« PreviousContinue »
go into the details. We must now pay attention to the collective history of the papers, as evidencing the influence they exerted over events.
With the beginning of the eighteenth century the colonial assemblies and the governors commenced that system of contending for power which was decided in favour of the former about the middle of the century. We have already seen that Dr. Franklin took an active part in the internal history of Pennsylvania, and in his writings we have a full account of the struggle. In the colony of New York this contest was carried on with great acerbity. During the government of William Cosby, 1732-36, matters reached a crisis. In 1725, a paper had been established called the New York Gazette, which was a court organ. The chief of the opposition started another paper, called the New York Weekly Journal, in 1733, which soon attracted the attention of government, and the editor was arrested for defamation and sedition. This trial created an extraor dinary excitement through the country, and the editor was acquitted by the jury, in spite of all the royalist efforts. In this trial the celebrated Andrew Hamilton greatly distinguished himself. So great was the impression caused by this governmental defeat, that the governor Morris, fifty years later, did not hesitate to call this trial "the dawn of the American revolution." It seems, however, that the Journal obtained more popularity than ready money, for we find at the head of the number for the 25th of February, 1751, the following appeal to the public:
The country subscribers are earnestly entreated to send in their arrears; if they do not pay promptly I shall leave off sending the paper, and try to recover my money otherwise. Some of these easy subscribers are in arrear for more than seven years. After serving them so long, I fancy it is time, and high time, they should repay me my advances; for the truth is, and they may believe me, I have worn my clothes threadbare. N.B.-Gentlemen, if you have no ready money to spare, still think of your printer. When you have read this advertisement, and thought over it, you cannot do less than say, "Come, wife (I address myself principally to married folk, but let bachelors take it to heart also)-come, wife, let us send that poor printer some flour, or a few hams, butter, cheese, or poultry," &c. In the mean while, I am your obedient servant, -JOHN ZENGER.
It does not appear that this moving appeal had any result, for the poor printer was forced to give up his paper the next year. It was not resumed for several years, until the first dispute between England and the colonies, when the opposition saw the necessity of a special organ. The press was not a lucrative trade, for we find, from 1740 to 1770, twelve to fifteen papers born to die in New York. One of these that had the longest existence was the Weekly Postilion, founded in 1743, and which ran for ten years, till the owner got into trouble by attacking the episcopal clergy.
The conquest of Canada in 1763 removed those fears which the Americans had so long entertained of French proximity, and rendered the protection of the mother country less necessary in their eyes. This security was favourable to the development of feelings of independence, and the Assembly of Virginia soon gave the signal by the celebrated declaration known as the "Resolutions of Virginia," in which the rights of the colonists were established and the pretensions of the parliament rejected, by virtue of the same principles which twelve years later became the basis of the declaration of independence. These resolutions were
proposed and defended by Patrick Henry, and voted on the 29th of May, 1765. The governor was furious, and dissolved the assembly; but the resolutions were already published in the Maryland Gazette. Reprinted in the Newport Mercury, that paper was immediately suppressed by the English authorities for what was regarded as an act of treason. In 1767, the liberal articles published by Adams in the Boston Gazette attracted the attention of the British parliament, and the government proposed to institute an inquiry, which, however, was outvoted by the opposition. But even the Gazette soon became too cautious for a section of the Whig party, and in 1769 the Massachusetts Spy was established. This journal represented the exaggerated and violent side of the American revolution. While the writers in the Boston Gazette, among whom were such men as Otis, Quincy, Warren, and John Adams, were striving to defer any material oppression and keep the resistance within the limits of the law, the writers in the Spy, young and ardent, urged a violent rupture. On the outbreak of hostilities, this paper was removed to Worcester, and at the peace died, and made no sign. But the opposition were not alone in claiming the aid of the press: the English government had no want of defenders even in Massachusetts. In 1767, the Boston Chronicle was started avowedly as a government organ, and many clever skits were published in its pages, while for sterling information it surpassed all its rivals. But as our author justly says, it is with papers as with children, when they are too talented they only live a short while. The popular party displayed such an aversion to the newspaper, and grew so menacing, that in 1769 the editor had to go into hiding, and escape to England. The paper only survived till 1770. After the suspension of the Chronicle, several important royalists joined together, and established a species of review called the Censor. This only lived one year, and the government was left with only one ally, the Massachusetts Gazette. In this paper Daniel Leonard wrote a series of articles under the pseudonym of Massachusettensis, which caused so great an impression that the Whigs found it necessary to publish a regular refutation, which was entrusted to John Adams, who wrote under the name of Novanglus. This pen-andink warfare was stopped by the day of Lexington, which saw American blood shed. From that day it was impossible to publish anything in favour of the royalist cause without attracting the popular fury.
The struggle for independence was the best era of the American press, and probably no instance exists of any press having excited so powerful an influence on contemporaneous events. But it must be borne in mind that the reason why the press exercised such an influence was that all the eminent men in the colonies joined it. The popular journals displayed a remarkable array of talent: Franklin, the two Adamses, Jefferson, Joy, Hamilton, all belonged to the press before they became the property of history. On the foundation of the federal government, these great men were called to more important duties, and left a gap which could not be filled up on the press. There were but few educated men in the colonies at that day: a great portion of the lettered class had pronounced against the revolution, and the majority of the members of the bar and the clergy had emigrated, or were proscribed as loyalists. The natural consequence was that the papers fell into the hands of illiterate men, and soon became a means to propagate scandal and insult. Even Franklin was unable to
struggle against this evil. His regret is expressed in bitter complaints in every page of his correspondence. At the end of 1782, in writing from Passy to his friend Francis Hopkinson, he says that he dares not lend the American papers to any one until he has read them, and removed those which would disgrace his country in the eyes of foreigners. He adds, that they put him in mind of a quarrel at a coffee-house, where two adversaries, after indulging in the interchange of savoury compliments in the shape of rogue, scamp, scoundrel, and so on, appeal to their next neighbour to be arbiter between them. "I know nothing of you or your affairs," he replied; "I only see that you are perfectly acquainted with each other." On returning home, Franklin found the evil even greater than he had imagined, and though he strove hard by raillery, and those ingenious allegories he was so fond of, to stem the evil, he soon found himself assailed worse than all the rest. At this period, Alexander Hamilton published the Continentalist, which was an admirable contrast to the majority of American papers. This was followed by the Federalist, a work which will live as long as the constitution which it was written to explain. After the author of the Federalist, there are only two writers who deserve mention-Fisher Ames and T. Quincy Adams-before the American press fell into a state almost impossible to describe. A civilised nation, in the midst of profound tranquillity and increasing prosperity, allowed a regular system of defamation and insults to all its magistrates and public men. No paper resisted the contagion, not even the National Gazette, founded in Virginia by Jefferson and Madison, and which passed all bounds in its attacks on Washington and the chiefs of the Federalist party. Still the palm of insult and calumny belonged to a Philadelphia paper, the Aurora, edited by a grandson of Franklin's, Bache, the last and unworthy heir of a glorious name. The worst of it was that the legislature was powerless to prevent the evil, and although President Adams had obtained the passing of a law making it criminal to bring calumnious imputations against public functionaries, the only effect of this attempt was to attract the animadversions of the entire press and the overthrow of the Federalist party. The effect of this has been that no action has been brought against any American paper for libel during the last fifty
In this general debasement of the American press we find a couple of names in favour of which an exception may be made. They are Theodore Dwight and William Wirt. The former may be regarded as the connecting link between the writers of the old school and the contemporary press, for, being born in 1765, he came out under the auspices of Hamilton and Fisher Ames, and only died in 1846, at the age of eightyone, having devoted himself to the press for more than fifty years. He founded the Daily Advertiser at New York in 1817, which still exists under the name of the New York Express. Wirt commenced his career in August, 1803, on the Richmond Enquirer, by a series of articles evidently imitated from the Spectator, and signed the "British Spy." These letters had a great success, and were reprinted. But both the writers only owed their reputation to the intellectual and moral inferiority of all those who wrote at the same time as themselves, for in America very few persons regarded the press as a profession. Owing to the
want of large journals addressing a considerable number of readers, and requiring first-rate ability, there is no prospect of success in a literary career alone, as is the case in England. It must be borne in mind, also, that, owing to the countless number of papers flourishing somehow in America, talent is regarded as far inferior to a good advertising medium. In Europe, the newspaper, which satisfies an intellectual want, has got before the advertisements; in America, the paper looks for its existence to advertisements, and it becomes a mere mercantile speculation. On this subject our author makes some excellent remarks:
In the United States, owing to the population being spread over an immense district, the advertisement must go in search of the client to the very heart of the forest; hence it is forced to borrow the assistance of the journal, and where it does not exist, it forces it into life. The paper, besides, is always welcome in the clearings; it is a mine of indispensable information; it gives the market days through the district; it announces the price of grain, and tells where any article may be procured; in politics, it describes the doings of the House, reminds its readers of election days, and specifies the opinions of the candidates; it serves at once as almanack, annual register, and guide, and frequently composes the squatter's entire library. In America, the newspaper is an object of the first necessity. When the oaks have fallen beneath the axe, when the fire has cleared the plain, and huts are raised where the buffalo and deer have hitherto reigned without rivalry, the pioneers collect to raise the house of God. When the school has been built by the side of the church, the village is born, but its existence is still incomplete. Soon a man arrives with a few pounds of type in a couple of boxes; he calls himself a printer, and the day after his arrival he will be a journalist. What he writes in the morning he will compose at night, frequently alone, sometimes aided by an apprentice; he will do his own working, and the next day two or three lads will go out selling a sheet of paper for a halfpenny, printed on a broad sheet, and half, perhaps threefourths, occupied by advertisements. The Eagle, the Courier, or the Independent of is born; the village has become a town. After the temple, the school; after the school, the paper; such is the invariable order in which the three great wants of every American community are satisfied. When the village has grown up, and a little leisure is allowed the squatters for politics, the paper assumes a colour, and the party against whom it pronounces makes offers to some journeyman printer in the nearest town. A second paper is established, which immediately engages in a furious war of words with its elder rival. A third will soon spring up, which will call itself independent, and collect the subscriptions and advertisements of the neutral and undecided party. Then, in proportion as the population increases, and the advertisements are multiplied, "the three papers, instead of being published once a week, will appear twice, then three times a week; a few more years and all these will be dailies.
What progress the press has made in America during the last fifty years will be best seen from the following statistics. In 1775 there were thirty-seven papers in existence, of which thirty-six were weekly: only one, the Advertiser, of Philadelphia, appeared thrice a week, because the Congress was assembled in that city. Twenty-five years later, or in 1800, there were 200 papers, of which seventeen were daily, while in 1850 there were 2800, and at the present writing the number of American papers would amount to nearly 4000, had not the period of political calmness put an end to some hundreds established during the great slavery debates. It is important to notice, too, that this prodigious development of papers is not owing entirely to the increase of population, and its spreading over a larger territory, for the number of journals is continu
ally on the increase in the old states. Thus, the state of New York, which possessed 245 papers in 1842, had 460 in 1850, and the same is the case in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Massachusetts. The first daily
paper was established in 1784; sixteen were established by 1800; and the number has gradually increased to 350 in 1850. The next census will doubtlessly display another great increase, for such is the natural result of the successive transformations through which the American papers pass. The consumption of paper may be estimated from the fact that, in 1850, there were four hundred and twenty-three million papers of all sorts published. No wonder the Americans are such sedulous purchasers of European rags.
The statistical details into which we have entered indubitably attest a marvellous progress, and we are happy to add that considerable improvement has accompanied increased circulation. We have been compelled to write severely, and could have easily accumulated American testimony to justify a still more severe condemnation; but we must allow that, at the present day, there are some admirable exceptions, and that, even regarding the mass, it is no longer as it was thirty years ago. The man to whom the improvement is mainly owing still lives in the person of Mr. Robert Walsh, who established the National Gazette at Philadelphia in 1821, and is at present the Paris correspondent of the New York Journal of Commerce. The success which the National Gazette met with was contagious: it taught the public that a paper could be an honest and useful work; it taught writers that addressing the intellect was better than flattering the passions, while it rendered the public more particular. Mr. Walsh found imitators at New York in Messrs. King, James Hamilton, and Julian Verplank, who established the New York American, which soon gained a front rank, and maintained its position for more than twenty years. In 1845, Mr. King, the last surviving proprietor, joined to it the Courier and Inquirer, which is now the most widely-circulated of American papers. Another workman in the same path of reform was P. H. Cruse, who edited, during many years, the Baltimore American. All these writers belonged to the Whig party. In the ranks of their opponents we find W. C. Bryant, who, after contributing poetry for several years to the New York Review, became, in 1827, editor and part proprietor of the Evening Post. He, too, followed the example given by Mr. Walsh, and devoted a portion of his paper to literary critiques. To close the list of writers who have gained a name on the American press, we may mention N. P. Willis and Mrs. David Lee Child. Mr. Willis, after writing all sorts of books, good, bad, and indifferent, has come to an anchorage as editor of the Home Journal, a weekly paper devoted almost exclusively to literature. Mrs. Child made her debut at the early age of twenty as a romance writer, and, in 1841, began a series of weekly letters in the Boston Courier, which gained an enormous sale when reprinted. But we need not pursue these details further: they will suffice to show how unjust it would be to condemn the whole American press. Through the whole of New England we may find, at the present day, some most respectable papers, edited honestly if with no great amount of talent, and which possess considerable value in their own immediate sphere. Of such are at New York the Courier and Inquirer, the Journal of Commerce, the Commercial Advertiser, the Evening Post; at Boston, the Courier and the Atlas;