J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, December 22, 2017

The Boston Chronicle “unbiassed by prejudice or party”?

When in October 1767 John Mein and John Fleeming circulated the proposal to publish a new weekly newspaper in Boston, their plan started with a long list of things “their friends” wanted to see in it.

That list concluded by quoting those advance subscribers as saying:
We sincerely wish you success, and will use our utmost endeavours to insure it to you, but unbiassed by prejudice or party, we will boldly claim the FREEDOM of FRIENDSHIP, and leave you with the following advice, which, we hope, nay, which we are persuaded, you will follow.

We suppose that you intend to study your own interests, if you will do it effectually, be of no party; publish and propagate with the greatest industry whatever may promote the general good.—Be independent;—your interest is intimately connected with this noble virtue;—if you depart from this, you must sink from the esteem of the public, to the partial praise of a party, who, when their purpose is served or defeated, may, perhaps, desert you; and then, how can you expect that those, whom you have reviled, will support you.
The first issue of the Boston Chronicle, dated 21 December, contained no advertising. It was eight pages long—twice as long as a regular issue of its competitors. Those pages were filled with:
  • A message to new readers, subscribers, and advertisers.
  • The first “Letter from a Farmer in Philadelphia,” already credited to “John Dickenson.”
  • A recent description of Constantinople by Lord Baltimore.
  • A essay by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu on marriage. (This was the longest article.)
  • Political news from London.
  • A discussion of planting grape vineyards in North America.
  • “A Traveller’s opinion of the English in general.”
  • A report on Linnaeus’s investigation of “smut in Wheat,” and an English farmer’s response.
  • A friendly exchange between the royal governor of Georgia and the legislature there.
  • A report on a convention of Anglican clergy in North America.
You can read the entire issue here, courtesy of newspaper collector Todd Andrlik.

The London political news proved problematic. It was dated 19 September, as the Duke of Grafton was trying to hold together a coalition government after Charles Townshend’s unexpected death. Among many other things the article said:
We are told the Dukes of Newcastle, Bedford, Northumberland [that would be Earl Percy’s father] and Richmond, the Marquis of Rockingham, the Earls of Halifax, Sandwich, Gower and Shelburne, the Right Hon. Mr. [William] Dowdeswell, and Mr. [Henry Seymour] Conway, and Isaac Barre and Edmund Burke, Esqrs. are all included in the intended new ministry.

It is confidently reported that the E. of C[hatham]’s gout is only political, and that notwithstanding his late indisposition he will soon appear on the scene of action and struggle hard to guide the reins of government, but having lost the confidence of the people, whom he has deceived by his contradictions and changes, and never having been a favorite with the nobility, whom he always affected to dispise, he will while he exists be considered by every disinterested man as a miserable monument of wrecked ambition.
That last paragraph was about the elder William Pitt (shown above), who had set up that coalition government and then receded from it in a cloud of depression and gout. The report went on to praise the Marquess of Rockingham to the skies for how he had handled the North American opposition to the Stamp Act—so much so that it’s clear this item was written by someone from his faction. Bostonians thus got to see the maneuvering between two sets of London Whigs: those loyal to Pitt and those loyal to Rockingham.

Boston’s Whigs could have taken that article alongside the Dickinson essay as confirmation the Chronicle was sharing views from different sides. They could have reflected that they preferred Rockingham, despite his government’s Declaratory Act, over either the Tories had instituted the Stamp Act or the latest government’s Townshend duties. But all that Boston political leaders saw in the Boston Chronicle was the criticism of their hero, Pitt.

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