Press, Politics and the Public Sphere in Europe and North America, 1760-1820

By Hannah Barker; Simon Burrows | Go to book overview

6
America, 1750–1820
David Copeland

Between 1750 and 1820 America underwent a series of extensive political upheavals in which the press played a pivotal role. Beginning as colonies of Great Britain, America declared its independence in 1776 following a tumultuous ten years of protest against British laws and taxes. After eight years of revolution, Britain agreed to a peace that allowed the newly formed United States to develop its unique governmental system. From the end of the Revolution through to the first two decades of the nineteenth century, Americans transformed their country from a loosely organised confederation of states into a nation with a strong central government and a powerful constitution. In all these developments, a fast-growing newspaper press acted both as witness to events and as an active participant in the political process. As America's public sphere developed and the voice of public opinion became more dominant, the press played a crucial role in shaping this new political world.

On 1 January 1799, Judge Alexander Addison warned in Boston's Columbian Centinel, 'Give to any set of men the command of the press, and you give them the command of the country, for you give them the command of public opinion, which commands everything. ' Addison wrote his letter to the Federalist newspaper at a time when America's two main political ideologies–Federalism and Republicanism–vied for control of the United States, itself scarcely a decade old. Addison's Federalist party, which favoured a strong, central government and controlled the presidency, was locked in battle with the Republicans, who wanted less centralisation and more power for individual states. Whilst politicians debated the issues, however, arguably the most important debate took place in America's press, since, as one writer remarked, '[W]ithout political knowledge the people cannot secure their liberties, and this necessary information they receive by the medium of News-Papers. ' 1

Six months before Addison wrote his letter to the Centinel, President John Adams sponsored a series of new laws collectively known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. At the heart of this measure was an attempt to silence newspapers opposed to the Federalist Administration. Anyone

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Press, Politics and the Public Sphere in Europe and North America, 1760-1820
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents v
  • Notes on the Contributors vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Notes *
  • 1 - The Cosmopolitan Press, 1759–1815 23
  • Notes *
  • 2 - The Netherlands, 1750–1813 48
  • Notes *
  • 3 - Germany, 1760–1815 69
  • Notes *
  • 4 - England, 1760–1815 93
  • Notes *
  • 5 - Ireland, 1760–1820s 113
  • Notes *
  • 6 - America, 1750–1820 140
  • Notes *
  • 7 - France, 1750–89 159
  • Notes *
  • 8 - The French Revolutionary Press 182
  • Notes *
  • 9 - Italy, 1760–1815 201
  • Notes *
  • 10 - Russia, 1790–1830 224
  • Notes 242
  • Index 248
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