Academic journal article Journalism History

"Join, or Die": America's Press during the French and Indian War

Academic journal article Journalism History

"Join, or Die": America's Press during the French and Indian War

Article excerpt

America's Press during the French and Indian War

The news reaching the Pensylvania Gazette had for months been troublesome to Benjamin Franklin. Indian raids upon colonial settlements in the back country had claimed the lives of numerous people. The French, longtime enemies of the British, were massing troops in the Ohio Valley. French ships were gathering in the Caribbean. Rumors of French alliances with Native Americans from Canada to the Mississippi River delta meant an army of incomparable strength might be assembling west of the Appalachian Mountains, and the journals of a young Virginian named George Washington sent to deal with the French in the Ohio Valley now revealed the rumors to be true. "It is very easy to penetrate the Designs of the French," the Pennsylvania Gazette warned, "that if there is not a vigorous and united Opposition effectually to prevent it, they will in a few Years, lay a solid and lasting Foundation for making themselves in Time Masters of All America."

Franklin had been thinking about unity in America for a number of years, but with the latest threat from the French, he realized it was time for action.2 He drew up a plan of union for the American colonies, and on May 9, 1754, he announced his plan in his newspaper. Franklin warned that the current disunited state of colonial America would surely lead to its destruction. To emphasize the point, Franklin added a woodcut of a disjointed snake whose parts represented the British colonies of America. The cartoon's caption was simple, powerful, and effective: "JOIN, or DIE." America's premier printer issued a challenge that if not met, he felt, would mean the end of life in America as most had known it.

The French and Indian War era, as Franklin realized, was to be a pivotal period for the colonies of British colonial America. It was a critical time for America's newspapers, too, but most point to the era of the Stamp Act crisis of 1765 as the period in which the press came together to create a unified voice that changed it into a true mass medium.3 The unified press in turn aided transition from individual colonies into a unified nation.

When one looks at the evidence-the unanimous voice of printers rising in opposition to the Stamp Act and the pages of protest to undo taxes that papers claimed "were unjustly laid on these once happy lands"-it is difficult to disagree with the assessment.4 But the reaction of America's press to the Stamp Act, where printers decried a law they deemed was "fatal to almost all that is dear to us," was not the first time that the printers of America joined together to fight a common foe.5 For a decade before the Stamp Act crisis, American newspapers had united in collective voice to oppose an enemy that threatened to take away the very existence of British colonies in North America. That enemy was invading French soldiers and their Native American allies who threatened the very existence of British colonies in North America. During the French and Indian War of 17541763, newspapers throughout America echoed the warnings sounded in the writings of a colonial who called himself the "Virginia Centinel": "FRIENDS! COUNTRYMEN! . . . AWAKE! ARISE! When our Country, and all that is included in that important Word, is in most threatening Danger; when our Enemies are busy and unwearied in planning and executing their Schemes of Encroachments and Barbarity. . . I need only repeat, YOUR COUNTRY IS IN DANGER."6

The urgency in ensuring that the French and Indians were stopped created a decade-long crusade for printers who joined together to confront a common opponent. Colonial printers gave their readers all of the news of war-and rumors of war-that they could have wanted to read. Newspapers carried essays attacking the invading French and their Roman Catholic religion, and they applauded when the French surrendered Canada and agreed to give up North American claims east of the Mississippi River. …

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