People v. Croswell: Proving or Disproving Libel about Thomas Jefferson

Created by Prof. Jess McIntosh,
BHSEC Faculty

NYS Common Core Grades 11 & 12:
United States History and Government
Participation in Government and Civics

The case of People v. Croswell discusses concepts of criminal libel and sedition, in which Harry Croswell was accused of publishing defamatory statements about President Thomas Jefferson. Croswell’s defense argued that the charges were relics of an unenlightened era, where power and politics trumped reason and truth. Both in legal opinion and in the popular press, this unit, and these disputes, expose different perspectives on the relationships between truth and calumny; evidence and opinion; and national security and First Amendment rights.

This lesson plan meets the following guidelines of New York State’s Common Core Social Studies Framework (2017):

Lesson Plan PDF

Student Resources & Activities PDF

The Historical Society’s website contains a wealth of related resources, including mini-biographies of the lawyers and judges involved in the case.

People v. Croswell
Judicial Notice Article

People v. Croswell
3 Johns. Cas. 337 (N.Y. 1804)

Alexander Hamilton
Lawyer for Croswell

James Kent
Chief Justice of New York

Smith Thompson
NY Supreme Court Justice

Henry Brockholst Livingston
NY Supreme Court Justice

Ambrose Spencer
Lawyer for the People & NY Supreme Court Justice

Morgan Lewis
NY Supreme Court Justice

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