‘Seditious Libel’ and the Origins of Free Speech

By Colonel Mike Angley

In many countries today, but certainly in England during the time of America’s colonial beginning, there was a common law crime called seditious libel. It was sometimes called criminal libel, and it was aimed at shuttering any notion of free speech.

Seditious libel was a charge government could bring against a citizen for being critical of…well…government. It was generally defined as “the intentional publication, without lawful excuse or justification, of written blame of any public man, or of the law, or of any institution established by law.” (Stephen, History of the Criminal Law)

In other words, government snowflakes avoided being triggered by critical citizenry through the heavy-handed application of criminal sanction. The price to be paid for causing a public official to endure unflattering words could very well be one’s freedom. Being truthful was no defense when egos were bruised.

Our Founding Fathers were well aware of the criminalizing nature of seditious libel and they sought to prevent against it in the creation of our Republic. James Madison addressed this in depth in Federalist 10. To him especially, free speech went to the notion of government being representative of the people and not a separate or special class of noble individuals entitled to ego-insurance.

After all, if government is nothing greater than the people themselves, then the people must be free to communicate with each other, criticisms and all.

In short, our Founders understood that when it came to government, it was precisely uncomfortable speech, critical speech, that was most in need of protection.

Benjamin Franklin, writing in The Pennsylvania Gazette, April 8, 1736, captured the American doctrine behind freedom of speech and of the press:

Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins.

I am currently a Republican candidate for Sheriff of El Paso County, Colorado, and the subject of free speech has become central to the race. At issue is a controversial website dedicated to, “Expose the Truth about (Incumbent Sheriff) Bill Elder, his command staff, and his cronies. To return the Sheriff’s Office to Integrity and fairness for all employees.”

The website is called www.DirtyElder.com, and its operators claim to be “a group of individuals concerned about the hostile work environment, corruption and nepotism at the Sheriff’s Office.”

The website has been around since at least January 2017, and despite my entering the race in late August 2017, the incumbent’s camp has repeatedly made attempts to tag me with ownership of it even though I do not.

It’s understandable that they would attempt this since the website contains unflattering commentary about the incumbent. After all, killing the messenger – even if you must lie about who that messenger is — is the parlor trick du jour when the message itself is embarrassing.

However, the attempts to target the website strike at the heart of the First Amendment. After all, the speech contained on www.DirtyElder.com is speech critical of government. While it may be offensive or distasteful – I am in no position to judge that – it is still protected. In fact, as Madison would likely tell you – it contains the most precious form of speech itself and it was the reason the First Amendment was crafted.

We have become aware of allegations that there may be individuals in a law enforcement capacity using their official authority to attempt to discover who owns and operates the website. Not only would that appear to be a misuse of official resources, but it is potentially a federal civil rights violation since it involves the possible infringement on free speech by government itself.

We certainly hope this is not true. After all, law enforcement personnel should be engaged in protection of rights, not in their encroachment. Sworn officers take an oath to the Constitution, the very same document in which the First Amendment finds its voice.

As a future Sheriff of El Paso County, the citizens need not fear rights infringement with me for two reasons. First, I revere and respect the Constitution, have taken an oath to it many times as a military officer. Second, my skin is thick and I don’t easily melt like a liberal snowflake, no matter how harsh the criticism.


Colonel Michael (“Mike”) Angley is retired from the United States Air Force, a published thriller author, and a conservative writer who fashions himself as Attila the Hun with a laptop. Mike wrote for Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government and Big Peace blogs before the Breitbart consolidation, receiving superb feedback and kudos for typically weaving in pop culture references with his far right perspectives. He enjoys writing about military affairs, national security issues, and politics and is an avid Second Amendment advocate. When he’s not writing, he’s busy annoying liberals with FaceBook posts and Twitter tweets that point out the obvious flaws and fallacies of the left.

During his 26-year USAF career, the Colonel was a Special Agent with the Office of Special Investigations (OSI). The OSI is a sister agency to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and has an identical mission that includes felony-level criminal, fraud, and narcotics investigations as well as counterintelligence and counterterrorism operations. His USAF experiences spanned multiple regions around the globe with five command assignments and duties at foreign, regional, theater and national levels.

He is a seasoned counterintelligence and counterespionage officer from the Cold War era, and if you ask him he’ll tell you the spy-vs-spy days were indeed the heady, glory era of espionage. During the latter half of his career he focused on counterterrorism missions in the Middle East and the Far East and operationalized many of today’s concepts for this unique arena while working the sand dunes of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and a few other “choice” locations. When Colonel Angley retired in 2007, he was a Senior Supervisory Special Agent and was in command of all worldwide OSI matters at Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs, CO.

Mike Angley is also a published, award-winning author of three thriller novels in the “Child Finder” trilogy. His debut novel, “Child Finder,” received a glowing review from the Library Journal which placed it on its Summer Reading list in 2009. “Child Finder” and its companion sequel novels all won various awards from the Military Writers Society of America (MWSA) and the Public Safety Writers Association. In 2012, Mike was named MWSA’s “Author of the Year,” largely for work on his third novel, “Child Finder: Revelation.”

As an avid user of social media, Mike can be found and friended on Facebook (mike.angley) and followed on Twitter (@MikeAngley). His website is www.mikeangley.com. Following his USAF retirement, Mike and his family stayed in Colorado Springs, CO where they enjoy daily, majestic views of Pikes Peak and the Rocky Mountains.

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‘Seditious Libel’ and the Origins of Free Speech — 2 Comments

  1. I find it extremely ironic that comments regarding the contents of this article and it’s author have been deleted when the very scope of it is Free Speech.

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