When Thomas Jefferson took the oath of office as the third president of the United States on March 3, 1801, many people hoped that the days of the strongly partisan press that had existed during the 1790s had disappeared. In some ways, these hopes were well founded because the Federalist Party slowly declined on the national level, and the national newspapers that supported that viewpoint diminished in influence. However, more localized Federalist publications continued to be influential, particularly in New England. The impact of the Federalist press continued in some parts of the country until well after the end of the War of 1812.
The press steadily grew during the first decade of the nineteenth century. In 1800, 234 newspapers were published in the United States. By the end of Jefferson's presidency, the number had reached 329. Of those 329, all but 56 were identified, at least loosely, as supporters of one of the major political parties. Most public officials of the day believed in the importance of the press in the political arena, which accounted for the continued influence of the partisan press. Although disagreeing on exactly how it should function, almost everyone perceived the newspaper as a key factor in keeping people informed and involved in the government. In 1804, Jefferson worried that the Federalists controlled the large majority of the American press. Throughout his eight years in office, he and his supporters worked to increase the number of newspapers supporting their policies. By the time Jefferson retired in 1809, the Republicans had a slight majority in the number of partisan newspapers in the United States. 1
Besides the obvious political advantages to having a supportive press, many Republicans also believed that more newspapers meant that the people would be better informed. As much as anyone else at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Thomas Jefferson believed in the absolute necessity of a free and open press for the safe operation of a democracy. He did not, however, believe that "free and