AP: The Story of News

AP: The Story of News

AP: The Story of News

AP: The Story of News


A chill November rain blew in from Boston harbor. It swept across Long Wharf, up State Street and past the seven floors of the Exchange Coffee House, in 1811 the tallest building in the country.

Below, on the drenched cobblestones, merchants and citizens hurried by twilight to the recently established Reading Room on the second floor. They asked questions of one another and of travelers who had just arrived by schooner and stagecoach. They studied the dogeared European newspapers. But they found no fresh news.

Down the seaboard, past New York and the southern shore line, lights flickered in farmhouses and in fishing shacks, and in the busy towns of this New World of five million people. Out on the Atlantic there were other and more ominous lights. They dipped and rolled with the dark hulls of British men-of-war. American commerce was being blockaded and Yankee seamen were seized for the service of the crown on the grounds that they were British subjects. Every incoming merchantman brought tales of warlike acts, and at the end of the day people gathered to wonder and to speculate.

In England George III brooded over the loss of his American colonies, and on the continent Napoleon traced new campaigns on his crinkling maps.

In Washington a young, ill-knit Congress was convened in the half-finished Capitol demanding war to avenge repeated indignities at the hands of Great Britain and France. Precise President Madison rocked in the newly invented swivel chair and pondered. Henry Clay and his "War Hawk" followers had served their ultimatum--Madison must see to it that war was declared or he would not be renominated.

Official Washington could feel the state of affairs, but even there citizens could only speculate on what the next day held. These were crucial times. Events moved in some puzzling world pattern, yet the people had no news.

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