Mightier Than the Sword: How the News Media Have Shaped American History

By Rodger Streitmatter | Go to book overview

political and social revolution--as well as armed conflict. Important milestones in the journalistic march toward independence included publication of the "Journal of Occurrences" in 1768 and 1769, followed by the extended verbal response to the Boston Massacre of 1770. Those two publishing phenomena set the stage for Thomas Paine's clarion call for independence in early 1776. Paine Common Sense impelled thousands of mildly discontented subjects of the British crown to become political insurgents fully committed both to revolution and, ultimately, to shaping American history.


Dissension Takes Root

One place to begin the political background of the American Revolution is with the 1763 British victory in the decade-long conflict with the French. With that military triumph, the British defeated the French in North America as well as in India. The hard-fought victory meant the French finally were expelled from America, leaving the fur trade solely to the British. But the high cost of victory also left the British treasury near bankruptcy.

In search of ways to pay the cost of defending the wide frontiers that had been won in the war, officials in London decided the American colonists had gained so much in the victory over the French that they should pay the bulk of the war debts and defense costs. The colonists were willing to help--up to a point. Colonial legislatures were prepared to increase levies, but they did not raise enough revenue to satisfy the British.

Economics was not the only factor in the coming revolution, as ideas were stirring people, too. This is where the press played a pivotal role. The literature of the colonial era appeared in newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, and broadsides that expressed the arguments--as well as the passions--of the rebels. Revolutions seldom, if ever, occur because of logic. They require passion, and this emotional element was brought to the movement by a group of radical visionaries fully aware of the power of the press.

The earliest wave of rebels insisted that the people deserved a larger voice in their governance. Specifically, they believed the colonies needed to be granted home rule. They argued that citizens themselves, not the higher level of government, should make the laws governing the colonists--although all but the most radical of them continued to accept that the British crown should remain the final authority in their lives.

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