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Role of Newspapers in American 1790s

Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

A Whole Different World

There was no CNN or Internet to promote political opinions in the 1790s or any time during the American development stage. Today, we click on a channel or pull up a website and get all the news we want and then some. We get information at the slight movement of a finger. That was not how it was in the early years of the newly created United States of America.

In fact, it has been noted that “one of the most important functions of the general-circulation newspaper -- a crucial function in a democracy -- is to provide citizens with information on government and politics.” As the best communication of the time was through newspapers, they developed a monopoly on the political communication process. If the people wanted to know what was going on in the political world, they had to buy a newspaper and read it. There was only one way to deliver political messages.

Ironically, it became politics that controlled the message they communicated. The newspapers used politics to have power over the masses. The politicians used the newspapers to direct the masses.

All Parties Were Involved

All parties involved in all levels of politics were part of the newspaper mechanism. Through newspapers, politicians attacked their enemies. They were not above using “rumor, innuendo, and personal denunciations” to sway the opinion of the citizens of the new country. If one party candidate wanted to turn the public opinion against an opponent, he used the newspapers to spread lies or to twist information to make his opponent look bad.

Politicians knew the power of the press especially in the new country where the people were enjoying the power they had in their new government. They were also eager to believe anything to use that power.

Dual Role

Sadly, the newspapers served a dual role. They were very successful in passing out information to the people.They were usually the first place people got information beyond the local gossips. While gossips were great for local news, they got most national information wrong.

At the same time, they were playing a very dirty role in politics that only added fuel to the political fires. The focus of many were on reputations instead of the business at hand that they were elected to perform. The fire of the political soap opera turned into a raging blaze that ended up ruining many good men’s lives and even taking lives. Alexander Hamilton was just one of several who died due to rumors, obsession with reputation, and the dirty work of using newspapers to degrade and ruin others in the political arena.

Papers relayed news as well as let drama erupt to levels unheard of.



Newspapers realized quickly the power they wielded. Politicians wanted them for the connections to the masses. They knew who had the ear of the people who voted and gave voice to the nation as a whole and to its leaders. Newspapers were the key. It also helped in trying to discredit the opponents. As a political resource, they were the best.

To the people, the newspapers were something new and amazing. Under British rule, newspapers were limited in what they could print. In America, they had more freedom. The people had a better chance of hearing the 'truth' without the government highly involved. What the people didn't realize was that where the government has moved out of interfering with the press, the politicians found an opening and easily moved in.

It is thanks to the early newspapers that the public knew anything going on in the political arena. It is also thanks to the newspapers that more accomplishments were not achieved and priorities were skewed. They were wonderful tools that build up and ruined at the same time.


Carson, Jamie L. “The Effect of the Partisan Press on U.S. House Elections, 1800-1820.” University of Georgia. accessed February 2, 2012. http://www.polls.uga.edu/APD/Carson%26Hood.pdf.

Humphrey, Carol Sue. Revolutionary Era : Primary Documents on Events from 1776 to 1800. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed February 2, 2012).

Stephens, Mitchell. “History of Newspapers.” New York University. accessed February 1, 2012. http://www.nyu.edu/classes/stephens/Collier%27s%20page.htm.

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