You Never Know What You Will Find at Goodwill

eb942-benjamin_franklin_-_join_or_die

For example, you may find an issue of the Pennsylvania Journal and the Weekly Advertiser from 1774.  Here is a taste of Marielle Mondon’s article at the Philadelphia Voice:

A rare copy of a Philadelphia newspaper from 1774, emblazoned with the iconic “Unite or Die” snake, was discovered at a Goodwill center in New Jersey.

The 244-year-old issue of the Pennsylvania Journal and the Weekly Advertiser was published Dec. 28, 1774, predating the start of the Revolutionary War by just a few months when the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord in on April 19, 1775.

The copy is also one of few papers from the Revolutionary Era that had a “Unite or Die” snake masthead – a variation of Benjamin Franklin’s “Join, or Die” emblem first published in 1754 (long before it became inspiration for the Sixers). The only other known copies of the paper with that date are at Illinois State University, the University of Chicago, and Yale University.

The paper was reportedly brought to a Goodwill collection center in Woodbury, Gloucester County, framed and under glass, according to NJ Pen. The donor is unknown.

Read the rest here.

 

Partisanship and Publishing the Declaration of Independence

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Over at Age of Revolution blog, Emily Sneff of the Declaration Resources Project writes about the partisan fights over the publication of the Declaration of Independence in the early republic.  Here is a taste of her piece:

The tradition of publishing the Declaration annually on July 4 dates much further back, however. In fact, it appears that the first printer to republish the Declaration of Independence on July 4 with the intention of marking the anniversary was also the first printer ever to publish the Declaration: John Dunlap. He and David C. Claypoole included the text on the front page of The Pennsylvania Packet, and Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia, PA) on July 4, 1786, the tenth anniversary. By 1801, republishing the Declaration of Independence in newspapers on or around July 4 was a trend on the verge of becoming a tradition and an expectation. The Telegraphe and Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, MD), for example, first included the Declaration by request on July 4, 1799, and republished the text annually through 1806. Before 1801, only a handful of newspapers printed the Declaration in any given year. In 1801, at least twelve newspapers printed the text in late June or early July; by 1806, that number more than doubled. As the individual who requested that the Telegraphe print the Declaration in 1799 wrote to the printer, “you have it in your power to gratify all without displeasing any, by giving it a place…” But, as last year’s tweets proved, even a text as intrinsic to our national identity as the Declaration can become polarizing. The 1801 uptick in July 4 newspaper printings, for example, coincided with a tense moment of political transition, and crystallized in part because of the association between the new President and the Declaration.

Read the entire post here.

Printers, Information, and the American Revolution

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Early in my career I was very interested in the communication of information in early America.  One of the first pieces I ever published was an essay on the way letters were used to spread the First Great Awakening in New England.  One of my favorite reads in graduate school was Richard D. Brown’s Knowledge is Power: The Diffusion of Information in Early America.  I remember how thrilled I was when Brown agreed to chair a panel I put together for one of the early Omohundro Institute conferences in Worcester. I continued to explore the spread of information into the New Jersey countryside in my Stony Brook doctoral dissertation and some of this research found its way into my first book, The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America.

So needless to say, I have been taking a walk down memory lane reading the recent series at Age of Revolutions blog on information networks.

The latest installment is Joe Adelman’s piece on printers.  Here is a taste of ” ‘Meer Mechanics’ No More: How Printers Shaped Information in the Revolutionary Age”:

The men and women who physically produced the texts lauded as key to the American Revolution rarely get their due. Their absence from the story of print and the American Revolution is not by accident, nor is it because scholars have a nefarious agenda to ignore the role of printers. On the contrary, it’s exactly how most, if not all, American colonial printers portrayed themselves and their careers. In so doing, they drew on a long tradition exemplified by Benjamin Franklin’s “Apology for Printers,” published in the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1731. Franklin declared that he and the Gazette were merely conveyances for the opinions of others, and that his only editorial judgment was to stay within the legal bounds of libel, opened a space for him to publish political essays and news items without claiming responsibility for them. In Franklin’s case, that decision was intentional. That characterization, it turns out, obscures the work printers were doing in their shops and along postal routes. 

Prior to the past ten years, most scholars dismissed printers as manual laborers — men and women who set type and pulled the press, but did not intervene to shape the content of the texts they brought to life. The scholarship of Robert Darnton, however, invites us to think carefully about the full range of people who contributed to printed works: authors and readers, to be sure, but also the intermediaries who brought printed materials to light, including printers, publishers, wholesalers, post riders, and others.  Though his archival research focused on the ancien régime and revolutionary France, Darnton’s methodological interventions have encouraged scholars working on other regions (including British colonial North America, for example) to consider how the processes of production, circulation, and consumption have shaped not only texts but also historical events. Scholars in the past decade have paid more attention to printers and their activities, most notably with the publication of work by Robert Parkinson, Russ Castronovo, and others.  But more broadly it remains a truism that printers were not active participants in the intellectual production of news and arguments about the Revolution.

Read the rest here.

Trump’s War on the Press in Historical Context

Garrison

Over at “Made by History,” a history blog at The Washington Post, University of Alabama history professor Joshua Rothman offers some historical context for the Trump administration’s attacks on the news media.

Here is a taste:

Accused of being purveyors of “fake news,” journalists who write stories critical of the Trump administration regularly receive warnings on social media that they or members of their family will be killed. The Twitter feeds of Jewish reporters are bombarded with images of gas chambers and ovens. Female reporters get emails telling them they will be raped. Black reporters are assailed by racial epithets and threats of lynching.

In some measure, the public’s antagonism toward the press is not new, and presidents going back to John Adams have expressed frustration with and pursued action against media coverage they believe biased or unfair. But sustained rage directed at reporters has not reached the current level of ferocity since the 1820s and 1830s, when members of the anti-slavery press faced violence and suppression as a matter of course.

Then, as now, reactionary forces aimed their vitriol and hostility at the wrong targets. Many white Americans believed that the increasingly loud voices calling for the abolition of slavery were destabilizing the United States and imperiling white lives. In reality, the problems were the injustices and distortions of democracy wrought by slavery itself. Abolitionists claimed that slaveholders and their supporters ruthlessly stifled opposition to preserve their own power. Trying to intimidate and terrorize reporters who revealed slavery for what it was only proved the point.

Read the entire piece here.

My Latest Piece in the Harrisburg *Patriot News*

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Here is a taste of my “The Press Was Way More Political in Jefferson’s Day–But He Defended It Anyway.”

President Trump has made a habit of attacking the press as being a promoter of “fake news,” part of a “corrupt system,” and the propagator of “lies.” His administration has made enemies of certain outlets, even locking them out of briefings.

In a speech in Melbourne, Fla., he made an appeal to American history to defend his stance, saying presidents Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Abraham Lincoln “fought with the media and called them out oftentimes on their lies. 

Trump even quoted a June 14, 1807, letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Norvell in which Jefferson wrote “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”

The President was correct about Jefferson. The Founding Father had his problems with the press. But what he didn’t note was that despite his agitation with the press, he defended a much more biased press as a necessary part of free speech.

In 1803, during his first term as President, Jefferson wrote to Pennsylvania Governor Thomas McKean suggesting that the editors of a newspaper critical of his administration should be prosecuted for “pushing its licentiousness and its lying to such a degree of prostitution as to deprive it of all credit.”

This is but one of many examples of Jefferson’s harsh words against a negative press.

But Jefferson also knew the press served an important role.

Read the rest here.

The Press Was More Political In Jefferson’s Day Than It Is Today. Yet He Defended It.

pasleyEarlier today, while speaking to a crowd in Florida, Donald Trump referenced Thomas Jefferson in a rant condemning the press and the media.  Here is what he said:

I also want to speak to you without the filter of the fake news. The dishonest media which has published one false story after another with no sources, even though they pretend they have them, they make them up in many cases, they just don’t want to report the truth and they’ve been calling us wrong now for two years. They don’t get it. By they’re starting to get it. I can tell you that. They’ve become a big part of the problem. They are part of the corrupt system. Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Abraham Lincoln and many of our greatest presidents fought with the media and called them out often times on their lies. When the media lies to people, I will never, ever let them get away with it. I will do whatever I can that. They don’t get away with it.

They have their own agenda and their agenda is not your agenda. In fact, Thomas Jefferson said, “nothing can be believed which is seen in a newspaper.” “Truth itself,” he said, “becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle,” that was June 14, my birthday, 1807….

Trump is correct about Jefferson.  The founding father had his problems with the press. Here are some more Jefferson quotes to prove it:

“I deplore… the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed and the malignity, the vulgarity, and mendacious spirit of those who write for them… These ordures are rapidly depraving the public taste and lessening its relish for sound food. As vehicles of information and a curb on our funtionaries, they have rendered themselves useless by forfeiting all title to belief… This has, in a great degree, been produced by the violence and malignity of party spirit.” –Thomas Jefferson to Walter Jones, 1814. Read the letter and get the larger context here.

“Our printers raven on the agonies of their victims, as wolves do on the blood of the lamb.” –Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1811.  Read the letter and get the larger context here.

From 40. years experience of the wretched guesswork of the newspapers of what is not done in open day light, and of their falsehood even as to that, I rarely think them worth reading, & almost never worth notice. a ray therefore now & then from the fountain of light is like sight restored to the blind. –Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1816. Read the letter and get the larger context here.

Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day. –Thomas Jefferson to John Norvell, 1807. Read the letter and get some context here.

As for what is not true, you will always find abundance in the newspapers. –Thomas Jefferson to Barnabas Bidwell, 1806. Read the entire letter and get some context here.

So as you can see Jefferson did have his moments with the press.

But Trump is only partially correct.  These quotes need to be considered in context with Jefferson’s other remarks about the press.  Here are a few more Jefferson quotes about the relationship between a free press and the success of the American Republic.  (These are from an earlier post on the subject):

…a hereditary chief strictly limited, the right of war vested in the legislative body, a rigid economy of the public contributions, and absolute interdiction of all useless expences, will go far towards keeping the government honest and unoppressive. But the only security of all is in a free press. the force of public opinion cannot be resisted, when permitted freely to be expressed. the agitation it produces must be submitted to. it is necessary to keep the waters pure. we are all, for example in agitation even in our peaceful country. for in peace as well as in war the mind must be kept in motion.  —Thomas Jefferson to Marquis de Lafayette, November 4, 1823

The most effectual engines for [pacifying a nation] are the public papers… [A despotic] government always [keeps] a kind of standing army of newswriters who, without any regard to truth or to what should be like truth, [invent] and put into the papers whatever might serve the ministers. This suffices with the mass of the people who have no means of distinguishing the false from the true paragraphs of a newspaper.  Thomas Jefferson to G.K. Van Hogendorp, October 13, 1785

Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it.Thomas Jefferson to John Jay, January 25, 1786.

When faced with this second set of quotes, Trump supporters will probably agree that a free press is important. It is hard to reject the First Amendment.

But Trump supporters would also respond by saying that today’s press is politically biased against the POTUS.  Today’s press “is liberal.”  It is a “problem.”  It is “corrupt.”  Trump supporters would say that Trump’s new “enemy” is not a free press per se, but a free press that he believes to be tainted by opposition politics.

If Trump and his followers want to make such an argument against the press, and use Jefferson to do it, I think it is important for them to realize that today’s mainstream press (CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, the network news, etc…) is far closer to being objective than the press in Thomas Jefferson’s day.  The members of the press in the early American republic were openly political and they made no bones about it.

Read Jeffrey Pasley’s excellent The Tyranny of the Printers: Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic.  Here is the jacket summary:

Although frequently attacked for their partisanship and undue political influence, the American media of today are objective and relatively ineffectual compared to their counterparts of two hundred years ago. From the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth century, newspapers were the republic’s central political institutions, working components of the party system rather than commentators on it.

The lesson:  The press was actually MORE political in Jefferson’s age than it is today. Jefferson was often frustrated by it.  Yet he still found it indispensable to the success of the republic and was willing on more than one occasion to dogmatically defend it.

The Author’s Corner with Brian Gabrial

thepressandslaveryinamericaBrian Gabrial is Associate Professor and Chair of Journalism at Concordia University. This interview is based on his new book, The Press and Slavery in America 1791-1859: The Melancholy Effect of Popular Excitement (University of South Carolina Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write The Press and Slavery in America 1791-1859?

BG: I am a journalism historian who has long been interested in how we come to think about people or groups and how the press influences those perceptions. In particular, I was concerned with how the “mainstream” press marginalizes or silences people. My earlier research focused on the American Indian and their mistreatment in the 19th-century press. Following that, I turned my attention to the African American slave.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Press and Slavery in America 1791-1859? 

BG: The book demonstrates that slavery was the critical political issue in the three decades before the Civil War and that political intransigence over it caused the war. It importantly illustrates how white Americans’ ideas about race and racial problems had their roots in the past and have sad, contemporary resonance. 

JF: Why do we need to read The Press and Slavery in America 1791-1859?

BG: The book shows how the press was complicit partner with powerful political structures that maintained a horrific labor system. It reveals how many Americans were informed about slaves who were never a happy, docile group content with their lot. Instead these black Americans faced enormous obstacles that kept them in figurative and literal chains and yet fought for freedom when facing certain death as a result.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

BG: I have always a strong interest in history, but I didn’t want to become a historian until graduate school and had an incredible mentor and advisor who gave me the intellectual freedom explore ideas about cultural history and the press’s place and role in that history.

JF: What is your next project?

BG: I am currently working on another long-term media discourse study that I call “Manifest Destiny north.” It concerns the 19th-century relationship between the United States and Canada (British North America) before Canada’s 1867 confederation. The focus is how the American press reflected an idea that Canada rightfully belonged to the United States. To counter this, the Canadian press reflected its own ideas about Canadian nationality and identity. Like the Press and Slavery book, it may show how these ideas retain contemporary resonance.

JF: Thanks, Brian!

Some Great 19th-Century Newspaper Titles

Periodical masthead from collections of American Antiquarian Society

Vincent Golden, the Curator of Newspapers and Periodicals at the American Antiquarian Society, has uncovered some pretty interesting titles (with mastheads) of 19th-century newspapers.

Read the post and see the mastheads at Past is Present, the AAS blog.

Here are the titles:

  1.  Sucker and Farmer’s Record  (Pittsfield, IL)
  2.  Widow’s Bite and Lincoln Advocate  (Cleveland, OH)
  3.  Horseneck Truth-Teller and Gossip Journal (Greenwich, CT)
  4.  Criminal Life of Albany  (NY)
  5.  Honest Politician  (Washington, D.C.)
  6.  Estabrook’s Great Public Chowder  (Boston, MA)
  7.  Stephen H. Branch’s Alligator  (New York, NY)
  8.  Mud Turtle  (Alligator Bayou, TX)
  9.  Striped Pig  (Boston, MA)
  10.  Pitch Fork of Righteousness  (Philadelphia, PA)

Ben Franklin’s "Pennsylvania Gazette" is Rolling Off the Press Again

Get your copy of the October 6, 1743 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, the first edition published by Benjamin Franklin, at the Independence National Historic Park printing office before December 18, 2013.  From the National Park Service:

Philadelphia – For the first time since the printing office opened in Franklin Court, park rangers at Independence National Historical Park are printing a copy of Benjamin Franklin’s original Pennsylvania Gazette. The Gazette of October 6, 1743 will be featured on the Franklin Court printing presses until December 18, 2013. Copies are available for purchase by park visitors.
Franklin took over the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729 when it was still an ailing paper, dull and poorly managed. Franklin applied his signature wit, intelligence and determination and soon the Gazette was recognized throughout the colonies as an informative and entertaining paper. Franklin’s publishing credits went beyond the news, as he innovated the publishing industry. He used cartoons and maps to illustrate his articles. He printed his political theories to gain public support. He shared his witty and wise sayings in Poor Richard’s Almanac. While Franklin’s printing office at 2nd and Market no longer stands, visitors to Franklin Court can see what his office might have looked like and see demonstrations of 18th century printing.
Using a replica 18th century printing press, park rangers are recreating the October 6, 1743 Gazette owned by the Library Company of Philadelphia. Along with local news and advertisements, the Gazette features a letter from a lieutenant on board HMS Centurion with news about Commodore George Anson’s circumnavigation of the globe in pursuit of enemy ships and Spanish treasure.
Thanks to the craftsmanship of Richard Hopkins of Hill & Dale Typefoundry in Terra Alta, WV, rangers are printing from type almost identical to Franklin’s original.Using equipment that had been disposed of by other typefoundries as “obsolete,” Hopkins hand crafted each piece of type into the Caslon font. The font used to print the Dunlap broadside (the first printed edition of the Declaration of Independence), Caslon was a font favored by Franklin and is still available in some programs today.
The Gazette is a complete printing of all four pages included in the original. Due to the staffing and resource intensive nature of the work, the park does not usually recreate entire newspapers. This unique creation will only be printed through December 18, 2013 at which time the printing office will once again produce copies of the Declaration of Independence and famous Franklin quotes.