WORLD Magazine / Central Ideas / Chapter Three
A New Planting of the Corruption Story


Rise of the Corruption Story

Unnatural Acts
Perils of the Puritan Press
A New Planting of the Corruption Story

Macrostories in Conflict

Breakthrough of the Oppression Story



Central Ideas cover
After the monarchical restoration in England, British officials across the Atlantic also placed restrictions on press freedoms. Royal governors appeared to believe that the Puritan idea of "read for yourself' simply caused too much trouble. In 1671 Governor William Berkeley of Virginia responded to a query concerning the state of religion in the colony by saying that the drawbacks of emphasizing reading and study would outweigh the benefits:
There are no free schools nor printing, and I hope we shall not have these hundred years; for learning has brought disobedience, and heresy, and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them, and libels against the best government. [1]
Berkeley's successors in Virginia clamped down hard on any displays of independence. Philip Ludwell was heavily fined in 1678 for calling Governor Herbert Jeffreys a lawbreaker. When printing finally was allowed, it was carefully regulated: Printer John Buckner received a reprimand in 1682 merely for printing the colony's laws without official permission; Buckner was forced to post a bond of 100 pounds that would be forfeited were he ever to print anything again. Governor Francis Lord Howard in 1685 issued a proclamation condemning the "over lycentiousnesse of the People in their discourses" and reminding the public that criticism of the royal government was criminal sedition.[2] Other proclamations and incidents-in 1690, 1693, 1699, 1702, and 1704-also sent a message to those who might wish to oppose the official story.

Attempts at independence often received severe punishment. In 1666, one Maryland critic of the official story received 39 lashes across his back. Protests concerning such treatment occasionally appeared: In 1689 a Maryland group that called itself the Protestant Association protested the colony's laws,

especially one that against all Sense, Equity, Reason, and Law Punishes all Speeches, Practices, and Attempts relating to his Lordship and Government, that shall be thought Mutinous and Seditious.[3]
The Protestant Association complained that the government had punished "Words and Actions" it disapproved of by "Whipping, Branding, Boreing through the Tongue, Fine, Imprisonment, Banishment, or Death."[4] But for many years Maryland and other colonies did not have the critical mass of residents committed to the Reformation concept that those in various spheres of society had a right to carry on their activities, under God, regardless of royal approval. Royal governors hoped to avoid all criticism.[5]

Only in New England, the center of Reformation thought in the New World, was publication and education emphasized; the Puritans set up a printing press and college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1636, just 6 years after their arrival in a wilderness where mere survival was not assured.[6] New Englanders tried from the colony's founding to restrict royal authority. John Winthrop had the opportunity to gain special favors for Massachusetts from Puritans then dominating Parliament, but he declined because he did not want to accept the idea that Parliament had jurisdiction over the colony; Winthrop wanted the idea of a self-governing commonwealth to be established. The General Court (Massachusetts' legislature) at one point declared-in a statement that Samuel Adams would pick up a century later-"Our allegiance binds us not to the laws of England any longer than while we live in England."[7]

In the 1660s, however, monarchical restoration in England placed new pressures on New England. Well-connected courtiers in London contested the Massachusetts Bay charter that Charles I had given to Puritan leaders in 1629; the courtiers claimed that they had received previous royal grants to the same land. The General Court, desperate to avoid a royal crackdown, forced evangelist and writer John Eliot in 1661 to retract "such expressions as doe too manifestly scandalize" the government of England." Eliot's book The Christian Commonwealth, which advocated election of rulers, was ordered "totally suppressed."[8] In October 1662, the General Court passed the first formal censorship act in Massachusetts, imitating the act passed by Parliament under the urging of Charles II.

Pressure on New England writers did not come only from London. The Puritans allowed wide debate concerning biblical interpretation, but would not allow publication of tracts hostile to the fundamentals or essentials of Reformed Christianity. Quakers, with their reliance on "inner light" rather than the Bible only, and their methods of protest that included walking naked inside churches to protest the "nakedness" of the institutions, were not tolerated. But the Puritans did encourage reporting of bad news that tended to be swept under the rug in most other places.

They were lenient in this way because bad news was seen as a message from God. Boston printer Marmaduke Johnson in 1668 published "God's Terrible Voice in the City of London, wherein you have the Narration of the late dreadful Judgment of Pleague and Fire." In 1674, when Benjamin Goad was hanged in Boston for committing bestiality, Samuel Danforth wrote of crime and punishment and offered a "why":

God's end in inflicting remarkable judgments upon some, is for caution and warning to all others . . . . Behold now the execution of vengeance upon this lewd and wicked youth, whom God hath hanged up before the Sun, and made a sign and example, and instruction and admonishment, to all New England.[9]
Johnson published a short piece entitled, "Cry of Sodom enquired into, upon occasion of the Arraignment and Condemnation of Benjamin Goad, for his prodigious Villany."[10]

"News sermons," first presented in church and frequently published, became an established form of New England communication. The sermons, Harry S. Stout has pointed out, had a "topical range and social influence" and were "so powerful in shaping cultural values, meanings, and a sense of corporate purpose that even television pales in comparison."[11] In Stout's words:

Unlike modern mass media, the sermon stood alone in local New England contexts as the regular (at least weekly) medium of public communication. As a channel of information, it combined religious, educational, and journalistic functions.[12]
Sermons on royal births and deaths, military defeats or victories, election results and government decisions, and most of all crimes (preferably with punishments) were common.[13] Printers moved naturally from publication of Bible commentaries to publication of theological treatises and sermons to publication of news sermons and pamphlets on current events.[14]

Puritan theology not only allowed but emphasized the reporting of bad news, for the coming of well-deserved calamities was a sign that God still reigned. It was no accident that the bestknown Massachusetts minister of the late 17th century, Increase Mather, also became its leading journalist. Mather argued in 1674 that God was not pleased with the sins of pride and envy that were common in New England, and that "a day of trouble is at hand."[15] The long title of one of his published news sermons in 1675 provided, in order, the "why,""what," "where," "when," "how," and "who" of the news:

The Times of Men Are in the Hands of God. Or a Sermon Occasioned by That Awful Providence Which Happened in Boston in New England, The 4th Day of the 3rd Month 1675 (When Part of a Vessel Was Blown Up in the Harbor, and Nine Men Hurt, and Three Mortally Wounded).[16]
Mather's forecasts of general disaster hit home in June 1675, when a tribe of Wampanoag Indians burned and looted homes in the town of Swansea and killed nine residents. Indian attacks escalated in August 1675, as Wampanoags led by Chief Metacom ("King Philip") were joined by the Narragansetts and Nipmucks in an attack on towns in western Massachusetts and other outlying areas. A ballad contextualized the news: "O New-England, I understand/ with thee God is offended:/ And therefore He doth humble thee,/ till thou thy ways hast mended."[17] In the summer of 1676 Philip's forces were within 10 miles of Boston, but so many had been killed in battle that a final push was beyond their grasp; when Philip was captured and executed, the war was over. The tribes were left devastated, but 1 in every 16 colonists of fighting age was also dead, many women and children had been killed or carried into captivity, and 12 towns were totally destroyed.

For the Puritans, the war was an exceptionally clear example of judgment for their sins, and many ministers/writers went to work on it. Chief among them was Increase Mather, whose Brief History of the War with the Indians of New-England was filled with information about who, what, when, and where:

March 17. This day the Indians fell upon Warwick, and burnt it down to the ground, all but one house ....

May 11. A company of Indians assaulted the Town of Plimouth, burnt eleven Houses and five Barns therein . . . .[18]

Mather then contextualized the news by seeing God's hand not only in the beginning of the war but in its prolongation; reporting on the aftermath of one battle, he wrote, "Had the English immediately pursued the Victory begun, in all likelyhood there had been an end of our troubles: but God saw that neither yet were we fit for deliverance."[19]

Like other Puritan journalists, however, Mather was careful to juxtapose evidence of God's anger with dramatic news of God's mercy. When one house was about to be set on fire by hundreds of Indians who surrounded it, it appeared that

Men and Women, and Children must have perished, either by unmerciful flames, or more unmerciful hands of wicked Men whose tender Mercies are cruelties, so that all hope that they should be saved was then taken in: but behold in this Jount of Difficulty and Extremity the Lord is seen. For in the very nick of opportunity God sent that worthy Major Willard, who with forty and eight men set upon the Indians and caused them to turn their backs . . . however we may be diminished and brought low through Oppression, Affliction, and Sorrow, yet our God will have compassion on us, and this his People shall not utterly perish.[20]
Mather's reportage was a prototype of the cavalry rescues beloved in Western movies, but the emphasis here was on God's grace, not man's heroism. And, Mather reported that when New Englanders recognized their reliance on that grace and pledged covenantal obedience, the war ended.[21]

Emphasizing the importance of accurate reporting, Mather concluded his news account with the words,

Thus have we in brief, plain, and true story of the war with the Indians in New England, how it began, and how it hath made its progress, and what present hopes there are of a comfortable closure and conclusion of this trouble.[22]
He then appended to the main text of his pamphlet a sermon/editorial on the war, entitled "An Earnest Exhortation to the Inhabitants of New England." In it, Mather explicitly presented the "why" of the war: God's punishment because of sins such as "contention" and "pride."[23] But he also argued that too much guilt, like too much pride, could "run into extreams." Instead of pouring it on, Mather offered hope: God's "design, in bringing the Calamity upon us, is not to destroy us, but to humble us, and reform us, and to do us good in the latter end."[24]

The tradition of news and news analysis followed by hard-hitting but eventually upbeat editorial was beginning. The next step for American journalism came in 1681 when a general meeting of the Massachusetts ministers urged careful coverage of "Illustrious Providences," including

Divine Judgements, Tempests, Floods, Earth-quakes, Thunders as are unusual, Strange Apparitions, or what ever else shall happen that is Prodigious, Witchcrafts, Diabolical Possessions, Remarkable Judgements upon noted Sinners: eminent Deliverances, and Answers of Prayer.[25]
Here was a definition of news not unlike our own in its emphasis on atypical, "man bites dog" events: "unusual" thunders, "strange" apparitions, and other "prodigious" or "remarkable" happenings-except that the "why" was different, because for the Puritans, all unusual occurrences showed a glimpse of God's usually invisible hand.

The ministers' resolution also provided a method for recording of events that anticipated the relation of correspondents and editors that would follow in later years. First, each minister was to be a correspondent, with the responsibility to "diligently enquire into, and Record such Illustrious Providences as have happened, or from time to time shall happen, in the places whereunto they do belong."[26] Second, to avoid the supplanting of fact by fiction, it would be important to rely on eyewitnesses and make sure "that the Witnesses of such notable Occurrents be likewise set down in Writing."[27] Third, it would be important to find a main writer/editor who "hath Leisure and Ability for the management of Such an undertaking."[28] That person turned out to be Mather himself-and he proved himself to be right for the job. Mather read widely and well, citing in appropriate places in his Essay the work of leading scientists of the day such as Johannes Kepler, Tycho Brahe, and Robert Boyle. He himself wrote reports about comets, magnetism, lightning, thunder, and other natural phenomena, and would not report about an event unless a reliable source made a written, signed statement; after noting one extraordinary occurrence, he noted, "I would not have mentioned this relation, had I not received it from serious, faithfull, and Judicious hands . . . ."[29] Mather and others thought accuracy important because events were their report card signed by God, and they wanted to know where they stood, for better or for worse.[30]

American journalism began, in short, because the Puritans, in historian David Nord's words, were "obsessed with events, with the news. They could see all around them the providence of God. The great movements of celestial and human history were the prime considerations, but little things carried meaning as well."[31] In addition, Puritans set the stage for an honoring of the journalists themselves. The idea that God was acting in the world made journalism significant, for Increase Mather wrote that "it is proper for the Ministers of God to ingage themselves [in recording] the providentiall Dispensations of God."[32] Increase's son Cotton even wrote that

To regard the illustrious displays of that Providence wherewith our Lord Christ governs the world, is a work, than which there is none more needful or useful for a Christian.[33]
By the 1680s, with journalism viewed as significant, and Boston becoming populous and prosperous enough to support a weekly newspaper, only a tense political situation was forestalling the establishment of one. Charles II, pressed by courtiers who wished to get their hands on New England's growing wealth, demanded that Massachusetts "make a full Submission and entire Resignation of their Charter to his pleasure." Removal of the charter would mean that freedom of the press and other liberties would not be under local control, but under regulation from London. Boston erupted in protest, and Increase Mather told a Boston town meeting that if Massachusetts acquiesced to royal pressure, "I verily Believe We Shall Sin against the GOD of Heaven." Mather asked the townspeople to say no, be patient, and trust God:
If we make a full Submission and entire Resignation to Pleasure, we shall fall into the Hands of Men immediately. But if we do it not, we still keep ourselves in the Hands of GOD; we trust ourselves with His Providence: and who knows what GOD may do for us?[34]
For the next 6 years, as Mather's advice was taken in Massachusetts, crown and colony were at loggerheads. In 1684 the Court of Chancery in London vacated the charter, and soon all of New England came under the direct control of a royal governor who hated Puritans, Sir Edmund Andros. In 1687 John Wise and five of his associates received heavy fines for stating that taxes were legitimate only when levied by the Assembly.[35] In 1688 Andros, using power given by Charles' successor James II, ordered Increase Mather's son Cotton arrested for editing and supervising the printing of a pamphlet criticizing the Anglican state church. Cotton escaped imprisonment at that time but remained under threat from royal officials who repeatedly complained that the young writer "and others of his gang" opposed orders that "will not serve their interest (by them called the interest of Jesus Christ.)"[36]

Puritan prospects seemed bleak as Increase Mather headed to London to lobby for restoration of the Massachusetts charter. Even when William and Mary, backed by Parliament, seized power from James and in 1689 removed Andros from control of New England, the issue was still in doubt."[37] Journalistic freedom was under attack as the General Court, trying to show itself "trustworthy," warned in 1689 that those who published materials "tending to the disturbance of peace and subversion of the government" would be treated "with uttermost Severity."[38]

One journalistic friend of the Mathers decided at this difficult time to try publishing a Boston newspaper. Printer and writer Benjamin Harris knew firsthand the dangers of independent journalism. In 1679 he had been jailed for publishing in London an independent newspaper, Domestick Intelligence; sentenced to a harsh prison regime, Harris said simply, "I hope God will give me Patience to go through it."[39] After Harris did go through it he continued to print pamphlets that exposed wrong-doing. One of the pamphlets suggested that honest investigators followed in the footsteps of a "God [who] will not be mocked: There's no Dissembling with Heaven, no Masquerading with the All-seeing Eye of divine Vengeance."[40]

We know little about Harris the man; he seemed to stay in the background, content with reporting the good and ill deeds of others.[41] But several of his beliefs seem evident from his pamphlets. He stressed accuracy: One pamphlet reported that, "among the many Examples recited in this book, there are none but what are of approved Verity and well Attested."[42] At the same time, however, he wanted to send a clear message:

I shall only add my Wishes and Prayers, that past Examples may prove future Warnings; and all that read these signal Instances of God's Judgments, may thereby . . . hold fast the Truth . . . conserve the pure Faith, and walk answerable thereunto in their Conversation, which will bring a Blessing in Life, and Comfort in Death, and Glory to Eternity.[43]
Harris clearly had no desire to be a martyr, and clearly felt that one prison term was enough. When royal officials searched his London printshop in 1686, seized pamphlets considered seditious, and issued a warrant for his arrest, Harris and his family escaped to Boston. There he opened a bookstore-coffeehouse and published The New England Primer, a best-selling schoolbook filled with Biblical quotations and moral precepts. But Harris could not stay away from journalism. Hoping that the departure of Andros pointed toward greater freedom, and apparently aided by Cotton Mather, Harris on September 25, 1690, published the first newspaper in America, Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick."[44]

Belief in Providence was evident throughout the four-page newspaper. Harris' expressed purpose for publishing it was in line with his previous writing: "That Memorable Occurrents of Divine Providence may not be neglected or forgotten, as they too often are. "[45] Harris' combination of reporting and teaching showed as he reported "a day of Thanksgiving to God" for a good harvest and noted, concerning a tragedy averted, that God "assisted the Endeavours of the People to put out the Fire."[46] When a man committed suicide after his wife died, Harris explained that "The Devil took advantage of the Melancholy which he thereupon fell into."[47] Such reports were politically safe, but when Harris emphasized God's sovereignty not only over local events but over matters involving international relations as well, controversy followed. Harris' report of mistreatment of prisoners by Mohawk Indians, and his criticism of royal officials for making an alliance with those Indians in order to defeat French forces in Canada, was based on his belief in Providence; Harris wrote,

If Almighty God will have Canada to be subdu'd without the assistance of those miserable Salvages, in whom we have too much confided, we shall be glad, that there will be no Sacrifice offered up to the Devil, upon this occasion; God alone will have all the glory.[48]
Furthermore, Harris took seriously reports of adultery in the French court. British officials, hoping at that time for peace with France, were refraining from comments that could arouse popular concern about trusting those of low morals; because sexual restraint was not a common court occurrence in Restoration England either, they probably thought such news was a non-story. Harris, however, went ahead and reported that Louis XIV "is in much trouble (and fear) not only with us but also with his Son, who has revolted against him lately, and has great reason if reports be true, that the Father used to lie with the Sons Wife."[49]

Puritans who liked to emphasize God's sovereignty over all human activities were pleased with Publick Occurrences; Cotton Mather called it "a very noble, useful and laudable design."[50] The royal governor and his council were not amused, however: 4 days after publication the newspaper was suppressed, and Harris was told that any further issues would give him new prison nightmares. Harris gave in. He stayed in Massachusetts for a time and was given some public printing jobs because of his good behavior, but returned to England in 1695 and was arrested for publishing another short-lived newspaper, Intelligence Domestick and Foreign. A changed political climate allowed his release, however, and he was able to publish another newspaper, the London Post, from 1699 to 1705.[51]

The squelching of Publick Occurrences in 1690, by officials desperate to avoid offending the powers of London, represents a low tide in American journalism. But better news came in 1692, when Increase Mather was able to return from England with a new charter that was almost as good as the old one. The King retained the power to appoint a Governor who could veto legislation, but the people of Massachusetts could elect a legislature that alone had the power of taxation. (This part of the new contract became crucial during the 1760s and 1770s.)

Increase Mather had no time to rest, however, because as he returned to Boston, accusations of witchcraft followed by irregular trial procedures, were dominating the news from Salem. Until 1692 Massachusetts was not known as a center for witch-hunting: Historian Chadwick Hansen has pointed out that, "while Europe hanged and burned literally thousands of witches, executions in New England were few and far between."[52] From 1663 through 1691 trials of witches in New England led to twenty acquittals and only one execution, in large part because witches had to be tried for specific acts seen by two unimpeachable witnesses.[53] But in Salem in 1692, judges who overstepped traditional restraints began accepting what was called spectral evidence, and the trouble began.

Spectral evidence was testimony by individuals that they had seen not the accused, but a ghostly likeness or spectre of the accused, engaged in actions such as burning houses, sinking ships, and so on. The leading ministers of Massachusetts, including Increase and Cotton Mather, opposed the acceptance of spectral evidence. They did so not only because proceeding without witnesses of flesh and blood action violated common law practice, but because such action opened the door to abuses and general hysteria. In May 1692, before anyone was executed, Cotton Mather pleaded that the Salem judges not stress spectral evidence, for "It is very certain that the divells have sometimes represented the shapes of persons not only innocent, but also very virtuous."[54]

The Salem magistrates did not listen. Led by or leading local hysteria, they jailed several hundred residents and executed 20 from June through September 1692.[55] Cotton Mather was upset. In 1688 he had taken into his house a child diagnosed as suffering diabolical persecution and had apparently cured her. He offered in 1692 to make his own house a shelter home by taking six or more of those who said they were suffering from witchcraft.[56] But Cotton Mather did not publicly condemn Salem justice. Increase acted differently. He went to work investigating the trials and wrote a pamphlet, Cases of Conscience, that exposed the judicial practices of Salem and condemned use of spectral evidence.[57]

The Salem magistrates paid attention to Increase Mather's hard-hitting writing, or at least the public furor it stirred. Increase's insistence that self-incriminating confessions should not be accepted as proof hit home. His stress that only the testimony under oath of two actual witnesses, "as in any other Crime of a Capital nature," was sufficient to convict witches, was accepted.[58] Once Increase's pamphlet appeared, executions in Salem stopped. As Perry Miller concluded, "Increase Mather-and he alone brought the murders to an end."[59] Cotton Mather's quiet protests had not stopped the hangings, but Increase Mather's bold journalism saved lives.

That was a signal triumph for the preacher-journalist. But the end of the witch trials also brought a signal defeat, one that has provided solid ammunition for centuries to those who hate the Mathers because they hate the Mathers' world view. Massachusetts Governor Phipps, worried about reaction in London to reports of New England justice gone berserk, "commanded" Cotton Mather to prepare a defense of judicial conduct in some of the trials.[60] Cotton Mather complied by rushing out an abysmal quasi justification, The Wonders of the Invisible World. (Weird excerpts of it now find their way into history textbooks as "proof" of Puritan zaniness.)

Cotton Mather apparently realized he was doing a bad job even as he was doing it. He gave his hasty public relations work a clearly reluctant beginning: "I live by Neighbours that force me to produce these undeserved Lines."[61] He added an equally mournful note at the end by reporting that he had completed "the Service imposed upon me." In between, in Cotton Mather's most wildly excessive writing, came a pitiful attempt to semi-legitimize for the public what he had in private termed improper judicial procedure.

Perry Miller has pointed out that, because of Mather's defense of judicial murder, "thousands of Americans are still persuaded that Cotton Mather burned witches at Salem.[62] The truth is far more intriguing: Mather accepted a task he should have refused, completed it while gritting his teeth, and has received three centuries of abuse for that which he grudgingly defended. This is not to defend Mather: He disgraced himself. Had he stayed with what he knew to be true he would have stood alongside his father at this point as a 1690s pioneer of journalistic bravery. Sadly, at age 29, Cotton Mather still aimed to please.

Indirectly, the outcome of the charter and witch trial controversies contributed to two major developments in American journalism.

First, the witch trials showed that local governmental authorities could be deadly wrong. Massachusetts citizens began to show more caution in declaring guilty those arrested under ambiguous circumstances, including writers. In 1695 when Massachusetts charged Quaker pamphleteer Thomas Maule with printing "wicked Lyes and Slanders . . . upon Government" and also impugning the religious establishment, he shrewdly pleaded that a printed book was no more evidence of his guilt than "the spectre evidence is in law sufficient to prove a person accused by such evidence to be a witch.[63] When Maule was acquitted by the jury, press freedom had won its first major trial victory in America.[64] Maule celebrated by publishing in 1697 a pamphlet, New-England Persecutors Mauled with their own Weapons.[65]

Second, as a considerable degree of self-rule for Massachusetts was reestablished at the end of the century, leaders could return to Reformation principles and relax the censorship procedures that had stopped Benjamin Harris. Licensing laws remained on the books, but in 1700 Increase Mather published a treatise without a license, as did others. Moreover, even as ministers were complaining of theological laxity, the corruption story was being widely accepted, even by political officials, as the most appropriate narrative framework. That broad acceptance opened the way for publication in 1704 of the Boston News-Letter, America's first newspaper to last more than one issue.

The News-Letter's first editor, Boston postmaster John Campbell, had good ties to both the political establishment and to theological leaders. Campbell's writing was duller than that of Benjamin Harris, but he also was ready to print bad news noting that an "awful Providence" was "a Warning to all others to watch against the wiles of our Grand Adversary."[66] Campbell faithfully recorded what Increase Mather had termed "extraordinary judgments," and also reported mercies such as the rapid extinguishing of a fire through "God's good signal Providence."

Like Harris, Campbell hoped through his newspaper to see "a great many Providences now Recorded, that would otherwise be lost."[67] He editorially attacked immorality, profaneness, and counterfeiting."[68] Like many of his predecessors, he stressed accuracy: When Campbell reported a minister's prayer at the hanging of six pirates in Boston in June 1704, he noted that he was quoting the prayer "as near as it could be taken in writing in the great crowd."[69] He made many errors but tried to apologize for even small ones, such as the dropping of a comma in one issue.

The popularity of news ballads and news sermons meant that Campbell could run more short news stories and leave some contextualization to others. For example, Campbell gave large space to a great storm that had created much damage in Europe and to the capture and execution of those six pirates, but did not need to contexualize the events fully; Campbell knew that Cotton Mather's sermon on the pirates, and Increase Mather's on the storm, were being published.[70] (Increase Mather was arguing that "We must be deaf indeed if such loud calls, if such astonishing Providences, do not at all awaken us."[71]) The News-Letter went on peacefully for the next decade and a half. It survived financially by mixing corruption story coverage with profitable publication of official notices. When a new postmaster, William Brooker, was appointed in 1719, Campbell continued publishing his newspaper and Brooker put out his own weekly, the Boston Gazette.[72] Two years later a third newspaper, the New England Courant, edited by James Franklin, joined in. Then came one more aftermath of the witch trials, and the most remembered press dispute in Massachusetts colonial history, one that gave Cotton Mather a chance to make journalistic restitution for his cravenness during the witch trials nearly three decades before."[73]

The new conflict began in 1721 when Dr. Zabdiel Boylston, supported by Cotton Mather, wanted to fight a smallpox epidemic raging in Boston by making use of the latest scientific innovation, inoculation. Dr. William Douglass, the only Boston physician with university training in medicine, knew for certain from his training that inoculation was dangerous nonsense. He tried to outflank Cotton Mather by appearing holier than him: Douglass charged that Boylston and Mather, instead of relying solely on God to fight disease, were restoring to "the extra groundless Machinations of Men."[74]

Cotton Mather thought this argument was theological and scientific nonsense. By then he had matured enough to keep from buckling under, and also had confidence in his understanding of the medical questions involved. (He had become known as one of the leading scientists of his day and was voted a member of the Royal Society in London.) Mather argued that God often uses human agencies and accomplishments to serve godly ends, and maintained that position when anti-inoculation politicians attacked him sharply. At one point a committee of Boston selectmen told Boylston to stop inoculations, but Boylston refused and Mather stuck to his supportive position, despite taking great abuse from the NewsLetter and Courant.[75]

Those editors sided with officialdom and opposed inoculation; in doing so, they brought up Mather's defense of the Salem witch trials, and argued that he was deluded then and deluded again.[76] Mather this time did not give in. Because the Boston Gazette favored inoculation, Mather and his associates had a ready vehicle for their ideas. The debate raged for weeks, until it became clear that inoculation worked. Mather had erred once before in a crucial situation, but this time his journalistic effort saved lives.[77]

NEXT » The Establishment of American Press Liberty
« PREVIOUS Perils of the Puritan Press

CHAPTER 3 A New Planting of the Corruption Story Notes

1. Quoted in Leonard Levy, Emergence of a Free Press (New York, 1985), p. 18.

2. Ibid., pp. 19-20.

3. Charles M. Andrews, ed., Narratives of the Insurrections, 1675-1690 (New York, 1915), p. 309.

4. Ibid.

5. During this period, walking the tightrope of reformation without revolution was akin to walking the plank. For example, in 1698 Philip Clark, although a member of the Maryland assembly, was sentenced to 6 months in jail for criticizing Governor Francis Nicholson. According to the governor's Council, Clark's criticism was incitement to rebellion not because he actually suggested such an activity, but because his critique would reduce the esteem in which the governor was heldand that was seen as the first step toward rebellion.

6. John Harvard's gift of books for a new college was important, but Harvard's founders had to overcome political as well as material obstacles: They were challenging royal authority. In England, the universities at Oxford and Cambridge were arms of the government, which had a monopoly on the granting of college diplomas; Harvard, however, awarded its first diplomas in 1642, without royal authorization. The timing, it turned out, was good: In 1642 a king besieged and eventually to be beheaded was in no position to assert his authority.

7. Quoted in Benjamin Hart, Faith and Freedom (Dallas, TX, 1988), p. 121.

8. Clyde Duniway, The Development of Freedom of the Press in Massachusetts (Cambridge, MA, 1906), pp. 34-35.

9. Samuel Danforth, The City of Sodom Enquired Into (Cambridge, MA, 1674), cited in David Nord, "Teleology and News: The Religious Roots of American Journalism, 1630-1730, paper presented to the History Division, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), Portland, OR, July, 1988, p. 8.

10. Cited in Isaiah Thomas, History of Printing in America (Worcester, MA, two volumes, 1810), I, 83.

11. Harry S. Stout, The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England (New York, 1986), p. 3.

12. Ibid. As Stout noted, "Twice on Sunday and often once during the week, every minister in New England delivered sermons lasting between one and two hours in length. Collectively over the entire span of the colonial period, sermons totalled over five million separate messages in a society whose population never exceeded one-half million . . . . The average weekly churchgoer in New England (and there were far more churchgoers than church members) listened to something like seven thousand sermons in a lifetime, totaling somewhere around fifteen thousand hours of concentrated listening." (pp. 34)

13. See Alice M. Baldwin, The New England Clergy and the American Revolution (New York, 1928), p. 4.

14. Studies show that most publications in New England in the seventeenth century were event oriented. David Nord's review of the seventeenth century titles listed in Charles Evans' American Bibliography shows that 426 of 777 (55%) were linked clearly to events. (Nord, p. 10)

15. Quoted in Stout, p. 77.

16. Cited in Nord, p. 12. Nord, an exception to the lack of interest among leading journalism historians in the religious roots of American journalism, pointed out correctly that "Increase Mather's publication record in the last quarter of the seventeenth century represents the first major flowering [of] indigenous American journalism."

17. Some Meditations Concerning our Honourable Gentlemen and Fellow-Souldiers (Boston, 1675).

18. Increase Mather, A Brief History . . . (Boston, 1676), included in So Dreadfull a Judgment: Puritan Responses to King Philip's War, 16761677, Richard Slotkin and James K. Folsom, eds., (Middletown, Conn. 1978), pp. 113, 119.

19. Ibid., p. 109. On another occasion colonial soldiers pursued Philip's army into a swamp but withdrew just as Philip was about to surrender. "The desperate Distress which the Enemy was in was unknown to us," Mather reported; rather than bewailing a lost opportunity, however, he wrote how "God saw that we were not yet fit for Deliverance" (p. 90).

20. Ibid., p. 92.

21. Ibid., p. 130.

22. Ibid., p. 140.

23. Ibid., pp. 176-177.

24. Ibid., pp. 191, 193.

25. Increase Mather, An Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences (Boston, 1684), preface.

26. Ibid.

27. Ibid.

28. Ibid.

29. Mather, A Brief History . . ., p. 125. Nord, in noting the protest of Robert Middlekauff that Mather's procedure was "not genuinely empirical," pointed out that "it is empirical in its way. The empirical data are the statements of the sources. Mather's method is the empiricism of the news reporter, not the scientist."

30. Mather wrote about not only political events but storms, earthquakes, and fires. He stated, in Burnings Bewailed (Boston, 1711), that all such events were "ordered by the Providence of God . . . When a fire is kindled among a people, it is the Lord that hath kindled it."

31. Nord, p. 11.

32. Increase Mather, A Brief History . . ., in Slotkin and Folsom, p. 81.

33. Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana (London, 1702), vol. II, p. 341.

34. Quoted in Barrett Wendell, Cotton Mather (New York, 1891), p. 46.

35. Wise was ordered to pay a fine of 50 pounds (the equivalent of about $5,000) and to post a bond for 1,000 pounds ($100,000) to guarantee his good behavior.

36. Kenneth Silverman, The Life and Time of Cotton Mather (New York, 1984), p. 74.

37. Willian and Mary's ascension was called the "Glorious Revolution," because the coup was militarily unresisted and the bloodshed of the English civil war was not repeated.

38. Duniway, pp. 6768.

39. A Short but Just Account of the Tryal of Benjamin Harris . . . (London, 1679), p. 8.

40. Benjamin Harris, A Relation of the Fearful Estate of Francis Spira (London, 1683), p. 4.

41. Some details of his life, although not his theology, are provided in J. G. Muddiman, "Benjamin Harris, the First American Journalist," Notes and Queries 163 (1932), pp. 129-133, 147-150, 166-170, 223, and 273-274 (Muddiman's article was spread over several issues).

42. Harris, Spira, p. 11.

43. Ibid., p. 13.

44. See Carolyn Cline (Southwest Texas State University), "The Puritan Revolutionary: The Role of Cotton Mather in the Founding of Publick Occurrences,' " paper presented to AEJMC, p. 4.

45. Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick, September 25, 1690.

46. Ibid.

47. Ibid.

48. Ibid.

49. Ibid.

50. See Cline, op. cit.

51. One of the stories he produced, entitled "The Irreligious Life, and Miserable Death of Mr. George Edwards, who committed suicide on January 4, 1704," indicates the type of coverage of news events that Harris evidently would have developed in America, if he had been given the opportunity. Harris first described how "Edwards threw himself upon a Belief, that All Things came by Nature, and that what Christians call the Providence of God, was purely Accident and Chance." Then, ideas had consequences: "These Notions thus imbid'd, led him to a voluptuous and sensual Life; and consequently devoted him to an Atheistical Conversation." For years Edwards "continued to run on in Infidelity, Impenitence, and Drunkenness. In his drink he was Mad, and out of it, in a melancholly despairing Condition . . . . Thus he hurry'd away his Precious Time, 'till his Estate became morgag'd, and his Affairs ran backwards; the thoughts of which, with the Horrors of Conscience for disowning his Maker, and living a prophane, debauch'd Life, threw him into extream Despair." Finally Edwards shot and killed himself: "Here was the dreadful End of his Atheism, and Infidelity, his Irreligion and Impiety. In this horrible manner did he cut off his Life and Hopes at one Blow, and, without any Fear of God, or Regard to the Good of his Soul, launch'd out into an unalterable Eternity." (included in sixth edition of Benjamin Harris, A Relation of the Fearful Estate of Francis Spira (London, 1718).

52. Chadwick Hansen, "Some of the Witches Were Guilty," in Marc Mappen, ed., Witches and Historians (Huntington, NY, 1980), p. 46.

53. See "Appendix: List of Known Witchcraft Cases in Seventeenth Century New England," in John Demos, Entertaining Satan (New York, 1982), pp. 401409.

54. Quoted in Perry Miller, The New England Mind: From Colony to Province (Boston, 1953), p. 194. The Return of Several Ministers, a pamphlet of unknown authorship published in June 1692, made the same point.

55. Chadwick Hansen, Witchcraft at Salem (New York, 1969), argues that some of those executed probably did try to practice witchcraft, but others did not.

56. Mather made this offer in August 1692, while again stating that spectral evidence is fallacious.

57. Increase Mather's strong sense of God's sovereignty led him to state that it would be better for ten of the guilty to escape than for one innocent person to be put to death wrongly; he argued that if there is no convincing proof of a crime, God does not intend the perpetrator to be discovered.

58. Increase Mather, Cases of Conscience (Boston, 1692), p. 10.

59. Miller, p. 195.

60. "Command" was Mather's word for it.

61. Cotton Mather, The Wonders of the Invisible World (Boston, 1692), p. 1.

62. Miller, p. 191.

63. Quoted in Clyde Augustus Duniway, The Development of Freedom of the Press in Massachusetts (New York, 1905, reprinted 1969), p. 73.

64. The grounds for acquittal were technical, but the jury did pass up an opportunity to shut up a writer disliked by New England leaders.

65. Thomas Maule, New-England Persecutors Mauled with their own Weapons (New York, 1697).

66. Boston NewsLetter, August 6, 1705.

67. Ibid., April 30, 1704.

68. Ibid., July 24 and October 30, 1704.

69. Ibid., June 30, 1704.

70. Ibid.. May 29, 1704; June 5, June 12, 19, 26, and July 3, 1704.

71. Mather, The Voice of God in Stormy Winds (Boston, 1704), quoted in Nord, p. 29.

72. Begun on December 21, 1719, by editor William Brooker, Campbell's successor as postmaster.

73. Perry Miller (p. 206) found excerpts in Mather's diaries of 1694 and 1696 that show him still churning about the "unheard of DELUSIONS" at Salem and the "Inextricable Things we have met withal." Later, Mather continued to agonize about how "divers were condemned, against whom the chief evidence was found in the spectral exhibitions."

74. Boston NewsLetter, July 24, 1721.

75. John B. Blake, "The Inoculation Controversy in Boston: 1721-1722," New England Quarterly 35 (December, 1952), p. 493.

76. Historians have given the Courant an antiestablishment reputation, because it opposed Cotton Mather, but that is an error; the "establishment," although united in religious belief, had become politically pluralistic.

77. Ironically, it was the bravery of Mather that resurrected tales of his former cravenness. As Perry Miller noted concerning the witchcraft trials, they were quickly forgotten at the time, and seen as just one more problem that temporarily overtook New England: "For twentyeight years this cataclysm hardly appears on the recorduntil summoned from the deep by opponents of inoculation as a stick to beat the clergy for yet another 'delusion.' Only in 1721 does it begin to be that blot on New England's fame which has been enlarged, as much by friends as by foes, into its greatest disgrace." (Miller, p. 191).