The Early American Press, 1690-1783

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

persuasive influence on American society. Borrowing on recent communication theory, several historians of the Revolutionary press began to examine it without being predisposed to conclude that it had influenced colonists' attitudes toward independence. Generally, these historians reasoned that colonists' predisposition and events of the real world had a greater impact on shaping public opinion than the press had.

This reinterpretation of press influence was presented most cogently in Carl Berger Broadsides and Bayonets: The Propaganda War of the American Revolution ( 1961). A study of both American and British propaganda efforts in various media during the war years of the Revolution, the book argued that propagandists' schemes were less meaningful in affecting opinions and beliefs than were events such as military victories. Words were less important than facts. By 1777 at the latest, Berger argued, most minds were made up, and there was little that propaganda efforts could do to change them, British and American supporters and officials made a number of attempts to convert, persuade, or intimidate people who seemed vulnerable, but most of their propaganda was futile. Both sides failed in their efforts aimed at achieving such goals as subverting the Hessian allies of Britain, winning support of American Indians, and fomenting a slave insurrection in the American South. Because hard facts and people's beliefs about what was really occurring held more weight than what propagandists told people to believe, Hessians remained loyal to their military agreements with Britain, Indians stayed neutral or took sides as they were impelled by solid economic or political motives, and Britain's provocation of slave insurrection merely embittered and fortified slaveholders. The greatest impact on public opinion, according to Berger, came not from the work of propagandists, such as Benjamin Franklin's diplomacy in Europe, but from the news of the war, such as the American victory at Saratoga. As a rule, Berger concluded, neither persuasive appeal, nor threats, nor tricks could compare in influence with military victories or political and economic facts.


NOTES
1.
Charles Thomas, "The Publication of Newspapers during the American Revolution," Journalism Quarterly 9 ( 1932): 359.
2.
Kenneth Stewart and John Tebbel, "The Editors of Revolt," in Makers of Modern Journalism ( New York: Prentice-Hall, 1952), 3-23.
3.
Bernard Bailyn, ed., introduction to Pamphlets of the American Revolution, 1750-1776 ( Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965).
4.
David Ramsay, History of the American Revolution, 2 vols. ( Philadelphia, 1789), 2:319.
5.
Arthur M. Schlesinger, "The Colonial Newspapers and the Stamp Act," New England Quarterly 8 ( 1935): 63-83.
6.
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Prelude to Independence: The Newspaper War on Great Britain, 1764-1776 ( New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1958), 40.

-217-

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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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