This monograph is a case study of newspaper competition in New Hampshire between the province's official newspaper and an upstart Whig challenger in the period marked by contention over the Stamp Act (1765-1766) and over the tight oligarchical reign of the Wentworth family. The case study is grounded in the civic republican tradition articulated by Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood as well as the revisionist scholarship since the 1960s that takes the role of the "little people" seriously. It maintains that the competition between the two newspapers contributed to, and opened up, the public spaces in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to a wider compass than might have been predicted if one follows the standard Habermasian argument for the develop of a bourgeois public sphere. In part, these more diverse public spheres grew out of a staple of ritualized communication in the form of effigy demonstration reports and stamp master resignation speeches at both the local and intercolonial levels. The paper traces the provenance of these reports to the rough music of the colonists' English ancestors so beautifully articulated by E.P. Thompson. The Whig challenger also championed a rollicking and irreverent, rhetorical epistolary form that involved status reversals and mocked deference in a highly amusing, yet serious, manner.
Newspaper Competition and Public Spheres in New Hampshire in the Early Revolutionary Period
DedicationHaving presented a much shorter version of this article at a festschrift for Professor Hanno Hardt in 2003, I am immensely gratified to dedicate this monograph to Hanno for introducing me to the ideas of Jürgen Habermas and for shepherding me through my long doctoral experience. It was not unusual for Hanno's colleagues to ask him when I was going to begin writing my dissertation. Hanno has told me that he would reply, calmly and confidently, that I told him I just had one more book to read. In our one-on-one meetings, Hanno encouraged me to find my intellectual voice and tolerated, with grace and perseverance, my rambling discourses. I was no model of Habermas's ideal speech situation. Nevertheless, at the end of our sessions, with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, Hanno would eloquently summarize my thoughts, leaving me with the belief that I was really on to something.Soon, under Hanno's deft tutelage, the ideas of the Frankfurt School of critical theory seemed less daunting than my initial encounters portended. With Hanno's encouragement, my coterie of doctoral students created our own little public sphere in a large common space set aside for graduate students. He taught us to appreciate the Utopian promise of Habermas's category of the bourgeois public sphere without losing sight of that category's pragmatic limitations and the reality of its exclusions. Now, years later, I have written this historical analysis of contesting public spheres in Portsmouth, New Hampshire (my home for 22 years), to reveal those bourgeois limitations and to hear the voices of those classes that sought to break the silence of an entrenched oligarchy. These other voices would have been inaudible to me without the outstanding education I was so fortunate to receive from a great professor and friend, Hanno Hardt.This monograph offers a case study of newspaper competition in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, between the province's official newspaper and an upstart Whig challenger in the contentious period marked by the Stamp Act controversy . In its claim to be a defender of the people's liberties, The Portsmouth Mercury and Weekly Advertiser articulated its resistance to the longstanding, political hegemony of the Wentworth family and its official, nearly nine-year-old newspaper, The New-Hampshire Gazette. We contend that this competition enabled the challenger to open up public spaces in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to a wider compass than might have been predicted if one followed the standard Habermasian argument for the development of a bourgeois public sphere. Paradoxically, both newspapers, in different rhetorical ways, contributed to this diversity by making a conservative news form - reports of ritualized effigy demonstrations and stamp master resignation acts - a staple part of their news diet. By keeping ritualized processions alive in their pages, they sometimes inadvertently, sometimes subtly, and sometimes provocatively subverted the political order and promoted new democratic identities.The case study is grounded in the civic republican tradition articulated by Bernard Bailyn (1967) and Gordon Wood (1966, 1991, 2002), in revision- ist historical scholarship taking the rhetoric and roles of the "little people" seriously, and in a dialectical re-examination of Habermas's category of the bourgeois public sphere opposite the plebeian public sphere. Bailyn and Wood have traced the ideology of the American revolutionary movement to seventeenth century British Whig politics with its emphasis on civic virtue and the people's pursuit of the common good in their struggles against the power of tyrannical governments. Revisionist historians have given voice to the previously inarticulate by paying close attention, as Linda Kerber (1990, 226) has put it, to "the ways in which marginal people - blacks, women, the impoverished - shaped the revolution and were in turn affected by it." Adding further importance to the voices of the little people, Craig Calhoun (1992) and Habermas himself (in Calhoun, 1992) have suggested that the common folks may have affected public discourses from the perspective of their plebeian public sphere in the eighteenth century much more than has been accorded to them by prior historical accounts.In explaining the legacy of the civic republican tradition, Bailyn (1992: 4-5) takes Progressive historians Philip Davidson (1941), Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., (1935, 1971) and John C. Miller (1936) to task for reading colonial newspapers and pamphlets as mere propaganda that supposedly duped the lower sorts to join in mob action against the royal aristocracy. Bailyn's (1992, xv) work on the ideological origins of the revolution makes it clear that the political culture necessary to nurture the civic republican tradition did not spring up de novo like a newly transplanted liberty tree with the Stamp Act crisis. In fact, he writes that the "configuration of ideas and attitudes" of the...