlarged. It has also an "Index of Expurgated Books." - In countries where the reformation prevailed, the censorship was not abolished. Licensers of books were appointed in England, who were for the most part bishops; and in the reign of Charles I. complaints were laid before the house of commons against Archbishop Laud and his associates, because, as was alleged, it was impossible to obtain from them permission to publish a book written against popery. A general system of censorship was established by a decree of the star chamber, dated June 11, 1637, which remained in force during the civil war, and was confirmed by an act of parliament in 1043. It was against this act that Milton wrote his "Areopagitica: a Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing." "Paradise Lost" itself was in danger of being suppressed because the simile of Satan compared with the rising sun, in the first book, was supposed to contain a political allusion.
Parliament took several measures against "scandalous, seditious, libellous, and unlicensed pamphlets/1 In 1653 the council at Whitehall ordered that no person should print any matter of public news or intelligence without leave of the secretary of state. The licensing system, and with it the censorship of the press, was abolished in England in 1094 in the reign of William and Mary, but the question of its revival was agitated in parliament some time later. - A general censorship of the press existed under the old French monarchy. Originally in the hands of the bishops, it passed by degrees to the doctors of the faculty of theology; but this faculty becoming divided into parties on matters of controversy, the chancellor of the kingdom took the censorship from it in 1653. He appointed four royal censors with an annual stipend to examine all works without distinction, and no writing could be printed or sold, and no dramatic piece performed, unless approved by one of them. At the outbreak of the revolution the censorship was abolished and entire liberty of the press proclaimed, but in the reign of violence which followed there was no safety for obnoxious journals or writers.
Napoleon during the consulate limited the freedom of the press to works of a certain size, but subjected newspapers and pamphlets to a strict inspection. By a decree of the council of state in 1810, a complicated system of censorship was revived in France. Even after a book had been examined, approved, and printed, it could be seized by the minister of police and its sale stopped, a memorable instance of which was the destruction of the whole first edition of Mme. de Stael's De l'Allemagne. After various modifications of the censorship, Charles X., upon coming to the throne, abolished it altogether, but soon after suspended the liberty of the periodical press. This was one of the causes of his fall in 1830, after which the press once more became free. Under the empire of Louis Napoleon the Parisian newspapers were subjected to strict supervision and occasional suppression; and the republic of 1870 maintains the same system. A general censorship of the press is maintained in Russia. By the Spanish constitution of 1837 the previous censorship was abolished, and all Spaniards may print their thoughts freely, subject only to the laws. The determination of offences committed by means of the press belongs to juries impanelled for that purpose.
In Switzerland since 1830 no censorship has existed, but the liberty of the newspaper press is very much restricted by laws. By the constitution of the kingdom of Greece of 1827, the Hellenes have the right of publishing freely their thoughts, abstaining however from violations of decency, from personal calumny, and from attacking the principles of the Christian religion. In Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark, no authoritative censorship exists, hut upon those who offend through the press penalties of various degrees of severity are imposed. These penalties are most rigorous in Denmark. The liberty of the German press has been even more unsettled than the political government of Germany. While the emperors of the house of Austria had vainly sought to establish uniform rules to check the press in all the states, Frederick the Great granted uniform liberty to the press in his dominions, "because it amused him." During the ascendancy of the French republic the press was arbitrarily checked in most of the states, though it was free in Bavaria, Holstein, and occasionally in Hesse and Mecklenburg. The censorship was subsequently abolished in some of the smaller states, as Nassau, Wurtemberg, and Saxe-Weimar; but a congress of the German rulers, assembled at Carlsbad in 1819, extended it over all printed publications under 20 sheets.
Permission also had to be obtained for selling foreign books. The French revolution of 1830 prompted the German people to demand complete freedom from the censorship, except in cases specified by the diet; but though liberal regulations were obtained, they were upheld only a short time, and there was a gradual reaction toward the decree of Carlsbad. The movements of 1848 everywhere established the freedom of the press; and though the subsequent reaction curtailed it here and there, the censorship has since remained abolished. In the United States of America there never has been a censorship of the press. There are laws against publications of a scandalously immoral character, but in general the only restraint upon printing or circulating any class of books is found in the public sentiment.