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Wildy's Book of the Month - June 2005
This unusual book was inspired by a chance find on Wildys shelves. Judge Stockdale found a report of the 1789 trial of the bookseller John Stockdale (no relation) for publishing a criticism of the House of Commons.
He was successfully defended by the great Erskine, but the case led to Fox's Libel Act of 1792. This bookseller turned out to be the father of the notorious John Joseph Stockdale, whose litigation against Hansard led directly to the Parliamentary Papers Act, 1840.
On further investigation the author found that John Stockdale's bookshop had close links with several American Presidents, all of whom were interested in the Freedom of the Press and in publishing. The initial link had been established by a friend of one of the pre-Revolution American students at the Middle Temple, who, as one of General Washingtons closest aides, had negotiated the British surrender at Yorktown.
Eric Stockdale's historical work illuminates one of the least known but most interesting corners of history: American propaganda before and during the War of Independence, much of it written by English authors. With unique insight the author takes the reader back to the turbulent years in London just before, during and after the American Revolution.
We are introduced to a cast of historic characters, both heroes and villains: Prime Ministers, Attorneys-General, Members of Parliament and 'bloody revolutionaries of the worst sort!' Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, among other radicals, all step forth and take their place in these times 'that try men's souls'. We come to understand the quiet courage and audacity of men like John Almon, John Stockdale and other pro-American booksellers, and the deadly edge of treason they had to tread. We learn about the Byzantine tangle of British politics and the men who pushed England's famed Freedom of the Press to Lord North's and the King's great distress.