Deadly Censorship: Murder, Honor, and Freedom of the Press

Deadly Censorship: Murder, Honor, and Freedom of the Press

Deadly Censorship: Murder, Honor, and Freedom of the Press

Deadly Censorship: Murder, Honor, and Freedom of the Press

Synopsis

On January 15, 1903, South Carolina lieutenant governor James H. Tillman shot and killed Narciso G. Gonzales, editor of South Carolina's most powerful newspaper, the State. Blaming Gonzales's stinging editorials for his loss of the 1902 gubernatorial race, Tillman shot Gonzales to avenge the defeat and redeem his "honor" and his reputation as a man who took bold, masculine action in the face of an insult.James Lowell Underwood investigates the epic murder trial of Tillman to test whether biting editorials were a legitimate exercise of freedom of the press or an abuse that justified killing when camouflaged as self-defense. This clash--between the revered values of respect for human life and freedom of expression on the one hand and deeply engrained ideas about honor on the other--took place amid legal maneuvering and political posturing worthy of a major motion picture. One of the most innovative elements of Deadly Censorship is Underwood's examination of homicide as a deterrent to public censure. He asks the question, "Can a man get away with murdering a political opponent?" Deadly Censorship is courtroom drama and a true story.Deadly Censorship is a painstaking recreation of an act of violence in front of the State House, the subsequent trial, and Tillman's acquittal, which sent shock waves across the United States. A specialist on constitutional law, James Lowell Underwood has written the definitive examination of the court proceedings, the state's complicated homicide laws, and the violent cult of personal honor that had undergirded South Carolina society since the colonial era.

Excerpt

The twentieth century produced many trials grandiosely labeled “trial of the century,” largely because of the involvement of celebrity defendants and famous lawyers known for dazzling displays of legal pyrotechnics. Such trials usually featured grisly or shocking crimes laid bare in graphic testimony. An early entry in this “trial of the century” pantheon was the case resulting from the 1903 killing of N. G. Gonzales, the respected and highly influential, but acerbic, editor of the State, the leading newspaper in the South Carolina capital of Columbia, by Lieutenant Governor James H. Tillman, scion of a powerful political family. This killing initially gained notoriety because it took place in broad daylight in the shadow of the State House, on the busiest street corner of the capital city, and the victim was an unarmed journalist of national reputation. His assailant acted because he thought his rising political star and cherished honor had been shot down and trodden underfoot by a ravening pack of journalists following the Gonzales’s take-no-prisoners lead. the murder trial that followed involved a clash of revered values: freedom of the press, the sanctity of human life, and the reputation of the deceased on one side, versus the honor and dignity of the defendant on the other. the trial revealed flashes of political verbal swordplay involving the struggle between “conservatives” and Tillmanite “reformers,” demonstrating through witnesses’ testimony and judges’ rulings, the unreconstructed nature of South Carolina after Reconstruction. the trial took place during a time when journalists were sometimes the target of angry and violent reprisals by those who thought their honor had been sullied by cruel and unfair articles. the killing, the trial, and its verdict attracted nationwide attention. the unusual array of important or rising political figures involved in the case as lawyers, judges, and witnesses—and even a court reporter who later became a United States Supreme Court justice and secretary of state—make the case . . .

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