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Early American Journalists: The Answers

Megan Branch, Intern

Yesterday we posted a quiz with questions taken from Marcus Daniel’s new book, Scandal &; Civility: Journalism and the Birth of American Democracy. In Scandal & Civility, Daniel provides thoughtful portraits of some of the most important journalists of the American Revolution. We know the questions were a little difficult, but the answers below contain some well-known names that might surprise you.

1. What early American journalist studied epidemics while taking a break from politics and his newspaper?
Noah Webster, but not before changing the name of the newspaper from The American Minerva to the decidedly less interesting Commercial Advertiser.
“True to his word, he did not pick up his pen to defend either Federalism or the Adams administration again until the presidential elections of 1800. Between April 1798 and late 1799, he devoted himself almost exclusively to his study of epidemics, producing the two-volume A Brief Study of Epidemic and Pestilential Disease, which was published in both England and America to almost complete public indifference. And when he returned to journalism in 1800, the break had done nothing to restore his political zeal or his faith in democracy.”

2. What grandson of a certain Founding Father used his inheritance to start a newspaper?
Benjamin Franklin Bache, grandson of Benjamin Franklin.
“Describing his grandfather’s loss as ‘irreparable,” […] Bache was forced for then first time to assess his prospects…His inheritance from Franklin was modest, roughly £1,500, ‘chiefly in Tools that his industry are to put in Motion,’ and Bache quickly decided to establish a daily newspaper, hoping to profit from the removal of the federal government from Philadelphia to New York.”

3. Which former public-school student, after failing to successfully run a dry-goods shop, decided to “try his luck” at journalism?
John Fenno, former pupil (and teacher) at Abiah Holbrook’s Old South Writing School, a public school on Boston Common.
“His financial prospects in Boston were limited…to survive he was forced to combing journalism with other business ventures, including a dry goods shop […] which failed in late 1788…in New York, and on New Year’s Day 1989, he circulated proposals for ‘The Federal Oracle & the Register of Freedom’ among a small group of friends and admirers in Boston…In mid-January, he left Boston […] and set off for New York, ‘in hopes,’ wrote fellow Bostonian the Reverend Jeremy Belknap, ‘of retrieving matters in the printing way.’

4. What Princeton alum and early journalist wore homemade clothes to his commencement ceremony?
Philip Freneau, class of 1770.
“…Freneau discovered politics as well as poetry at Princeton. His time at the College of New Jersey between 1768 and 1771 was a pivotal period in the development of colonial resistance to British imperial policy. The nonimportation movement, a response to the duties imposed on British goods by the Townshend Acts in 1767, made itself felt at Princeton after merchants in Philadelphia joined the trade boycott in 1769. To express their solidarity with the movemtn, Freneau and his fellow students wore clothes made of American homespun at the college commencement in 1770, an act of resistance applauded by President Witherspoon.”

5. What journalist scandalized Philadelphia with the window dressing in his printing shop and bookstore?
William Cobbett became a “writer on politics” after being provoked by a Frenchman who was “half a monarchist.”
“Cobbett always portrayed himself as a simple British patriot, inspired by dogged devotion for his native country…Rarely missing a chance to display the strength and fearlessness of his patriotic ardor” Cobbett flaunted this loyalty with “the opening of his famous Blue Shop in Philadelphia in 1796…Despite the threat of mob violence, he painted the front of the shop a provocative royal blue and filled his windows with pictures designed to provoke local Republicans.” The pictures were of British “Kings, queens princes and nobles…And, in short, every picture that [he] thought likely to excite rage in the enemies of Great Britain…Such a sight had not been seen in Philadephia for over twenty years.”

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