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The Streets Declare the Sinfulness of Man

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Let us go back in history again to see how Christian reporters in America won the opportunity to place God above government. The victory was a long time coming: After the monarchical restoration of 1660 in England, British officials across the Atlantic imitated the lords of London by also placing restrictions on press freedoms. Royal governors appeared to believe that the Reformers’ idea of "read for yourself" simply caused too much trouble. In 1671, Governor William Berkeley of Virginia stated that he was glad to have the colony without colleges or printing presses, "for learning has brought disobedience, and heresy, and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them, and libels against the best government."’

Virginia was typical in its stifling of any who dared to criticize the government. Philip Ludwell was heavily fined in 1678 for calling Governor Herbert Jeffreys a lawbreaker. When printing finally was allowed, it was carefully regulated: Printer John Buckner received a reprimand in 1682 merely for printing the colony’s laws without official permission; Buckner was forced to post a bond of one hundred pounds that would be forfeited were he ever to print anything again. Every few years–1685, 1690, 1693, 1699, 1702, and 1704–proclamations condemned the "over lycentiousnesse of the People in their discourses."

In Maryland, attempts at independence also received severe punishment: In 1666, one critic of government received thirty-nine lashes across his back. Protests concerning such treatment occasionally appeared: In 1689, a Maryland group that called itself the Protestant Association complained that the government had punished "Words and Actions" it disapproved of by "Whipping, Branding, Boreing through the Tongue, Fine, Imprisonment, Banishment, or Death."

During this period, walking the tightrope of reformation without revolution was akin to walking the plank. For example, in 1698, Philip Clark, although a member of the Maryland assembly, was sentenced to six months in jail for criticizing Governor Francis Nicholson. According to the governor’s Council, Clark’s criticism was incitement to rebellion not because he actually suggested such an activity, but because his critique would reduce the esteem in which the governor was held–and that was seen as the first step toward rebellion.

Only in New England, the center of Reformation thought in the New World, were publication and education emphasized; the Puritans set up a printing press and college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1636, just six years after their arrival in a wilderness where mere survival was not assured. John Harvard’s gift of books for a new college was important, but Harvard’s founders had to overcome political as well as material obstacles: They were challenging royal authority. In England, the universities at Oxford and Cambridge were arms of the government, which had a monopoly on the granting of college diplomas; Harvard, though, awarded its first diplomas in 1642, without royal authorization. The timing, it turned out, was good: A king besieged and eventually beheaded was in no position to assert his authority.

In the 1660s, however, monarchical restoration in England placed new pressures on New England. Well-connected courtiers in London contested the Massachusetts Bay charter that Charles I had given to Puritan leaders in 1629; the courtiers claiming that they had received previous royal grants to the same land. The Massachusetts legislature, desperate to avoid a royal crackdown, forced evangelist and writer John Eliot in 1661 to retract "such expressions as doe too manifestly scandalize" the government of England. Eliot’s book The Christian Commonwealth, which advocated election of rulers, was ordered "totally suppressed."

Nevertheless, the Puritans did encourage the reporting of bad news that tended to be swept under the rug in most other places. They were lenient in this way because bad news was seen as a message from God. Boston printer Marmaduke Johnson in 1668 published God’s Terrible Voice in the City of London, Wherein You Have the Narration of the Late Dreadful Judgment of Pleague and Fire. In 1674, when Benjamin Goad was hanged in Boston for committing bestiality, Samuel Danforth wrote of crime and punishment and offered a why.

God’s end in inflicting remarkable judgments upon some, is for caution and warning to all others. . . . Behold now the execution of vengeance upon this lewd and wicked youth, whom God hath hanged up before the Sun, and made a sign and example, and instruction and admonishment, to all New England.

"News sermons," first presented in church and frequently published, became an established form of New England communication. Twice on Sunday and often once during the week, ministers spoke for at least an hour. Sermons on royal births and deaths, military defeats or victories, election results and government decisions, and crimes (preferably with punishments) were common.

Printers moved naturally from the publication of Bible commentaries, to the publication of theological treatises and sermons, to the publication of news sermons and pamphlets on current events. Most publications in New England in the seventeenth century were event-oriented. Puritan theology not only allowed but emphasized the reporting of bad news, for the coming of well-deserved calamities was a sign that God still reigned. The best-known Massachusetts minister of the late-seventeenth century, Increase Mather, also became its leading journalist. Mather argued in 1674 that God was not pleased with the sins of pride and envy that were common in New England, and that "a day of trouble is at hand."

Mather’s forecasts of general disaster hit home in June 1675 when a tribe of Wampanoag Indians burned and looted homes in the town of Swansea and killed nine residents. Indian attacks escalated in August 1675 as Wampanoags led by Chief Metacom ("King Philip") were joined by the Narragansetts and Nipmucks in an attack on towns in western Massachusetts and other outlying areas. A ballad contextualized the news: "O New-England, I understand / with thee God is offended: / And therefore He doth humble thee, / till thou thy ways hast mended."

In the summer of 1676, Philip’s forces were within ten miles of Boston, but so many had been killed in battle that a final push was beyond their grasp; when Philip was captured and executed, the war was over. The tribes were left devastated, but one in every sixteen colonists of fighting age was also dead, many women and children had been killed or carried into captivity, and twelve towns were destroyed.

For the Puritans, the war was an exceptionally clear example of judgment upon sinful people, and many ministers and/or writers spoke or wrote about it. Chief among them was Increase Mather, whose Brief History of the War with the Indians of New-England was filled with information about who, what, when, and where.

March 17. This day the Indians fell upon Warwick, and burnt it down to the ground, all but one house. May 11. A company of Indians assaulted the Town of Plimouth, burnt eleven Houses and five Barns therein.

Mather then contextualized the news by seeing God’s hand not only in the beginning of the war but in its prolongation; reporting on the aftermath of one battle, he wrote, "Had the English immediately pursued the Victory begun, in all likelyhood there had been an end of our troubles: but God saw that neither yet were we fit for deliverance."

Like other Puritan journalists, Mather was careful to juxtapose evidence of God’s anger with dramatic news of God’s mercy. When one house was about to be set on fire by hundreds of Indians who surrounded it, it appeared that:

Men and Women, and Children must have perished, either by unmerciful flames, or more unmerciful hands of wicked Men whose tender Mercies are cruelties, so that all hope that they should be saved was then taken in: but behold in this Jount of Difficulty and Extremity the Lord is seen. For in the very nick of opportunity God sent that worthy Major Willard, who with forty and eight men set upon the Indians and caused them to turn their backs. . . . however we may be diminished and brought low through Oppression, Affliction, and Sorrow, yet our God will have compassion on us, and this his People shall not utterly perish.

Mather’s reportage was a prototype of the cavalry rescues beloved in Western movies, but the emphasis here was on God’s grace, not man’s heroism. He reported that when New Englanders recognized their reliance on that grace and renewed their covenant with God, the war ended. He emphasized the importance of accurate reporting–"a brief, plain, and true story"–in understanding the why of the war: God’s punishment because of sins such as "contention" and "pride." But he also argued that too much guilt, like too much pride, could "run into extreams." Instead of pouring it on, Mather offered hope: God’s "design, in bringing the Calamity upon us, is not to destroy us, but to humble us, and reform us, and to do us good in the latter end."

In applying the Bible to current issues, the Puritans sometimes mistook class-five rapids for class twos–but they did begin a tradition of hard-hitting news analysis. The next step for American journalism came in 1681 when a general meeting of the Massachusetts ministers urged careful coverage of:

Illustrious Providences, including Divine Judgements, Tempests, Floods, Earth-quakes, Thunders as are unusual, Strange Apparitions, or what ever else shall happen that is Prodigious, Witchcrafts, Diabolical Possessions, Remarkable Judgements upon noted Sinners: eminent Deliverances, and Answers of Prayer.

Here was a definition of news not unlike today’s in its emphasis on atypical, man-bites-dog events: "unusual" thunders, "strange" apparitions, and other "prodigious" or "remarkable" happenings–except that the why was different, since for the Puritans all unusual occurrences showed a glimpse of God’s usually invisible hand.

The ministers’ resolution also provided a method for the recording of events that anticipated the relation of freelancers and editors in later years. First, each minister was to be a correspondent, with the responsibility to "diligently enquire into, and Record such Illustrious Providences as have happened, or from time to time shall happen, in the places whereunto they do belong." Second, to avoid the supplanting of fact by fiction, it would be important to rely on eyewitnesses and make sure "that the Witnesses of such notable Occurrents be likewise set down in Writing." Third, it would be important to find a main writer-editor who "hath Leisure and Ability for the management of Such an undertaking."

That person turned out to be Mather himself–and he proved himself to be right for the job. Mather read widely and well, citing in appropriate places in his writings the work of Johannes Kepler, Tycho Brahe, Robert Boyle, and other leading scientists of the day. Mather himself wrote reports about comets, magnetism, lightning, thunder, and other natural phenomena, and would not report about an event unless a reliable source made a written, signed statement; after noting one extraordinary occurrence, he remarked, "I would not have mentioned this relation, had I not received it from serious, faithfull, and Judicious hands. . . ."

Mather and others thought accuracy important because events were their report card signed by God, and they wanted to know where they stood, for better or for worse. Mather wrote about not only political events but storms, earthquakes, and fires: all such events, he wrote, were "ordered by the Providence of God. . . . When a fire is kindled among a people, it is the Lord that hath kindled it." Puritans also set the stage for an honoring of the journalists themselves. The idea that God was acting in the world made journalism significant, for Increase Mather wrote that "it is proper for the Ministers of God to ingage themselves recording the providentiall Dispensations of God." Increase’s son Cotton even wrote that "To regard the illustrious displays of that Providence wherewith our Lord Christ governs the world, is a work, than which there is none more needful or useful for a Christian."

When one Christian in 1690 took the next step by trying to put out a regular newspaper, he encountered trouble. Benjamin Harris knew persecution: Jailed in 1679 and sentenced to a harsh prison regime for publishing in London an independent newspaper, Domestick Intelligence, Harris said simply, "I hope God will give me Patience to go through it." After Harris did go through it he continued to print pamphlets that exposed wrongdoing. Aided by Cotton Mather, Harris, on September 25, 1690, published the first newspaper in America, Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick.

Belief in Providence was evident throughout the four-page newspaper. Harris’s expressed purpose for publishing it was in line with his previous writing: "That Memorable Occurrents of Divine Providence may not be neglected or forgotten, as they too often are." Harris’s combination of reporting and teaching showed as he reported "a day of Thanksgiving to God" for a good harvest and noted, concerning a tragedy averted, that God "assisted the Endeavours of the People to put out the Fire." When a man committed suicide after his wife died, Harris explained that "The Devil took advantage of the Melancholy which he thereupon fell into."

When Harris emphasized God’s sovereignty over international relations as well, controversy followed. Harris’s report of mistreatment of prisoners by Mohawk Indians, and his criticism of royal officials for making an alliance with those Indians in order to defeat French forces in Canada, was based on his belief in Providence.

If Almighty God will have Canada to be subdu’d without the assistance of those miserable Savages, in whom we have too much confided, we shall be glad, that there will be no Sacrifice offered up to the Devil, upon this occasion; God alone will have all the glory.

Furthermore, Harris took seriously reports of adultery in the French court. British officials, hoping at that time for peace with France, were refraining from comments that could arouse popular concern about trusting those of low morals; since sexual restraint was not a common court occurrence in Restoration England either, they probably thought such news was non-news. Harris, however, went ahead and reported that Louis XIV "is in much trouble (and fear) not only with us but also with his Son, who has revolted against him lately, and has great reason if reports be true, that the Father used to lie with the Sons Wife."

Puritans who liked to emphasize God’s sovereignty over all human activities were pleased with Publick Occurrences; Cotton Mather called it "a very noble, useful and laudable design." The royal governor and his council were not amused, however: Four days after publication, the newspaper was suppressed, and Harris was told that any further issues would give him new prison nightmares. Harris gave in. He stayed in Massachusetts for a time and was given some public printing jobs because of his good behavior but returned to England in 1695.

Other newspapers emerged over the next four decades, but for the most part, they were unwilling to criticize government officials. Newspapers did provide a service in helping readers to 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.

"Remarkable judgments" such as earthquakes also caused excitement. In October 1727, a "horrid rumbling" and "weighty shaking" was felt throughout New England. "The motion of the Earth was very great, like the waves of the sea" one report noted, using good specific detail: "The strongest Houses shook prodigiously and the tops of some Chimnees were thrown down." Aftershocks over the next nine days, "mightily kept up the Terror of it in the People, and drove them to all possible needs of Reformation."

The first newspaper outside New England, the American Weekly Mercury, commented from afar on God’s sovereignty in politics. 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 criticizing officials close at hand was more dangerous, and until the 1730s no editor after Benjamin Harris took the risk.

The editor who did was John Peter Zenger, a New Yorker who believed so strongly the ideas taught in the Dutch Reformed church at which he played the organ each Sabbath–God’s sovereignty, the Bible above all–that he was willing to take on William Cosby, the royal governor. Cosby clearly thought that 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 until he nearly killed him. When Cosby desired some land owned by Indians, he stole their deed and burned it; when he 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. He first sent a message in the Journal’s second issue by publishing a piece that differentiated 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. An 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."

By publishing such material, Zenger was spreading 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.

New York’s royal governor, not wanting to admit that the state’s domain was limited, brought a charge of "seditious libel" against Zenger and threw him into jail. Journalists at that time had little defense against such accusations; if they proved that their statements were true they 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.

At Zenger’s trial in 1735, however, defense attorney Andrew Hamilton placed 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." Hamilton’s biblical references were frequent. He argued:

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?

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 truth teller, regardless of what royal officials desired. Zenger, Hamilton said, was merely following the lead of the Bible, which attacked corrupt leaders as "blind watchmen" and "greedy dogs that can never have enough"(Isa. 56:10—11). Zenger’s defense, essentially, was that if God’s authors produced such a critique, so could he.

Judges in 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 Hamilton when he turned directly to the jurors and suggested that they 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 verdict meant little legally: A runaway jury had disobeyed English law and had gotten away with it. But the verdict reverberated through the colonies and through England itself, encouraging Christian editors and discouraging 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 Gazette editor William Parks exposed corruption, including the stealing of sheep by a member of Virginia’s House of Burgesses. Threatened with prosecution, Parks used the Zenger defense of truth-telling: When he produced court records showing that the accusation was accurate, the case against him was dropped.

By midcentury most 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, opened the door to the questioning of many political 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.

Articles repeatedly pointed out that liberty without virtue could not last. Young 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." Adams concluded that: 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.

By the 1750s, colonial newspapers were free to bring charges of graft against those supplying American troops during the French and Indian War; for example, the New York Gazette and Weekly Post-Boy reported that many of the guns purchased were out-of-date and practically useless, and that the soldiers’ beef was more effective than powder because its odor would drive away the enemy. That such charges, when accurate, could be made without legal repercussion, showed how firmly independent journalism had established itself in America. The colonists thus found themselves surprised when, after the war, 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 "wishy-washy gray eyes." Adams’s lips twitched and trembled, for he suffered from palsy. His clothes were drab and sometimes sloppy. In addition, Adams was a financial misfit who lived in an old, shabby house, writing much but earning 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, Samuel Adams possessed advantages. His strong Christian and 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 in God’s providence 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 twenty thousand residents of Boston in 1770 may not seem like many now, but at that time they were enough to support a half-dozen 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 name–such as "A Puritan"–that connected him with biblical journalism’s honorable lineage.

Furthermore, Adams was modest. He had no problem with being in the background; he argued that "political literature [was] to be as selfless as politics itself, designed to promote its cause, not its author." Adams’s self-effacement 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’s death, that there had been "an impenetrable secrecy" about him.) But Adams’s 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.

Most important was Adams’s 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"; in good or bad times he 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." When Adams in 1777 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 and Mather; John Adams called him 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 is a model for today’s directed reporters 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 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." At the same time, however, Adams emphasized restraint in such exposure: Only those "capable of doing great Mischief" should be held up "to the publick Eye." 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."

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." Adams 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?

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 Stamp-Act 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.

Other writers came to similar conclusions. 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 Defense 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 Evening Post 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 by the "salary-men" who 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 Evening Post that relatives of Governor John Wentworth filled all but one Council seat.

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."

Adams was at his best when he took Bible-based theories and heightened them journalistically. In his printed response to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, he wrote that "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." He stated plainly his sense of the Declaration of Independence.

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.

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!"

Adams 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!

Adams, "the last Puritan," was able to lead a revolution because the Reformed emphasis allowed him to pay attention to the streets that declared man’s sinfulness without losing sight of the heavens that showed God’s glory. As you report and edit, under circumstances much more favorable than those that Zenger and Adams initially faced, remember Adams’s understanding that we are "humble instruments." And ask: Have Christians in journalism become a monument of derision? If so, are we looking back toward Sodom, or are we looking to God?


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