|WORLD Magazine / Central Ideas / Chapter Four|
|The Establishment of American Press Liberty|
|By 1730 the last British attempt to reassert licensing control over the feisty Puritans had failed, and Massachusetts journalism was generally peaceful. Editors such as Bartholomew Green, who succeeded John Campbell as owner of the NewsLetter in 1723, emphasized press responsibility to help readers know "how to order their prayers and praises to the Great God." Local news continued to be reported in reverential context, as in this coverage of a storm:
The Water flowed over our Wharffs and into our streets to a very surprising height. They say the Tide rose 20 Inches higher than ever was known before . . . The loss and damage sustained is very great . . . . Let us fear the GOD of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land, who commandeth & raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves; who ruleth the raging of the sea, and when the waves thereof arise, He stilleth them.
As editor during a relatively quiet time, Green had the luxury to be known not primarily as a combative journalist but as a gentle man. When he died in 1733, an obituary described Green as "a very humble and exemplary Christian" known for "keeping close and diligent to the work of his calling." In that same year, however, New York editor John Peter Zenger was thrust into the vortex of a controversy that would determine whether the press liberty developed in reformed New England could spread through the other colonies.
Zenger's New York Weekly Journal was not the first newspaper outside of New England. Many had been starting in a generally northtosouth movement: the New York Gazette in 1724, the Maryland Gazette in 1727, and the South Carolina Gazette in 1732. The first newspaper outside New England, the American Weekly Mercury (Philadelphia, 1719) had even shown a willingness to see God's sovereignty in politics, although at a distance. Editor Andrew Bradford wrote that Massachusetts royal officials were "remarkable for Hypocrisy: And it is the general Opinion, that some of their Rulers are rais'd up and continued as a Scourge in the Hands of the Almighty for the Sins of the People." But no one outside of Boston had dared to criticize officials close at hand.
Zenger, however, put into practice the ideas taught in the Dutch Reformed church at which he played the organ each Sabbath God's sovereignty, the Bible above all. He took on William Cosby, New York's royal governor, who clearly thought he was above the law. When a farmer's cart slowed down Cosby's coach, the governor had his coachman beat the farmer with a horsewhip and nearly kill him. When Cosby desired some land owned by Indians, he stole their deed and burned it. When Cosby granted new lands to those who applied legally, he demanded and received bribes often amounting to one third of the estates. Cosby made enemies who were willing to fund Zenger's newspaper and provide anonymous articles for it, but it was Zenger whose name was on the newspaper, and it was Zenger who would go to jail.
Zenger first sent a message in the Journal's second issue by differentiating an absolute monarchy from one based on Biblical principles of fixed law and limitations on power. In an absolute monarchy, the article argued, the "Will of the Prince" was over all, and "a Liberty of the Press to complain of Grievances" was impossible. In a limited monarchy, however,
Laws are known, fixed, and established. They are the streight Rule and sure Guide to direct the King, the Ministers, and other his Subjects: And therefore an Offense against the Laws is such an Offense against the Constitution as ought to receive a proper adequate Punishment.
Law (applying biblical principles) was above the king, not under him, just as the Bible itself was over all human royalty.
Such a belief undermined the official story in another way as well. Marchamont Nedham under pressure concluded that might makes right, but an early essay in the Journal pointedly asked, "If we reverence men for their power alone, why do we not reverence the Devil, who has so much more power than men?" The article concluded that respect was due "only to virtuous qualities and useful actions," and that it was therefore "as ridiculous and superstitious to adore great mischievous men as it is to worship a false god or Satan in the stead of God." Subjects had the right to evaluate their king. Obedience was not guaranteed.
The Journal prominently featured "Cato's Letters," written in England by John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon. They argued that governmental authority must be limited, and that such limitation was possible only if individuals were free to speak the truth to those in power. Everyone was to be restrained by Biblical principles of conduct: "Power without control appertains to God alone, and no man ought to be trusted with what no man is equal to." Zenger also reprinted sermons emphasizing freedom from the official story's faith in kingly wisdom. One, by Jonathan Dickinson, argued that "Every person in the world has an equal right to judge for themselves, in the affairs of conscience and eternal salvation." Dickinson showed that the lessons of not only royal domination but Cromwellian rule had been learned; he commented, "What dreadful work has been made in the world by using methods of force in matters of opinion and conscience."
New York's royal governor, not wanting to admit that the state's domain was limited, brought a charge of "seditious libel" again Zenger and threw him into jail. Journalists at that time had little defense against such accusations. Journalists who proved that their statements were true might be even worse off. (Under English law truth made the libel worse by making it more likely that the statements would decrease public support for the king and his officials; a common legal expression was "the greater the truth, the greater the libel.") Jurors were only to determine whether the accused actually had printed the objectionable publication. If they agreed that he had, judges decided whether the statements in question were critical and deserved punishment.
The story of Zenger's trial on August 4, 1735, has often been told. The situation certainly was dramatic: Judges in their red robes and white wigs were ready to convict Zenger for his criticism of the royal governor, but the jury included "common People" among whom Zenger's newspaper had "gain'd some credit." A packed courtroom sympathetic to Zenger kept the judges from silencing defense attorney Andrew Hamilton when he turned directly to the jurors and suggested that they disobey English law: Hamilton wanted them to declare Zenger innocent even though he admitted to printing the material in question and was thus under the power of the judges. Hamilton argued that Zenger deserved such support because he had been "exposing and opposing arbitrary power by speaking and writing Truth," and the jurors agreed. They delivered a verdict of "not guilty"; royal officials decided not to provoke a riot; Zenger went free.
The story has often been told, but why it turned out as it did has rarely been understood. According to one leading textbook, The Press and America, the trial began because of a class uprising by "wealthy merchants and landowners" and ended with popular embrace of a "right to criticize officials." But The Press and America, along with the other major 20thcentury texts, does not explain what Zenger's defense of "speaking and writing Truth" meant in the context of his era. The trial records show that "Truth" was equated with the Bible, and Zenger was said to be merely following the lead of the Bible, which attacked corrupt leaders as "blind watchmen" and "greedy dogs that can never have enough." Zenger's defense, essentially, was that if God's authors produced such a critique, so could New York's.
The context of Zenger's defense is clarified further by an essay published in his newspaper, the New York Journal, in 1733. The article proposed that true freedom required the subjecting of consciences "to divine authority," because only through the Bible would people know how to use liberty without turning it into license. In historical context, then, the Zenger verdict was not what the texts say it was: a "class uprising" that led to a proclamation of freedom from any restraint. Instead, the journalistic desire to be governed by "Truth" in this context was a desire to accept a system of internal restraints developed from biblical principles.
In short, Hamilton won the case not by proposing a new revelation, but by placing Zenger in the line of Martin Luther, John Foxe, John Stubbes, Marchamont Nedham, Increase Mather, and others. Zenger was one more victim of what Hamilton called "the Flame of Prosecutions upon Informations, set on Foot by the Government, to deprive a People of the Right of Remonstrating (and complaining too), of the arbitrary Attempts of Men in Power." Only the spread of Reformation principles concerning literacy, independent journalism, and the rights of citizens to read for themselves, allowed Hamilton to turn to the jurors and ask them to support the truthteller, regardless of what royal officials desired.
The verdict meant little legally: A runaway jury had disobeyed established English law and gotten away with it. But as the verdict reverberated through the colonies and through England itself, it encouraged corruption story proponents and discouraged the officials from trying printers for seditious libel; no case of that sort was brought anywhere in America after 1735. The year after the Zenger case, Virginia had its first newspaperthe Virginia Gazette, published in Williamsburg. Editor William Parks exposed corruption, including the stealing of sheep by a member of Virginia's House of Burgesses. When Parks was threatened with prosecution, he used the Zenger defense of truthtelling and produced court records showing the accusation was accurate; the case against Parks was dropped. By 1750 there were 14 weekly newspapers published in the British colonies, and the first semiweekly and triweekly newspapers had emerged.
Increasingly, the newspapers were independent of governmental control and free to provide, as Maryland Gazette editor Jonas Green promised his readers, not just "a Weekly Account of the most remarkable Occurrences, foreign and domestic," but also an examination of "whatever may conduce to the Promotion of Virtue and Learning, the Suppression of Vice and Immorality, and the Instruction as well as Entertainment of our Readers." Newspapers ran lively debates on many subjects, including politics. The idea that fundamental law came from God, not from the state or from any persons, was opening the door to questioning of many traditions, including even monarchical control. Journalist Elisha Williams argued in 1744 that:
The Powers that be in Great Britain are the Government therein according to its own Constitution:If then the higher Powers for the Administration rule not according to that Constitution, or if any King thereof shall rule so, as to change the Government from legal to arbitrary . . . no Subjection [is] due to it.
Journalists were the ones who would have "Eyes to see" when rulers went "out of the Line of their Power."
At the same time, the lessons of the failed Puritan Revolution particularly those concerning the lure and potential abuse of powerwere well known to the colonists. Recent college graduate Samuel Adams wrote in 1748,
Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue.
His conclusion was:
The sum of all is, if we would most truly enjoy this gift of Heaven, let us become a virtuous people: then shall we both deserve and enjoy it. While, on the other hand, if we are universally vicious and debauched in our manners, though the form of our Constitution carries the face of the most exalted freedom, we shall in reality be the most abject slaves.
During the Seven Years (French and Indian) War of 1756 to 1763, colonial newspapers were free to bring charges of graft against those supplying American troops; for example, the NewYork Gazette and Weekly PostBoy reported that many of the guns purchased were out of date and practically useless, and joked that beef supplied for soldiers' food was more effective than powder because its odor would drive away the enemy. That such charges, when wellfounded, could be made without legal repercussion, showed how firmly independent journalism was established in America. The colonists found themselves surprised, then, after the war, when England began to crack down.
Samuel Adams led the protests in Massachusetts. If transported to our present age of television journalism, Adams would be a washout: he had a sunken chest, a sallow complexion and "wishywashy gray eyes." Adams' lips twitched and trembled, for he suffered from palsy. His clothes were drab and sometimes sloppy. Besides, Adams was a financial misfit who lived in an old, shabby house, and wrote much but earned little. John Adams put the best complexion on the surface prospects of his cousin when he wrote that "in common appearance he was a plain, simple, decent citizen, of middling stature, dress, and manners." Looking beyond appearances, however, Adams possessed advantages. His good classical education made ancient times as real to him as his own; references to the political ups and downs of ancient Israel, Greece, and Rome came easily to his pen. He had the ability to write under almost any conditions. Adams typically composed his columns after evening prayers; his wife Elizabeth would go to bed but would sometimes wake in the middle of the night and hear only the sound of her husband's quill pen scratching on and on. But when Adams had to, he could write forceful prose amidst a town meeting.
Adams was also in the right place, at what became the right time. He lived in America's largest port city, and the second largest city in all of the colonies, after Philadelphia. The 20,000 residents of Boston in 1770 may not seem like many now, but at that time they were enough to support six weekly newspapers, including, during the decade before revolutionary warfare broke out, the Boston Gazette. The Gazette was published every Monday afternoon, and a crowd often awaited its issues hot off the press. Adams had a regular column but never signed his own name to it. Instead, he used a pen namesuch as "A Puritan"that connected him with independent journalism's honorable lineage. Other columnists did the same; for example, Josiah Quincy, Jr. signed his columns, "Marchamont Nedham."
Furthermore, Adams was modest. He did not write about himself, and had no problem with being in the background. Many journalists today make themselves the stars of their stories, but Adams believed that "political literature was to be as selfless as politics itself, designed to promote its cause, not its author." Adams' selfeffacement has made life harder for some historians: John Adams wrote that his cousin's personality would "never be accurately known to posterity, as it was never sufficiently known to its own age." (A minister wrote on October 3, 1803, the day after Adams' death, that there had been "an impenetrable secrecy" about him.) But Adams' willingness to have others take the credit worked wonders during his time. He chaired town meetings and led the applause for those who needed bucking up; for example, he pulled John Hancock onto the patriot side and promoted Hancock's career.
And, Adams had a strong belief in the God of the Bible. The Great Awakening had made a permanent theological impression on him. That impression is evident in Adams' writings and actions, in his prayers each morning and in his family Bible reading each evening. He frequently emphasized the importance of "Endeavors to promote the spiritual kingdom of Jesus Christ," and in good or bad times wrote of the need "to submit to the Dispensations of Heaven, Whose Ways are ever gracious, ever just.' " During the struggle of the 1760s and 1770s Adams regularly set aside days of fasting and prayer to "seek the Lord." In 1777, when Adams wrote to a friend about the high points of one celebration, he stressed the sermon delivered that day; the friend wrote back, "An epicure would have said something about the clams, but you turn me to the prophet Isaiah."
Adams, in short, worked within the tradition of Foxe, Mather, and others who called for reformation, not social revolution. John Adams called Samuel the Calvin of his day, and "a Calvinist" to the core. (William Tudor in 1823 called Adams "a strict Calvinist . . . no individual of his day had so much the feelings of the ancient puritans." For Tudor, that meant Adams had "too much sternness and pious bigotry") Yet, Adams did not merely rely on established procedures; he advanced the practice and significance of American journalism in four ways.
First, observing that "mankind are governed more by their feelings than by reason," Adams emphasized appeals to the whole person, not just to a disembodied intellect. Emotions were to be taken seriously, for the "fears and jealousies of the people are not always groundless: And when they become general, it is not to be presum'd that they are; for the people in general seldom complain, without some good reason. Adams assumed democratically that an issue of importance to the populace is not silly. He argued that ordinary citizens could "distinguish between realities and sounds'; and by a proper use of that reason which Heaven has given them,' they can judge, as well as their betters, when there is danger of slavery."
Second, Adams emphasized investigative reporting more vigorously than any American journalist before him had: He did so because "Publick Liberty will not long survive the Loss of publick Virtue." Adams argued that it was vital to track activities of those:
who are watching every Opportunity to turn the good or ill Fortune of their Country, and they care not which to their own private Advantage . . . . Such Men there always have been & always will be, till human Nature itself shall be substantially meliorated.
He went on to praise exposure of leaders who "having gained the Confidence of their Country, are sacrilegiously employing their Talents to the Ruin of its Affairs, for their own private Emolument." Adams, however, emphasized restraint in such exposure, as he emphasized restraint in all actions: Only those "capable of doing great Mischief' should be held up "to the publick Eye."
Third, Adams defined more thoroughly than his predecessors the limits of protest. His strong sense of lawfulness is indicated by his reactions to two incidents, the Stamp Act demonstrations of August 1765, and the related attacks on private homes such as that of Thomas Hutchinson, the royal governor. Adams favored the former action because legislative methods and petitions already had failed; the House of Commons would not listen, so the demonstration "was the only Method whereby they could make known their Objections to Measures." He opposed the assault on the Hutchinson home, calling it an action of "a truly mobbish Nature." When Adams and his colleagues planned the Boston Tea Party, they made it clear that nothing except tea was to be destroyed; when the patriots dressed as "Indians" accidentally broke a padlock, they later replaced it.
So far was Adams from revolution in the way the term is currently understood that he wrote, in the Boston Gazette in 1768, that
the security of right and property, is the great end of government. Surely, then, such measures as tend to render right and property precarious, tend to destroy both property and government; for these must stand and fall together.
He opposed dictatorship, whether popular or monarchical:
The Utopian schemes of levelling, and a community of goods, are as visionary and impracticable, as those which vest all property in the Crown, are arbitrary, despotic, and in our government unconstitutional. Now what property can the colonists be conceived to have, if their money may be granted away by others, without their consent?
Some of the patriots did not share Adams' emphasis on restraint, and it is not hard to compile a list of patriots' "mobbish" acts. Yet the principles of the revolutionaries, and most of their practice, emphasized defense of property and freedom of political speech.
Fourth, Adams argued that writers should pay careful attention to the connection between attacks on political rights and attempts to restrict religious rights. In a Boston Gazette column that he signed, "A Puritan," Adams described how he was pleased with attention paid to politics but
surpriz'd to find, that so little attention is given to the danger we are in, of the utter loss of those religious Rights, the enjoyment of which our good forefathers had more especially in their intention, when they explored and settled this new world.
He saw acquiescence in political slavery as preparation for submission to religious slavery:
I could not help fancying that the StampAct itself was contrived with a design only to inure the people to the habit of contemplating themselves as the slaves of men; and the transition from thence to a subjection to Satan, is mighty easy.
It is astounding that some historians have seen Adams solely as a political plotter; for Adams, the religious base came first. One of his arguments against imposed taxes was that the money could go for establishment of a state "Episcopate in America . . . the revenue raised in America, for ought we can tell, may be constitutionally applied towards the support of prelacy. . ."
Adams favored investigative reporting and appropriate emotional appeal because he wanted readers to know about and care about attempts to take away their freedom, political and religious. He opposed destructive revolutionary acts because he saw them as eventually reducing freedom, political and religiouswith the results of the English civil war as a case in point. From all these strands Adams was able to weave an understanding of when journalists, and citizens generally, should be willing to fight.
The understanding came out of the Puritan idea of covenant and its politicaleconomic corollary, contract. In 1765 Adams had written of himself and his neighbors,
We are the Descendants of Ancestors remarkable for their Zeal for true Religion & Liberty: When they found it was no longer possible for them to bear any Part in the Support of this glorious Cause in their Native Country England, they transplanted themselves at their own very great Expence, into the Wilds of America . . . .Their ancestors took those risks in order to establish "the Worship of God, according to their best Judgment, upon the Plan of the new Testament; to maintain it among themselves, and transmit it to their Posterity." Crucially, they did so on the basis of a signed contract: "A Charter was granted them by King Charles the first," Adams noted, and "a successor charter" was granted (through the lobbying of Increase Mather) in 1691.
Adams, in column after column, explained the basis of the contract: The colonists "promised the King to enlarge his Dominion, on their own Charge, provided that They & their Posterity might enjoy such & such Privileges." Adams wrote that the colonists "have performed their Part, & for the King to deprive their Posterity of the Privileges, therein granted, would carry the Face of Injustice in it." Colloquially, a deal's a deal, and London's attempt to tax the colonists was one indication that the deal was being broken, because the charter gave the colonists "an exclusive Right to make Laws for our own internal Government & Taxation."
In emphasizing the breaking of the contract, Adams was not developing new political theology. John Calvin had written that "Every commonwealth rests upon laws and agreements," and had then noted "the mutual obligation of head and members." John Cotton, following that line of argument, had concluded that "the rights of him who dissolves the contract are forfeited. " Puritans long had insisted that just as God establishes a covenant with man, so kings have a contract with their subjects (and although God would never break His agreement, kings often did). But Adams took that idea and developed from it a theory of when writers should criticize and when they should refrain from criticism. Once a government had been established along biblical principles, criticism of its departure from those principles was properbut criticism designed to topple the government in order to establish it on new principles was improper.
To put this another way, Adams in the 1770s approved of a conservative revolution designed to restore previously contracted rights, but not a violent social revolution designed to establish new conditions. This made sense not only as a pragmatic way to avoid bloodshed and chaos, but because of Adams' belief (expressed as early as 1748) that societies in any case represent the strengths and weaknesses of their members. The real need in a contractbased society was individual change (which can lead to social change) and not social revolution.
Other New England writers also argued that London had broken its contract with the colonists. John Lathrop declared in 1774 that a person who "makes an alteration in the established constitution, whether he be a subject or a ruler, is guilty of treason." He asserted that colonists "may and ought, to resist, and even make war against those rulers who leap the bounds prescribed them by the constitution, and attempt to oppress and enslave the subjects . . . ." Lathrop, after referring to writings of Luther, Calvin, Melancthon, and Zwingli, concluded that King and Parliament, by attempting to lord it over colonial assemblies, were overthrowing England's constitutional.
During the 1770s patriots outside of New England also expressed such ideas. The single book most quoted by Americans during the founding era was the Book of Deuteronomy, with its emphasis on covenant . The SouthCarolina Gazette expressed concern that British officials were claiming "the power of breaking all our charters." A columnist in the Pennsylvania Evening Post declared that "resisting the just and lawful power of government" was rebellion but resisting "unjust and usurped power was not." The Virginia Gazette saw British authorities moving to apply "the Rod of Despotism" to "every Colony that moves in Defence of Liberty." In Connecticut, the Norwich Packet argued that liberty was like an inheritance, "a sacred deposit which it would be treason against Heaven to betray."
The patriotic journalists sometimes used nonpolitical stories to make their points. The Boston EveningPost reported a hanging: "Saturday last was executed Harry Halbert, pursuant to his sentence, for the murder of the son of Jacob Wollman.He will never pay any of the taxes unjustly laid on these once happy lands." Rather than raging against the British system generally, they pointed to specific violations of the contract. Massachusetts citizens were supposed to be able to control their own government, with the royal governor having a relatively minor role and not a large bureaucracybut Josiah Quincy, Jr., in the Boston Gazette, showed how "pensioners, stipendiaries, and salarymen" were "hourly multiplying on us." In New Hampshire, the Executive Council was supposed to provide the governor with a broad array of colonists' views; the colony's correspondent complained in the Boston EveningPost that relatives of Governor John Wentworth filled all but one Council seat.
Increasingly, the patriot journalists saw such exposure of corruption as part of their calling. Adams wrote in the Boston Gazette, "There is nothing so fretting and vexatious, nothing so justly TERRIBLE to tyrants, and their tools and abettors, as a FREE PRESS." Isaiah Thomas, editor of The Massachusetts Spy, wrote that, without a free press, there would be "padlocks on our lips, fetters on our legs, and only our hands left at liberty to slave for our worse than Egyptian task masters . . . ." But again, the emphasis was on officeholders' betrayal of existing laws, not on revolutionary imposition of new ones: The mission of the Boston Gazette, its editors declared, was to "strip the serpents of their stings, & consign to disgrace, all those guileful betrayers of their country."
Examination of many of the stories leading up to the revolution shows how steeped in the Bible the patriot journalists were. That is not surprising, because in New England alone during 1776, ministers were "delivering over two thousand discourses a week and publishing them at an unprecedented rate that outnumbered secular pamphlets (from all the colonies) by a ratio of more than four to one." That is also not surprising because, right up to the revolutionary war, ballads concerning bad news were still putting their stories in corruption story context; for example, in 1774, a fire story noted that "There's not a Day goes by, but we behold/ A Truth, that Men need often to be told:/ That this vain World with all it's glit'ring Toys,/ Does but deceive the Mind with empty Joys." It was natural for the Massachusetts Spy to comment simply but evocatively, when the Intolerable Acts closed the Port of Boston, "Tell it in Gath, publish it in Ashkelon. "
Under extreme pressure, Adams' response to the Intolerable Acts, contained in a resolution passed by Suffolk County, continued to emphasize contract, not revolution. The resolution recommended economic sanctions against the British and proposed the formation of an armed patriot militia, but it also attacked any attempt
by unthinking persons to commit outrage upon private property; we would heartily recommend to all persons of this community not to engage in riots, routs, or licentious attacks upon the properties of any person whatsoever, as being subversive of all order and government.
Newspapers portrayed the war, once begun, as a defense of order and legitimate government: "We have taken up arms, it is true," the Virginia Gazette noted, "but this we have an undoubted right to do, in defence of the British constitution." Samuel Adams had his counterparts in other colonies: Cornelius Harnett was called "the Samuel Adams of North Carolina" and Charles Thomson was called "the Samuel Adams of Philadelphia. " But Adams himself was the best at taking Bible based theories and heightening them journalistically. His printed response to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence shows Adams at his finest, and shows his sense of God's providence." Adams began,
We have explored the temple of royalty, and found that the idol we have bowed down to has eyes which see not, ears that hear not our prayers, and a heart like the nether millstone. We have this day restored the Sovereign to whom alone men ought to be obedient.
He explained that previous generations:
lopped off, indeed, some of the branches of Popery, but they left the root and stock when they left us under the domination of human systems and decisions, usurping the infallibility which can be attributed to revelation alone. They dethroned one usurper, only to raise up another; they refused allegiance to the Pope, only to place the civil magistrate in the throne of Christ, vested with authority to enact laws and inflict penalties in his kingdom.
Adams followed those statements with his key rhetorical question: "Were the talents and virtues which Heaven has bestowed on men given merely to make them more obedient drudges, to be sacrificed to the follies and ambition of a few. . .?" He responded,
What an affront to the King of the universe to maintain that the happiness of a monster sunk in debauchery . . . is more precious in his sight than that of millions of his suppliant creatures who do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God!
He crescendoed with the editorial fervency that moved a generation:
The hand of Heaven appears to have led us on to be, perhaps, humble instruments and means in the great providential dispensation which is completing. We have fled from the political Sodom; let us not look back, lest we perish and become a monument of infamy and derision to the world!
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|CHAPTER 4 ESTABLISHMENT OF AMERICAN PRESS LIBERTY
1. Boston NewsLetter, January 21, 1723.
2. Massachusetts had fewer political shocks during the second quarter of the 18th century, but "remarkable judgments" such as earthquakes still could cause excitement. In October 1727, a "horrid rumbling" and "weighty shaking" was felt throughout New England. Thomas Paine of Weymouth, Massachusetts, using good specific detail, reported that "the motion of the Earth was very great, like the waves of the sea . . . . The strongest Houses shook prodigiously and the tops of some Chimnees were thrown down." Aftershocks over the next 9 days, in Paine's words, "mightily kept up the Terror of it in the People, and drove them to all possible needs of Reformation." (Thomas Paine, The Doctrine of Earthquakes (Boston, 1728).) Seventeen news sermons about the earthquake were published.
3. Boston NewLetter, January 4, 1733.
4. Mark A. Noll, Christians in the American Revolution (Washington, 1977), noted that during this period the theological composition of the colonial population began to change, as Anglican state churches of the middle and southern colonies lost their hold on the populace. By the American Revolution, 75% of all colonists would be identified with denominationsCongregationalist, Presbyterian, Baptist, and German or Dutch Reformedthat had arisen from the Reformed and Puritan wing of European Protestantism (p. 30).
5. American Weekly Mercury, February 26, 1722.
6. New York Weekly Journal, November 12, 1733.
8. Ibid., December 31, 1733, p. 2; see also January 13, 1735, p. 3.
10. Journal, March 11, 1734, p. 2.
11. Jonathan Dickinson, The Vanity of Human Institutions in the Worship of God (New York, 1736), p. 11, and quoted in David Nord, "The Authority of Truth: Religion and the John Peter Zenger Case," Journalism Quarterly, Summer, 1985, p. 234.
12. Ibid., p. 31. Dickinson added, "If they without conviction submit to our opinions, they subject their consciences to human, and not to divine authority; and our requiring this of any is demanding a subjection to us, and not to Christ." In publishing such material, Zenger was spreading around ideas long current in New England; as minister Ebenezer Pemberton had argued in 1710, "kings and royal governors must govern themselves by unalterable Principles, and fixed Rules, and not by unaccountable humours, or arbitrary will . . . they take care that Righteous Laws be Enacted, none but such, and all such, as are necessary for the Safety of the Religion & Liberties of a People . . . [rulers] that are not skilful, thoughtful, vigilant and active to promote the Publick Safety and Happiness are not Gods but dead Idols."
13. James Alexander, A Brief Narrative of the Case and Trial of John Peter Zenger, Katz edition, p. 95.
14. The story of the trial is told in James Alexander, A Brief Narrative of the Case and Trial of John Peter Zenger, first published in 1736 and reprinted in several books including Livingston Rutherford, John Peter Zenger, His Press, His Trial and a Bibliography of Zenger Imprints (New York, 1904).
15. The Press and America, pp. 38, 44.
16. Alexander, op. cit.
17. New York Journal, December 31, 1733, p. 2; see also January 13, 1735, p. 3.
18. Alexander, op. cit. Hamilton's biblical references were frequent; he argued that, "If a libel is understood in the large and unlimited sense urged by Mr. Attorney, there is scarce a writing I know that may not be called a libel, or scarce any person safe from being called to account as a libeller: for Moses, meek as he was, libelled Cain; and who is it that has not libelled the devil?"
19. As David Nord (op. cit.) concluded in his excellent article, "Like the revival converts who asserted their right to interpret the law of God, the Zenger jury asserted the right of ordinary people to interpret the law of man. In both cases, the operative principle was not freedom, but truth. Andrew Hamilton, like a revival preacher, told the jurors that authority lay, not in them, but in truth. He did not ask them to condone individualism or to approve individual diversity of expressiononly truth . . ."
20. Maryland Gazette, January 17, 1745.
21. The Essential Rights and Liberties of Protestants was signed "Philalethes," but Baldwin (p. 65) credited Williams and discussed possible attribution to other writers. This essay was following along George Whitefield's allowance for civil disobedience when he argued that laws "are good and obligatory when conformable to the laws of Christ and agreeable to the liberties of a free people; but when invented and compiled by men of little hearts and bigotted principles . . . . and when made use of only as ends to bind up the hands of a zealous few, they may be very legally broken." News sermon/pamphlets published during the years following the Zenger trial repeatedly distinguished between arbitrary and legal government. Restraint among all parties was vital, as Jared Elliot told Connecticut residents in 1738: "Arbitrary Despotick Government, is, When this Sovereign Power is directed by the Passions, Ignorance & Lust of them that Rule, And a Legal Government is, When this Arbitrary & Sovereign Power puts itself under Restraints, and lays itself under Limitations." Emphasis on literacy led to the idea that allegiance was not to persons but to written documentsthe Bible, and laws based on the Bible (in England, those laws as a group made up the nation's constitutional framework).
22. Alice Baldwin, The New England Clergy and the American Revolution (New York, 1958), pp. 6768.
23. Included in Williams Wells, ed., The Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams (New York, 1865-68), three vols, I, 22-23. Adams began his examination of questions concerning disobedience to government shortly after the Zenger case. The title of his master's thesis at Harvard in 1743, when Adams was 21, was "Whether it be lawful to resist the Supreme Magistrate, if the Commonwealth cannot be otherwise preserved." He maintained the affirmative, but no record of the thesis remains.
25. Donald Barr Chidsey, The World of Samuel Adams (Nashville, 1974), p. 9.
26. Quoted in Stewart Beach, Samuel Adams: The Fateful Years, 1764-1776 (New York: 1965), p. 13.
27. Quoted in Pauline Maier, The Old Revolutionaries (New York, 1980), p. 37.
28. Ibid. p. 4.
29. Harry Cushing, ed., The Writings of Samuel Adams, 4 vols. (New York, 1904), vol. I, p. 33, and vol. III, p. 220.
30. Maier, p. 47.
31. Ibid., p. 7.
32. William Tudor, The Life of James Otis (Boston, 1823), pp. 274-75.
33. Writings, III, 284. Adams' willingness to emphasize emotional, human interest stories has bothered some historians who associate such techniques with propaganda. For example, John C. Miller's Sam Adams, Pioneer in Propaganda (Boston, 1936), is filled with hatred toward its protagonist.
34. Boston Gazette, January 21, 1771.
35. In 1988 politics, this might mean prison furloughs.
37. Writings, IV, 108.
38. Boston Gazette, January 21, 1771.
40. Writings, IV,106-107. Adams realized extremely well the dangers of investigative journalism to the journalist; he noted that the writer who exposes does so "at the Risque of his own Reputation; for it is a thousand to one but those whose Craft he puts at Hazard, will give him the odious Epithets of suspicious dissatisfiable peevish quarrelsome &c."
41. Ibid., I, 10.
42. Ibid., I, 60.
43. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Prelude to Independence (New York, 1957), p. 22, tells this story.
44. Boston Gazette, April 4, 1768.
49. Adams, Writings, I, 27.
53. Ibid., I, 2728.
54. See John W. Whitehead, An American Dream (Westchester, IL, 1987), p. 62.
55. John Lathrop, quoted in Baldwin, p. 181.
57. Stout, p. 7. As Stout noted, in prerevolutionary New England communications the terms "most often employed to justify resistance and to instill hope emanated from the Scriptures." John Locke was widely read, but his political ideas came out of the Bible and Reformation thought. (As Herbert Foster has noted, the citations in Locke's Two Treatises of Government "are almost entirely Calvinistic: Scripture seventynine times; seven Calvinists . . . one exCalvinist . . . and only one reference uninfected by Calvinism, the Scottish Catholic Barclay.")
58. SouthCarolina Gazette, June 20, 1774.
59. Pennsylvania Evening Post, June 27, 1775.
60. Virginia Gazette, June 20, 1774.
61. Norwich Packet, November 6, 1775.
62. Boston Evening Post, November 4, 1765.
63. Boston Gazette, October 3, 1768.
64. Boston EveningPost, June 16, 1770.
65. Boston Gazette, March 7, 1768.
66. Massachusetts Spy, October 8, 1772.
67. Boston Gazette, March 7, 1768, column signed "The True Patriot."
68. Stout, p. 6.
69. The Melancholly Catastrophe (Boston, 1774).
70. Massachusetts Spy, June 2, 1774. The reference is to David's lament concerning the death of King Saul.
71. Quoted in Hart, p. 262.
72. Virginia Gazette, December 8, 1775.
73. Maier, p. 3. Many historians have attacked Adams' beliefs and his methodology. John Eliot in 1807 called him "austere . . . rigid . . . opinionated." [A Biographical Dictionary (Salem, 1807), p. 7] James Hosmer in 1885 did not like the "sharp practice" that Adams as journalist sometimes used [Hosmer, Samuel Adams (Boston, 1885), pp. 68, 229, 368]. See Maier, pp. 1116, for a discussion of 20th century historiographical trends.
74. Some historians have mistakenly assumed that references by Adams and his contemporaries to "Providence" meant a movement away from belief in a theistic God, when exactly the opposite is true: reference to God's Providence distinguished theists from deists who posited a clockwork universe, in which God created all but then went on vacation.
75. Samuel Adams, An Oration Delivered at the StateHouse in Philadelphia, to a very Numerous Audience, on Thursday the 1st of August, 1776 (Philadelphia, 1776); reprinted in Wells, vol. III, p. 408.