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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Thursday, January 18, 2018

“The most infamous and reproachful Invectives”

Talking about “The Liberty Song” and its parodies, all from the second half of 1768, gets us a little ahead of the Sestercentennial. Here’s what happened in Boston 250 years ago today.

Back on 21 Dec 1767, John Mein and John Fleeming had launched the Boston Chronicle, the town’s first new newspaper in years. Relatively recent arrivals from Scotland, those men promised to publish more material from Britain than competitors.

Their first issue also promised to be unbiased, but it included a snide remark about the Earl of Chatham, calling the former William Pitt “a miserable monument of wrecked ambition.” Pitt was a great hero to American Whigs, who weren’t aware of how his inaction was frustrating his colleagues in London. Almost a month later, the 18 January Boston Gazette carried a response signed “Americus”:
When I read the Proposals, for publishing the Boston Chronicle, I tho’t on the Plan with Satisfaction, hoping thereby much good would accrue to America in general, and to this province in particular; with Pleasure I also noted the judicious Advice given Messi’rs Mein and Fleeming by their Friends of Taste. . . .

But to the Surprize of many, how are they fallen off from their own Purposes, and the excellent Caution of their Benefactors—Instead of giving impartial Accounts concerning Affairs at Home, and the unhappy Disputes lately arisen between the greatest Men of the Nation; they have made Choice of, or printed under Guise of being taken from the London Papers, the most infamous and reproachful Invectives, that ever was invented against the worst of Traitors to their King and Country, and who are these that are thus censur’d? Why, men held in the highest esteem and veneration in the British Parliament. Patriots and Friends and Deliverers of America from Oppression. He who nobly vindicated her Cause, almost against the whole Senate, who cast behind him all Lucre of Gain, when it came in Competition with the Good of his Country, and sacrific’d his Family-Connections and Interest to the publick Welfare. He that through real Infirmities hardly stood, (not to cover his politic Schemes and Ambition as his Enemies would insinuate) but stood though tottering, and in the Cause of Liberty made that heroic Speech before the august House of Commons, in Opposition to the Stamp-Act, sufficient to eternize his Fame, and ought to be written in Letters of Gold to perpetuate his Memory.

Could the Sons of America be ingrateful, or countenance the greatest Falsities, rais’d only to prejudice their best Friends and Benefactors—God forbid! Let that Dishonor stain with the blackest Infamy the Jacobite Party—And though Invectives should be daily thrown out,  let us keep our Integrity to the Confusion of our Enemies; who, for a long Time have exerted their Power to shake the Props of our Constitution, and bring a free people into Bondage, thereby to satisfy their more than common Avarice, &c.
Those were fighting words! Well, one word in particular:
The Jacobites supported the Stuart claimants to the British throne rather than the Hanover line. The incursion of Bonnie Prince Charlie (shown above) in 1745 showed that the Stuarts’ strongest support was in Scotland. And Mein and Fleeming were from Scotland.

In sum, “Americus” was insinuating that the Boston Chronicle printers were disloyal to the British government because of their ethnicity.

TOMORROW: Mein couldn’t let that go.


Don Carleton said...

When it comes to fighting words in 18th-century Anglo-American political discourse, John, the Scottish part of the Jacobite slur was hardly the half of it!

J. L. Bell said...

There was the Catholic part, too, but I don't think New Englanders could pin that on Mein and Fleeming. They appear to have had some connection to the Sandemanians instead.