In the second chapter of On Liberty, John Stuart Mill mentions in a note the "Government Press Prosecutions of 1858". He further writes that "The offence charged was not that of criticising institutions, or the acts or persons of rulers, but of circulating what was deemed an immoral doctrine, the lawfulness of Tyrannicide."

What events prompted the Government Press Prosecutions of 1858 and how did the government respond? Is this event known under any other name?

2 Answers 2


In the late part of 1858, Count Charles Montalembert of France was put on trial and prosecuted by the French government for writing an article titled "A Debate on India in the English Parliament". The French government took the position that certain passages of this article were "seditious and an outrage upon the existing Government" of France. (This link will take you to a book that provides a full accounting of the actual trial.)

This trial was rather infamous at the time and was a key example of Press Laws that were being put into place in an attempt to stifle the press and limit what could be printed. Basically, these laws undermined the concept of the freedom of the press and restricted the press from printing whatever they deemed printworthy, and more specifically, anything that might criticize the government.

The punishment for crimes such as this basically amounted to exile. The person found guilty was kicked out of the country and not permitted to retain their citizenship. Montalembert had apparently expected to be found guilty, and therefore had begun planning his new and future residency to take place in England.

  • The Press Law link you gave is dead. Aug 4, 2015 at 13:06

Drennon's answer is incorrect. Montalembert's writings had nothing to do with Tyrannicide. Indeed, the draft of "On Liberty" was completed before John Stuart Mill's wife died (3 Nov 1858) and she died before the Montalembert trial even started.

John Stuart Mill's reference is to two trials that took place back-to-back in England in 1858. Paraphrasing from the legal accounts:

Queen versus Truelove. Indictment found at the Central Criminal Court and removed into the Court of Queen's Bench by certiorari, for publishing a libel on His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of the French, and for inciting to assassination. Tried June 1858. Verdict: not guilty.

Queen versus Tchorzewski. In the Court of the Queen's Bench, Stanislaus Tchorzewski, a bookseller of Green Street, was charged on an indictment for publishing a pamphlet entitled “Lettre au Parlement et à la Presse” and signed “ Le Comité de la Commune Révolutionnaire, Félix Pyat, A. Besson, Alfred Talandier,” justifying the Orsini assassination attempt, and inciting to the assassination of the Emperor of the French. Verdict: not guilty.

The Orsini plot was a conspiracy to assassinate the Emperor of France in January of 1858.

  • Umm, I think you need to read the actual question again. The question had nothing to do with Tyrannicide, and as such, my answer had nothing to do with it. The question was about the Government Press Prosecutions and the events that prompted them. Your "answer" doesn't address the base question at all. Aug 4, 2015 at 3:48
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    @StevenDrennon Actually, the question does mention tyrannicide. All other things being equal, Mill waas probably more likely to mention an English trial rather than a French one, especially without detailed explanation (since his readers would readily recognize it). So it seems that Tyler's answer is more likely to be the correct one. Aug 4, 2015 at 5:13
  • Yes, the question does mention tyrannicide, but it is not about tyrannicide. The question is about Government Press Prosecutions and how they were handled by the government. Tyler gives additional examples of the types of cases affected by the Press Laws, but it does not answer the underlying question. My answer specifically explains what the Govt. Press Prosecutions were and what the likely response of the government would be (exile). Aug 4, 2015 at 8:09
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    @StevenDrennon Steve, the "Government Press Prosecutions" of 1858 that John Stuart Mill specifically was referring to were the two cases I cited above. The draft of "On Liberty" was completed before John Stuart Mill's wife died (3 Nov 1858) and she died before the Montalembert trial even started. Aug 4, 2015 at 13:04
  • You didn't offer a link to the "legal accounts" you are paraphrasing, but I suspect “Lettre an Parlement et a la Presse,” to be a typo for “Lettre au Parlement et à la Presse” and "Talandisr" a typo for Alfred "Talandier" fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Talandier
    – Evargalo
    Apr 19, 2023 at 11:08

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