Definition of SLANDER,


torts. The defaming a man in his reputation by speaking
or writing words which affect his life, office, or trade, or which tend to his
loss of preferment in marriage or service, or in his inheritance, or which
occasion any other particular damage. Law of Nisi Prius, 3. In England, if
slander be spoken of a peer, or other great man, it is called Scandalum
Magnatum. Falsity and malice are ingredients of slander. Bac. Abr. Slander.
Written or printed slanders are libels; see that word.

2. Here it is proposed to treat of verbal slander only, which may be
considered with reference to, 1st. The nature of the accusation. 2d. The
falsity of the charge. 3d. The mode of publication. 4th. The occasion; and 5th.
The malice or motive of the slander.

3. - §1. Actionable words are of two descriptions; first, those
actionable in themselves, without proof of special damages and, secondly, those
actionable only in respect of some actual consequential damages.

4. - 1. Words of the first description must impute: 1st. The guilt of
some offence for which the party, if guilty, might be indicted and punished by
the criminal courts; as to call a person a "traitor," "thief," "highwayman;" or
to say that he is guilty of "perjury," "forgery," "murder," and the like. And
although the imputation of guilt be general, without stating the particulars of
the pretended crime, it is actionable. Cro. Jac. 114, 142; 6 T. R. 674; 3 Wils.
186; 2 Vent. 266; 2 New Rep. 335. See 3 Serg. & Rawle, 255 7 Serg. &
Rawle, 451; 1 Binn. 452; 5 Binn. 218; 3 Serg. & Rawle, 261; 2 Binn. 34; 4
Yeates, 423; 10 Serg. & Rawle, 44; Stark. on Slander, 13 to 42; 8 Mass.
248; 13 Johns. 124; Id. 275.

5. - 2d. That the party has a disease or distemper which renders him
unfit for society. Bac. Abr. Slander, B 2. An action can therefore be sustained
for calling a man a leper. Cro. Jac. 144 Stark. on Slander, 97. But charging
another with having had a contagious disease is not actionable, as he will not,
on that account, be excluded from society. 2 T. R. 473, 4; 2 Str. 1189; Bac.
Abr. tit. Slander, B 2. A charge which renders a man ridiculous, and impairs
the enjoyment of general society, and injures those imperfect rights of
friendly intercourse and mutual benevolence which man has with respect to man,
is also actionable. Holt on Libels, 221.

6. - 3d. Unfitness in an officer, who holds an office to which profit
or emolument is attached, either in respect of morals or inability to discharge
the duties of the office in such a case an action lies. 1 Salk. 695, 698;
Rolle, Ab. 65; 2 Esp. R. 500; 5 Co. 125; 4 Co. 16 a; 1 Str. 617; 2 Ld. Raym.
1369; Bull. N. P. 4; Holt on Libels, 207; Stark. on Slander, 100.

7. - 4th. The want of integrity or capacity, whether mental or
pecuniary, in the conduct of a profession, trade or business, in which the
party is engaged, is actionable, 1 Mal. Entr. 244 as to accuse an attorney or
artist of inability, inattention, or want of integrity; 3 Wils. 187; 2 Bl. Rep.
750; or a clergyman of being a drunkard; 1 Binn. 178; is actionable. See Holt
on Libels, 210; Id. 217.

8. - 2. Of the second class are words which are actionable only in
respect of special damages sustained by the party slandered. Though the law
will not permit in these cases the inference of damage, yet when the damage has
actually been sustained, the party aggrieved may support an action for the
publication of an untruth; 1 Lev. 53; 1 Sid. 79, 80; 3 Wood. 210; 2 Leon. 111;
unless the assertion be made for the assertion of a supposed claim; Com. Dig.
tit. Action upon the case for Defamation, D 30; Bac. Ab. Slander, B; but it
lies if maliciously spoken. See 1 Rolle, Ab. 36 1 Saund. 243 Bac. Abr. Slander,
C; 8 T. R. 130 8 East, R. 1; Stark. on Slander, 157.

9. - §2. The charge must be false; 5 Co. 125, 6; Hob. 253; the
falsity of the accusation is to be implied till the contrary is shown. 2 East,
R. 436; 1 Saund. 242. The instance of a master making an unfavorable
representation of his servant, upon an application for his character, seems to
be an exception, in that case there being a presumption from the occasion of
the speaking, that the words were true. 1 T. R. 111; 3 B. & P. 587; Stark.
on Slander, 44, 175, 223.

10. - §3. The slander must, of course, be published, that is,
communicated to a third person; and if verbal, then in a language which he
understands, otherwise the plaintiff~s reputation is not impaired. 1 Rolle, Ab.
74; Cro. Eliz. 857; 1 Saund. 2425 n. 3; Bac. Abr. Slander, D 3. A letter
addressed to the party, containing libelous matter, is not sufficient to
maintain a civil action, though it may subject the libeler to an indictment, as
tending to a breach of the peace; 2 Bl. R. 1038; 1 T. R. 110; 1 Saund. l32, n.
2; 4 Esp. N. P. R. 117; 2 Esp. N. P. R. 623; 2 East, R. 361; the slander must
be published respecting the plaintiff; a mother cannot maintain an action for
calling her daughter a bastard. 11 Serg. & Rawle, 343. As to the case of a
man who repeats the slander invented by another, see Stark. on Slander, 213; 2
P. A. Bro. R. 89; 3 Yeates, 508; 3 Binn. 546.

11. - §4. To render words actionable, they must be uttered without
legal occasion. On some occasions it is justifiable to utter slander of
another, in others it is excusable, provided it be uttered without express
malice. Bac. Ab. Slander, D 4; Rolle, Ab. 87; 1 Vin. Ab. 540. It is justifiable
for au attorney to use scandalizing expressions in support of his client~s
cause and pertinent thereto. 1 M. & S. 280; 1 Holt~s R. 531; 1 B. & A.
232; see 2 Serg. & Rawle, 469; 1 Binn. 178; 4 Yeates, 322; 1 P. A. Browne~s
R. 40; 11 Verm. R. 536; Stark. on Slander, 182. Members of congress and other
legislative assemblies cannot be called to account for anything said in debate.

12. - §5. Malice is essential to the support of an action for
slanderous words. But malice is in general to be presumed until the contrary be
proved; 4 B. & C. 247; 1 Saund. 242, n. 2; 1 T. R. 1 11, 544; 1 East, R.
563; 2 East, R. 436; 2 New Rep. 335; Bull. N. P. 8; except in those cases where
the occasion prima facie excuses the publication. 4 B. & C. 247. See 14
Serg. & Rawle, 359; Stark. on Slander, 201. See, generally, Com. Dig. tit.
Action upon the case for Defamation; Bac. Abr. Slander; 1 Vin. Abr. 187; 1
Phill. Ev. ch. 8; Yelv. 28, n.; Doctr. Plac. 53 Holt~s Law of Libels; Starkie
on Slander, Ham. N. P. ch. 2, s. 3.

Source: Bouviers Law Dictionary 1856 Edition