The Early American Press, 1690-1783

By William David Sloan; Julie Hedgepeth Williams | Go to book overview

None of the men who first claimed that truth was a defense against libel particularly started out to prove that point. The argument just seemed logical to them in their attempt to boost their various factions. While it certainly would be folly to deny the farsighted brilliance of Mather, young Bradford, and Hamilton in reasoning that truth was a basis for free speech, it would also be folly to ignore the fact that their logic in each case was presented in an attempt to defend one party over another.

From 1638 to 1735, concepts of press freedom took shape in the prevailing winds of custom, factionalism, need, and logic. Press freedom was not considered a God-given right, or even a constitutional one--but perhaps due to the foundations laid by Anglican-Puritan controversies, squabbles among the Quakers, and bitter rivalries in New York politics, the fight to speak the truth in print ultimately became a reality in American law.

As the concept of a free press began to take root in American thought, other ideas, plans, and dreams were starting to take shape. For the next thirty years, the American press would pioneer into new geographical areas, test fresh ideas, and establish itself in colonial life. The concepts of press freedom that had developed out of America's early experiences provided the foundation on which those later newspapers would build.


NOTES
1.
"City of New York's Common Council to Andrew Hamilton, 29 September 1735", quoted in Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America, ed. Marcus A. McCorison ( 1810; reprint New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 489-90.
2.
Ibid., 489.
3.
James Alexander, A Brief Narrative of the Case and Tryal of John Peter Zenger ( 1736).
4.
Charles Evans's bibliography of American prints is an excellent guide to locating most of the early prints mentioned in this section. See Charles Evans, American Bibliography, 1: 1639- 1729 ( Chicago: Blakeley Press, 1903). According to Evans, no original copies of the first print survive. Thus, the exact date of publication is unknown, but Evans is sure that the work was printed in March of either 1638 or 1639. See Evans entry #1. Extant prints to which Evans refers are preserved on Readex Microprint in Clifford K. Shipton, ed., Early American Imprints, 1639-1800 ( Worcester, Mass.: American Antiquarian Society).
5.
Puritan leader John Winthrop adopted the "city on a hill" phrase from Matthew 5:14 in a lay sermon he delivered aboard the ship Arabella while it was still at sea in 1630. See John Winthrop, "A Model of Christian Charity," in The Puritans in America, ed. Alan Heimert and Andrew Delbanco ( Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985), 91.
6.
Massachusetts Bay Colony, "The Oath of a Free-man" ( Cambridge: printed by Stephen Day, 1638 or 1639).
7.
Massachusetts Bay Colony, The Book of the General Lauues and Libertyes concerning the Inhabitants of Massachusetts ( Cambridge: 1648), 19-20. Due to the colonial habit of writing paragraphs upon paragraphs of information into titles, titles of most early works mentioned in this chapter have been shortened to their primary title.
8.
Ibid., 26.

-91-

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The Early American Press, 1690-1783
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Series Foreword vii
  • Preface ix
  • 1 - The Boston Press, 1690-1735 1
  • 2 - The Philadelphia Press, 1719-1735 51
  • Notes 68
  • 3 - Freedom of the Press, 1638-1735 73
  • Notes 91
  • 4 - The Expansion of the Colonial Press, 1735-1765 97
  • Notes 118
  • 5 - The Stamp Act Crisis, 1765-1766 123
  • Notes 142
  • 6 - The Uneasy Years, 1766-1775 147
  • Notes 165
  • 7 - The Revolutionary Press, 1775-1783 171
  • Notes 192
  • 8 - Reflections on the Early American Press 199
  • Notes 209
  • Bibliographical Essay 211
  • Notes 217
  • Sources 219
  • Index 229
  • About the Authors 235
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