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Presidents and the Media: Thomas Nast

Political cartoons have been a part of social commentary for centuries, and during the 19th century one of the most influential political cartoonists was Thomas Nast. Nast is credited with creating both the elephant as the symbol of the Republican Party, and the donkey as the symbol of the Democratic Party. Apropos of this month, he is even credited with creating our modern version of Santa Claus. The German-born Nast came to be known as the "father of the American cartoon" and he could often say more in a drawing than many could in lengthy speeches and editorials. He is credited with being a driving force behind the end of the corrupt Tweed Ring in New York.

Thomas Nast was born on September 27, 1840 in Landau, Germany. In 1846, his father Joseph Nast left Landau, enlisting on an American ship. He sent his wife and children to New York City, and at the end of his enlistment in 1850. Young Thomas Nast attended school in New York City from the age of six to fourteen. He was a poor student, but a very talented artist. In 1854, he was enrolled at the school of the National Academy of Design. In 1856, he started working Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. His drawings appeared for the first time in Harper's Weekly on March 19, 1859, as part of an article about police corruption.

In February 1860, he went to England for the New York Illustrated News to draw a prize fight between the American John C. Heenan and the English Thomas Sayers. A few months later, as an artist for The Illustrated London News, he joined Garibaldi in Italy. In February 1861, he returned to New York. In 1862, he became a staff illustrator for Harper's Weekly. In his first years with Harper's, Nast became known for sentimental subject matter, including his famous cartoon "Christmas Eve", penned in 1862, in which a wreath frames a scene of a soldier's praying wife and sleeping children at home. A second wreath frames the soldier seated by a campfire, gazing at small pictures of his loved ones. Another of his most famous cartoons was called "Compromise with the South", published in 1864, directed against those in the North who opposed the prosecution of the American Civil War. Nast's cartoons depicted themes in support of the Union cause during the war, and President Abraham Lincoln called Nast "our best recruiting sergeant".

After the war, Nast strongly opposed the Reconstruction policy of President Andrew Johnson. He depicted Johnson in a series of cartoons that mocked Johnson, depicting him as "King Andy". Other recurring themes in Nast's cartoons were racism and anti-Catholicism. Nast was baptized a Catholic. He converted to Protestantism prior to his marriage in 1861. Nast considered the Catholic Church as a threat to American values. When Tammany Hall proposed a new tax to support parochial Catholic schools, Nast was outraged. In a famous 1871 cartoon called "The American River Ganges," he depicted Catholic bishops, guided by Rome, as crocodiles moving in to attack American school children as Irish politicians. He viewed public support for religious education as a threat to democratic government. Nast favored nonsectarian public education.

Nast also drew anti-Irish themed cartoons. He depicting the Irish as violent drunks. He used Irish people as a symbol of mob violence, machine politics, and the exploitation of immigrants by political bosses. In the neighborhood in which he grew up, acts of violence by the Irish against black Americans were common sights. In 1863, Nast witnessed the New York City draft riots in which a mob composed mainly of Irish immigrants burned the Colored Orphan Asylum to the ground.

Nast's political cartoons were supportive of American Indians and Chinese Americans. He advocated the abolition of slavery, opposed racial segregation, and deplored the violence of the Ku Klux Klan. One of his more famous cartoons, entitled "Worse than Slavery," showed a despondent black family holding their dead child as a schoolhouse is destroyed by fire, as two members of the Ku Klux Klan and White League, paramilitary insurgent groups in the Reconstruction-era South, shake hands.

Nast's drawings were instrumental in the downfall of Boss Tweed, the powerful Tammany Hall leader. As commissioner of public works for New York City, Tweed led a ring that by 1870 had gained total control of the city's government, and had a majority of State Legislators in his pocket. Tweed and his associates Peter Barr Sweeny (park commissioner), Richard B. Connolly (controller of public expenditures), and Mayor A. Oakey Hall, defrauded the city of many millions of dollars. They accepted kickbacks by grossly inflating expenses paid to contractors. Nast published cartoons attacking Tammany corruption, focusing on the four principal players in 1870 and 1871. Tweed sent an emissary to offer Nast a bribe of $100,000, which was presented as a gift from a group of wealthy benefactors to enable Nast to study art in Europe. Nast pretended to be interested and he negotiated for more before finally refusing an offer of $500,000 with the words, "Well, I don't think I'll do it. I made up my mind not long ago to put some of those fellows behind the bars". Nast pressed his attack in the pages of Harper's, and the Tweet Ring was defeated in the election of November 7, 1871. Tweed was arrested in 1873 and convicted of fraud. When Tweed attempted to escape justice in December 1875 by fleeing to Cuba and from there to Spain, officials in Vigo, Spain, were able to identify the Tweed by using one of Nast's cartoons.

Harper's Weekly, and Nast, supported the re=election of Abraham Lincoln in 1864, and the election of Ulysses S. Grant in 1868 and Grant's re-election in 1872. In September 1864, Lincoln was running for re-election against Democratic candidate George B. McClellan, who positioned himself as the "peace candidate". Harper's Weekly published Nast's cartoon "Compromise with the South - Dedicated to the Chicago Convention". In it Nast criticized McClellan's peace platform as pro-South. Millions of copies were made and distributed nationwide, and Nast was later credited with aiding Lincoln's campaign.

Nast played important role during the presidential election in 1868. Ulysses S. Grant credited his victory to "the sword of Sheridan and the pencil of Thomas Nast." In the 1872 presidential campaign, Nast's ridicule of Horace Greeley's candidacy was especially severe. After Grant's victory in 1872, Mark Twain wrote the artist a letter saying: "Nast, you more than any other man have won a prodigious victory for Grant—I mean, rather, for Civilization and Progress." Nast became a close friend of President Grant and the two families shared regular dinners until Grant's death in 1885.

In 1873, Nast toured the United States as a lecturer and a sketch-artist. His lecture circuit made him a lot of money. He remained a staunch Republican and he supported Rutherford B. Hayes in the presidential election in 1876. Hayes later remarked that Nast was "the most powerful, single-handed aid I had". But Nast quickly became disillusioned with President Hayes and his policy of Southern pacification.

When the Weekly's publisher Fletcher Harper died in 1877, this resulted in a change in the relationship between Nast and his editor George William Curtis. Nast's cartoons appeared less frequently, and he was restricted in his ability to criticize Hayes or his policies. Nast and Curtis frequently differed on political matters and Curtis did not approve of Nast's cartoons assailing Republicans such as Carl Schurz and Charles Sumner who opposed policies of the Grant administration. Fletcher Harper had consistently supported Nast in his disputes with Curtis. After his death, his nephews, Joseph W. Harper Jr. and John Henry Harper, assumed control of the magazine and were more supportive of Curtis. Between 1877 and 1884, Nast's work appeared only sporadically in Harper's, which began publishing the milder political cartoons of William Allen Rogers.

During the presidential election of 1880, Nast felt that he could not support the Republican candidate, James A. Garfield, because of Garfield's involvement in the Crédit Mobilier scandal. He also did not wish to attack the Democratic candidate, Winfield Scott Hancock, his personal friend and a Union general who he respected. He submitted no cartoons to Harper's between the end of March 1883 and March 1, 1884, partly because of illness. In 1884, Curtis and Nast agreed that they could not support the Republican candidate James G. Blaine, a proponent of high tariffs and the spoils system, something that they perceived as corrupt. Instead, they supported Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland, whose platform of civil service reform appealed to them. Nast's cartoons helped Cleveland become the first Democrat to be elected President since 1856.

Nast's tenure at Harper's Weekly ended with his Christmas illustration of December 1886. In losing Nast, Harper's Weekly lost its political clout. Nast lost most of his fortune in 1884 after investing in a banking and brokerage firm operated by the swindler Ferdinand Ward. He returned to the lecture circuit in 1884 and 1887. In 1890, Nast published Thomas Nast's Christmas Drawings for the Human Race. He contributed cartoons in various publications, but was unable to regain his earlier popularity. Health problems, which included pain in his hands which had troubled him since the 1870s, affected his ability to work.

In 1892, he took control of a failing magazine, the New York Gazette, and renamed it Nast's Weekly. A Republican once again, Nast used the Weekly as a vehicle for his cartoons supporting Benjamin Harrison for president. The magazine had little impact and ceased publication seven months after it began. The failure of Nast's Weekly left Nast with few financial resources. He received a few commissions for oil paintings and drew book illustrations. In 1902, he applied for a job in the State Department, hoping to secure a consular position in western Europe. President Theodore Roosevelt was an admirer of the artist and offered him an appointment as the United States' Consul General to Guayaquil, Ecuador in South America. Nast accepted the position and traveled to Ecuador on July 1, 1902. During a subsequent yellow fever outbreak, Nast contracted the disease and died on the following December 7. His body was returned to the United States, where he was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.

A William Howard Taft Christmas

More than a few historians have noted the similarity between the corpulent, jovial William Howard Taft and a certain North Pole resident named Santa Claus. The big lug from Ohio had more in common with St. Nick than just waist size. Taft was reported to be a warm, generous and good-natured man.


One of the first mentions of a connection between Taft as a public figure and Christmas goes back to his time as the military governor of the Philippines. Taft held the office during a period of civil strife amid battling factions on the islands, in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War. Each year, leading up to the winter holiday, Taft would review the long list of military and political prisoners and issue pardons or reduced sentences to those individuals he deemed most deserving. Prisons were badly overcrowded during this violent period, and Taft was reported to be generous when it came to issuing the pardons. One of his most famous and controversial instances of clemency concerned the case of a priest who had brutally killed the leader of the war-torn city of Taylay during a violent uprising. Taft reduced his death sentence to one of 20 years in prison.

When Taft was elected President in the election of 1908, he did so with very little support from the South. Despite this, Taft intentionally chose the city of Augusta, Georgia as the location of his family’s Christmas vacation. Taft wanted to show that he held no grudge against those who had voted against him and that he would represent the interests of all Americans. His family spent part of their time at the residence of a Mr. Hack, who had been a prominent supporter of William Jennings Bryan. (Taft had defeated Bryan a month earlier in the presidential election.) Mr. Hack presented the Taft family with a native holly tree as a gesture of goodwill. The evergreen mistletoe on the tree was said to represent a much hoped-for era of good feelings between the political parties and the regions.

In a letter to his sister-in law, Taft wrote that the family was greatly enjoying their stay in Georgia, complaining only that his children hardly spoke and when his wife Nellie spoke, it was generally to criticize his efforts at cabinet-making. He also commented that Nellie had adapted much better and was far more enthusiastic than he to have become a part of Washington’s elite political society. Many people believed that Nellie Taft was the one who convinced her husband to follow Theodore Roosevelt’s plan for Taft to pursue the presidency in 1908, as opposed to doing what Taft wanted: an appointment to the United States Supreme Court.

During his time in office, Taft was known for his generous nature, which was apparent in the scope and number of Christmas gifts he sent out. Taft did not limit his gifts to family and friends, his Christmas list often numbered in the hundreds. He would send out presidential Christmas cards to accompany the gifts. Often, his aides would have to scramble to acquire more White House cards as the list grew in length. Taft would usually spend several days going Christmas shopping. Among his favorite items to send were books and jewelry, and he always made his own selections. On each of the books he sent, he would write a personal sentiment inside the cover, giving these objects a lasting historical value.

Taft would also present Christmas gifts to all of the White House clerks. He also sent a Christmas turkey to all married White House employees – usually just over 100 turkeys. He would also give a personal holiday remembrance to each of the Secret Service men assigned to protect him. According to press reports, a 35–40 pound prize turkey, delivered by Horace Vose, the poultry king of Rhode Island, graced the table of the first family every Christmas, along with "Aunt Delia's goodies." The president's Aunt Delia Torrey of Millbury, Massachusetts, always sent "Nephew Will" an eagerly anticipated package of apple pies, jellies, and jams made from fruit grown on the Torrey property.

President and Mrs. Taft enjoyed Christmas shopping in downtown Washington along with holiday crowds. It is said that on occasion Taft would slip away from his Secret Service detail to stroll through the city, often with his friend and aide Archibald Butt. On Christmas Eve in 1911, the president and first lady secretly left the White House on foot to call on friends as a surprise. When the Secret Service discovered their absence, there was widespread panic. Chief John Wilkie and his men scurried all over town searching for them. Eventually, President Taft returned to the White House smiling broadly with Mrs. Taft holding his arm.

In 1909, Taft's son Robert, was nineteen and was a junior at Yale. His daughter Helen, seventeen, was a student at Bryn Mawr. Only their youngest child, Charles, eleven, lived with his parents year round at the White House. In 1912 while President and Mrs. Taft were away on an inspection of the Panama Canal, Robert and Helen hosted the family celebrations and held a Christmas tree party in the Blue Room for their young cousins. The huge tree decorated with thousands of electric lights, set a precedent for decorating a tree on the State Floor for guests. Although absent, President and Mrs. Taft still provided gifts for friends and each employee of the White House received a fat turkey, a practice began by presidents in the nineteenth century.
As author Harold Holzer points out in his 2015 book Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion (reviewed here in this community), during the Civil War, the battle for public opinion was almost as important as the battles fought with bullets and bayonets. President Abraham Lincoln was a master tactician when it came to using public opinion as both a political weapon as well as a military aid. He used the press not only to get his message out in an era before electronic mass communication, but also to prevent his opponents from having similar access to the hearts and minds of the people. He did this through the use of military censorship, control of the post office and telegraphs, and through the use of patronage.

At the time, New York City was the media capital of the western world. The big three media moguls in New York City were Horace Greeley of the Tribune, James Gordon Bennett of the Herald, and Henry Raymond of the Times. Each had interesting life stories and personalities. There were also many other influential newspapers in other parts of the country, including in Washington D.C., Philadelphia and in Lincoln's home state of Illinois, where Lincoln purchased a newspaper printed in German to bolster his electoral chances in that state.

Lincoln used censorship of those journalists and newspapers whose views did not accord with the administration or its prosecution of the war, justifying the practice as being one which saved lives by shortening the war (or more accurately, but not enabling Lincoln's enemies to prolong the war by raising the spirits of those who opposed the Union). Many newspapers that were critical of the Union cause were censored of shut down. Their reporters were treated differently depending on how they reported from the battlefield, and some editors were even jailed for their anti-administration views. Often it was members of the public, through mob actions, who took it upon themselves to violently censor the newspapers. Freedom of the press was a casualty of the Civil War, and the real debate is whether or not this was justified under the circumstances of the time.

Lincoln also used the press as a means of getting his message to the people in a era before the ability to speak directly to the masses existed (i.e. at a time before radio and television.) For example, when emancipation became an issue, Lincoln wrote his famous response to Horace Greeley's "Prayer of Twenty Millions" editorial, which accused Lincoln of using his abolitionist leanings as the reason for the death of so many young men in the war. In response, Lincoln famously wrote "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that".


In mid-August 1861, four newspapers in New York City: the New York Daily News, the Journal of Commerce, Day Book, and Freeman’s Journal were all given a presentment by a Grand Jury of the United States Circuit Court for "frequently encouraging the rebels by expressions of sympathy and agreement". A series of federal prosecutions of newspapers throughout the northern United States followed. The target was any newspaper that printed expressions of sympathy for Southern causes or criticisms of the Lincoln Administration. Lists of "peace newspapers" were published in the New York Daily News and many of these met with retributions. For example, the Bangor Democrat, in Maine, was one of these newspapers. A group believed to be part of a covert Federal raid, destroyed the newspaper's printing press and burned down the newspaper facility.

Lincoln sanctioned the censorship of newspapers that were sympathetic to the confederacy by the use of executive orders that he issued. His eighth order issued on August 7, 1861, which made it both illegal and punishable by death to hold "correspondence with" or give "intelligence to the enemy, either directly or indirectly". Many strong union supporters interpreted this as explicit permission for action against these papers, either through lawful means, or through vigilante justice as occurred in Bangor.

Lincoln was able to effect control of press censorship because in those days, stories were filed by telegraph and Lincoln controlled telegraph usage. Censorship of news dispatches filed in Washington began in April in 1861, a time when the government assumed control of the telegraph wires commencing from the city. Control of censorship was first placed under the Treasury Department, then transferred to the War Department, then to the State Department and then back to the War Department, under whose authority it remained from February 25, 1862, on. Journalist Ben Perley Poore wrote in his memoirs:

"The Washington press was despotically governed during the war. The established censorship was under the direction of men wholly unqualified, and on several occasions the printed editions of influential journals, Republican or Democratic were seized by Secretary Stanton for having published intelligence which he thought should have been suppressed. Bulletins were issued by the War Department, but they were often incorrect. It was known that the Washington papers, full of military information, were forwarded through the lines daily, yet the censors would not permit paragraphs clipped from those papers to be telegraphed to Boston or Chicago, where they could not appear sooner than they did in the Richmond papers. The declaration, ‘I am a newspaper correspondent,’ which had in former years carried with it the imposing force of the famous, ‘I am a Roman citizen,’ no longer entitled one to the same proud prerogatives, and journalists were regarded as spies and sneaks."

This type of censorship became necessary because Northern papers quickly found their way into hands of Confederate generals. Lincoln tried to pursue a middle course on censorship. When Missouri Radicals complained about General John M. Schofield "muzzling the press" in September 1863, Lincoln responded: "I think when an office in any department finds that a newspaper is pursuing a course calculated to embarrass his operations and stir up sedition and tumult, he has the right to lay hands upon it and suppress it, but in no other case.

Lincoln gave a number of informal interviews to reporters he trusted, but he did not hold press conferences. When Washington correspondents looked for news, they sought out Congressmen.

Drastic measures were sometimes taken where it was seen necessary for military purposes.There were repeated civil and military actions to shut down newspapers for supposedly seditious behavior. This was more common early in the war in the border states of Maryland and Missouri, but actions were also taken in big northern cities like Chicago and New York. Such actions were sometimes headaches for Lincoln. He acted to reverse such suppression on occasion, such as when the Chicago Times was shut down by General Ambrose Burnside on June 2, 1863. The Times, under editor Roger Storey, had become progressively more anti-war and harshly criticized Burnside’s arrest of former Congressman Clement Vallandigham the previous month. Popular opinion in Chicago was inflamed, both for and against Burnside. Fearing street violence, a group of Chicago civic leaders sent a petition to the White House. Congressman Isaac Arnold asked Lincoln to reverse Burnside’s action, which the President did on June 4. Lincoln telegraphed orders suggesting that the order be lifted, to which Burnside followed with an order to revoke General Order 84 on June 4, 1863.

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Lincoln was careful to cultivate northern editors as he approached reelection in 1864. He had appointed many journalists to federal office including John Bigelow of the New York Evening Post, as a diplomat in Paris; Thomas McElrath, New York Tribune, as appraiser at the New York customhouse; D.P. Holloway, Richmond Palladium, as commissioner of patents; John L. Scripps as postmaster in Chicago; James Watson Webb of the New York Courier and Enquirer as minister to Brazil; and John D. Defrees, Indianapolis Atlas, as superintendent of public printing. In the fall of 1864, President Lincoln hinted at the possibility of other appointments before key editors, including the postmaster general for Horace Greeley and Minister to France for James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald.

Lincoln was skillful in his use of the media during the war, even though this did not always endear him to the press. But as one writer on this subject observed, "Most of the leading American newspapers were anti-Lincoln in 1860, and they remained anti-Lincoln till April 15, 1865, when they suddenly discovered that President had been the greatest man in the world."

A Martin Van Buren Christmas

(Note: This is a repost of an article from an earlier series about Presidents and Christmas)

Not much is written about how America’s first Dutch president Martin Van Buren and his family celebrated the Christmas holiday season during his term in office. A severe "panic" or economic depression hit the nation on Van Buren's watch, and there was little to celebrate during those trying times. According to one historian, Van Buren’s most enduring Christmastime contribution was selecting the color of decor for the White House State Room (which became known as the Blue Room, and remained the same hue ever since). The Blue Room is where the official Christmas tree has come to be placed and where holiday celebrations are held each year.

Throughout his life and presidency, a number of memorable events took place during the Christmas season. For example Van Buren became governor of New York one week after Christmas of 1828.

According to author Jon Meacham in his book American Lion, on Christmas Day of 1835, Jackson celebrated the holiday with his Vice-President, Van Buren. Van Buren and all of Jackson’s grandchildren played tag in the White House’s East Room. When Van Buren lost a game of tag, he was required to shout, “Here I stand all ragged and dirty, if you don’t kiss me I’ll run like a turkey.” When no one kissed him, he had to do a turkey dance across the room. Later, when presents were opened, Van Buren got a hand-painted mirror. One observer joked that this was the perfect give for the Vice-President, who, the observer quipped, was “on very good terms with his looking-glass.”

In his First Presidential Address to Congress, in December of 1837, Van Buren called for the establishment of an independent treasury to combat the banking crisis.

It was four days after Christmas of 1837 that the “Caroline Affair” took place. This incident involved Canadian troops seizing a U.S. steamboat which had been leased to Canadian insurrectionists. One American was killed. A week later, Van Buren issued a proclamation warning U.S. citizens not to assist in the Canadian revolt. He dispatched Federal troops to the Canada/Maine border.

Canada was still a British Colony in 1837 and for the next few holiday seasons, no White House Christmas cards were sent to Queen Victoria of England. On the day after his final Christmas in the White House in 1840, tensions with Great Britain eased when Alexander McLeod was found not guilty of murder. McLeod, a Canadian, has been arrested in New York for his involvement in the Caroline Affair.

Van Buren was featured in an 1848 political cartoon entitled "shooting the Christmas Turkey". At the time he was he Presidential Candidate for the Free Soil Party. In the cartoon, Democratic and Whig candidates debate strategies to win the presidency, or "shoot the Christmas turkey," as the Free Soil candidate Van Buren makes off with the bird. At left Democrat Lewis Cass (facing front) and Whig Zachary Taylor (facing left), both in military uniform and holding rifles, quarrel about the turkey which is chained to a stake in the center. Taylor: "I tell you, Cass, that I prefer coming to close quarters. It will be as fair for you as for me." Cass: "But I prefer long shots. It will give more chance for the exercise of skill & ingenuity." Taylor running mate Millard Fillmore enters from the left and sighting Van Buren exclaims, "Blood and thunder! I thought that infernal fox was dead: but he has come out of his hole and carried off the prize, while we have been disputing about the preliminaries!" On the far right, Van Buren, as a fox, grasps the turkey by the neck as David Wilmot cheers, "Huzza! Huzza! Victory! Victory!" Wilmot holds up the famous and controversial Wilmot Proviso of 1846, which forbade slavery in territories acquired by the United States in the Mexican War. The measure, embraced by Van Buren but sidestepped by Cass and Taylor, was a burning issue in the 1848 campaign. On the ground in the center of the scene sits New York editor Horace Greeley with a tally sheet marked "Taylor" and "Cass" nearby. Greeley thumbs his nose at Taylor and Cass and says, "Well, Gentlemen, my place has become a sinecure. I need not keep tally for you now." An ardent and powerful Whig spokesman in the 1844 election, Greeley, editor of the influential New York Tribune, had withheld his support for Taylor until late in the 1848 campaign.

Happy Birthday Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren was the 8th President of the United States and today is his birthday. Van Buren, also known as "the Little Magician" for his political prowess, was born on December 5, 1782 (234 years ago today) in the village of Kinderhook, New York. His father Abraham Van Buren was a farmer and a tavern keeper who was also the owner of six slaves. Although he would serve as Vice President in the administration of one of the most staunch defenders of the institution of slavery (Andrew Jackson), Little Van would later break with his party on that issue.


They called him "Little Van", most likely because he was one of the shortest Presidents at 5 feet, 6 inches. Van Buren was known as for his impeccable appearance, notwithstanding his humble background. This was something that was used against him by the Whig Party spin doctors in the election of 1840. As a young lawyer he became involved in New York politics rising to a lofty position in his New York political organization from which he dispensed public offices to optimum effect for his party. In 1821 was elected to the United States Senate.

By 1827 he had emerged as the principal northern leader for President Andrew Jackson. Jackson rewarded Van Buren by appointing him Secretary of State, which in those days gave one a leg up in the race to become president. Van Buren emerged as Jackson's most trusted adviser. Jackson described Van Buren as "a true man with no guile."

A rift developed in Jackson's Cabinet became serious because of Jackson's differences with Vice President John C. Calhoun over nullification of federal laws and also because of something called "the Pettycoat Affair" in which the wives of Jackson's cabinet became very catty to Peggy Eaton, the wife of Jackson's Secretary of War. When Jackson asked for the resignations of his cabinet, Van Buren and Secretary Eaton resigned and Jackson appointed a new Cabinet. He rewarded Van Buren by appointing him Minister (Ambassador) to Great Britain. Vice President Calhoun, as President of the Senate, cast the deciding vote against the appointment. In response, Jackson dumped Calhoun from the Democratic Party ticket in the next election and replaced him with Van Buren, who was elected Vice President in 1832. Jackson groomed Van Buren to be his successor and Van Buren was elected President in 1836.

When Van Buren took office the country was prosperous, but less than three months later the panic of 1837 struck and that prosperity was gone quickly. Andrew Jackson's financial measures contributed to the crash, but the country blamed Van Buren. Jackson's destruction of the Second Bank of the United States had removed restrictions upon the inflationary practices of some state banks. Wild speculation in lands, based on easy bank credit, had swept the West. To end this speculation, in 1836 Jackson required that land be purchased with gold or silver. As a result hundreds of banks and businesses failed. Thousands lost their lands. For about five years the nation suffered the worst depression thus far in its history.

Van Buren's remedy was to continue Jackson's deflationary policies. It just made things worse. Van Buren opposed the creation of a new Bank of the United States and also opposed placing government funds in state banks. He fought for the establishment of an independent treasury system to handle Government transactions.

As President Van Buren was opposed to the expansion of slavery. He blocked the annexation of Texas because it would add to slave territory, an issue on which he broke with his mentor, Old Hickory. Van Buren was defeated by Whig candidate William Henry Harrison in his 1840 bid for reelection in the "Whiskey and Hard Cider" campaign, which utilized the "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" slogan and song.

Van Buren ran for his party's nomination for President again in the next election (1844), but without Jackson's support there was no chance of his getting the required two-thirds majority vote among the delegates. He ran for President yet again in 1848, this time on the Free Soil Party ticket (an anti-slavery party), but he lost once again.

Van Buren retired to his home in Kinderhook. He was one of five ex-presidents still living when the Civil War broke out, and once the war began, Van Buren made public his support for the Union. He supported Abraham Lincoln's efforts to prevent the southern states from seceding. After being bedridden with a case of pneumonia during the fall of 1861, Martin Van Buren died of bronchial asthma and heart failure at his Lindenwald estate in Kinderhook at 2:00 a.m. on July 24, 1862. He was 79 years old.
There have been a number of biographies of Ulysses Grant in recent years and they have been almost entirely (if not entirely) positive in their assessment of the life of the famed Union General who went on to become the 18th President of the United States. In his 2016 work American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses Grant, author Ronald C. White continues this trend. His strong admiration (bordering on adulation) for his subject appears justified, as White makes the case that Grant deserves to be admired for his courage, his humility, his fairness, and his integrity.

White presents a complete portrait of the life of Ulysses Grant, telling us about Grant's Puritan ancestry before leading us through Grant's birth and his boyhood, his time as a cadet at West Point, his service in the Mexican War, his peace time military career, his lost years between his two periods of military service, his fascinating careers as the most prominent and most successful Union general, his service during Reconstruction, his two terms as President, and his eventful life after the White House. Ulysses Grant led a life like no other American, and while it takes the author 657 pages to tell Grant's life story, the book never lags.

White does not avoid the controversial aspects of Grant's life: the accusations of drunkenness, his being known as "Grant the butcher" because of the high casualties that accumulated during his military campaigns, the many scandals during his administration and the corrupt men that Grant appointed to important government positions, and the losses suffered by investors in the firm operated by Grant's son after Grant's presidency. White relies on a variety of contemporary sources to defend Grant's reputation and his character in each of these instances, ably making the case that Grant remained principled and honest throughout.

Not all of Grant's most interesting accomplishments occurred on the battlefield, or even in the White House. White's accounts of Grant's fight to protect the rights of former slaves, both as a general and as president, present a compelling testimony to Grant's principled character that has been overlooked by many of his earlier biographers. White also provides an excellent account of Grant's round-the-world tour that followed his presidency, as well as his final battle, a race against the throat cancer that would ultimately take his life, as he worked to complete his memoirs in order to leave his family financially secure. The story of Grant, the devoted and loving husband and father, is also another aspect of Grant's life that White describes so well.

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It is clear that this work is a labor of love for its author. This is apparent from the acknowledgements section of the book, which offers a look at the depth of the author's research. White provides a strong case for placing Grant on an equal footing with Lincoln as a remarkable and admirable historic personality (which would explain why biographies of Grant are more common in recent years). When one looks at the Ulysses Grant that is presented by Ronald White, it is no wonder that Grant's reputation has been rehabilitated in recent biographies, and fairly so. Whether one's interest is in the civil war, the presidency or the study of leadership during the most trying of times, this book will provide great satisfaction to the reader.
Andrew Jackson was one of the earliest presidents not only to empower the common man, but to use his popularity with the common man as fuel for his political rise. Though perceived first and foremost for his qualities as a soldier, Jackson was much more of a deep thinker than often though of. He subscribed to at least 17 papers, and he understood the role of the changing media much better than his critics did. He personally involved himself in efforts to shape how he was covered in the press. For example, he once wrote a letter urging that a friendly, but alcoholic, newspaperman must be kept sober long enough to “scorch” one of Jackson’s political rivals.

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Jackson included many newspaper editors among his advisers. He made sure they established a pro-Jackson newspaper in Washington when he took office. Perhaps his closest media advisor was a man named Amos Kendall, a Massachusetts born journalist who had once worked for Jackson's fiercest rival Henry Clay.

Kendall, who was born in 1789, had been a lawyer in Groton, Massachusetts, practicing with prominent local lawyer William M. Richardson. When the War of 1812 broke out, joined the local militia, but wasn't much of a soldier. He was said to faint at the sight of blood, and was unable to withstand long marches. A physician certified him as unable to perform his duties and a bout of pneumonia in June 1813 left him bedridden for three weeks.

In the fall of 1813, Kendall decided to leave Massachusetts and relocate to Washington, D.C. He arrived in the capitol on March 2, 1814. Richardson had been elected to the United States House of Representatives. He was hired by Kentucky Senator Jesse Bledsoe to tutor his children. He left Washington for Lexington, Kentucky, arriving on April 12. Bledsoe's family was not keen on Kendall as a tutor, but as luck would have it, ge was hired by Henry Clay's wife Lucretia to educate the Clay's seven children. Mrs. Clay offered Kendall room, board, use of her husband's extensive library, and $300 a year (nearly three times as much as Bledsoe had promised). He eagerly accepted the offer, but spent only a year teaching the Clay children. The Clay children were a handful, but Kendall was able to elicit improvement in their studies and behavior.

Kendall quit his employment with the Clays on April 29, 1814 and obtained his licence to practice law in Kentucky. On June 3, Kendall attended a Democratic-Republican meeting at the home of Representative (and future Vice-President) Richard Mentor Johnson. Johnson was impressed with Kendall's writing, and offered to sell him the local Democratic-Republican newspaper, the Georgetown Minerva. Kendall chose not to buy the paper, but agreed to become its editor-in-chief. It was at this time that Kendall nearly died from a sudden illness. Lucretia Clay learned of his illness and brought him to Ashland where she nursed him back to health.

In September 1815, Kendall agreed to purchase a half-interest in the Georgetown Minerva from Johnson. Johnson had sold $800 of Kendall's promissory note to his brother, James Johnson, who cancelled Kendall's debt, took possession of the Minerva, and agreed to let Kendall edit a new newspaper he was founding (the Georgetown Patriot).

Kendall continued in the newspaper business until 1829, when he was appointed fourth auditor of the United States Department of the Treasury. The following year, Jackson supporters purchased control of the Washington Globe newspaper in Washington, D.C. The newspaper became the house organ of the Jackson administration. Kendall brought Jackson's nephew, Francis Preston Blair, to Washington to be the paper's editor-in-chief.

Along with Duff Green, Isaac Hill, and William Berkeley Lewis, Kendall was a member of Jackson's Kitchen Cabinet. But Kendall possessed the strongest voice in the Kitchen Cabinet. He seemed to have more influence over Jackson than any other Cabinet official or Kitchen Cabinet member. Kendall took many of Jackson's ideas about government and national policy and turned them into polished, official government statements and newspaper articles. These were then published in the Globe and other newspapers. Kendall was able to enhancing Jackson's image and reputation from a country bumpkin with a quick temper, into a deep-thinking intellectual with a national vision. Kendall drafted most parts of Jackson's five annual messages to Congress, and his statement vetoing the renewal of the charter of the Second Bank of the United States in 1836.

Kendall was rewarded on May 1, 1835, when he was appointed U.S Postmaster General. While he worked to eliminate corruption in the Post Office Department, he also manipulated operations of the Post Office Department so that western newspapers were delivered faster and received better service than eastern ones. The ulterior motive in this was that western newspapers tended to be more pro-Jackson than the eastern ones. He also allowed gave permission postal officials in slave states to refuse to deliver abolitionist literature.

Kendall's health took a turn for the worse in 1840 and he resigned as Postmaster General effective May 18, 1840. One of Kendall's enemies was former President John Quincy Adams, who was a bitter foe of both Jackson and his successor, Martin Van Buren. Adams wrote in his diary in December 1840 that he believed both Jackson and Van Buren had been "for twelve years the tool of Amos Kendall, the ruling mind of their dominion."

Even though his health was poor, Kendall wrote extensively for the Washington Extra Globe newspaper in the summer and fall of 1840 in an unsuccessful effort to boost Van Buren's chances for re-election. After the government changed in 1840, Kendall was sued for some of the restrictions he had imposed, as Postmaster General. This hurt him financially, but he later recovered as a result of his decision to invest in Samuel Morse's new invention, the telegraph. Kendall lived to the age of 80, and died in November of 1869.

It appears that Jackson learned the power of the press after opposition papers attacked him during the 1828 election campaign for marrying his wife Rachel before her divorce had been finalized. The personal attacks likely contributed to Rachel Jackson's death in December of 1828, after the election but before Jackson's inauguration. Rachel died suddenly on December 22, 1828, and was buried on Christmas Eve. Jackson blamed the Adams campaigners for her death. "May God Almighty forgive her murderers", he swore at her funeral. "I never can."
In the two previous posts in this series, mention has been made about the Alien and Sedition Acts. When many scholars list what they consider to be the most glaring mistakes made by Presidents, the Alien and Sedition Acts seem to show up on everyone's list. These were four bills that were passed by the Federalists in the 5th United States Congress and signed into law by President John Adams in 1798. They were meant to address an undeclared naval war with France that was taking place at the time, which became known as the Quasi-War. The laws were intended to strengthen national security. But many scholars and historians, as well as contemporary critics, have made the case that they were really just an attempt to silence those who disagreed with the Federalist party.

The four bills were:

(1) The Naturalization Act-it increased the residency requirement for American citizenship from 5 to 14 years
(2) The Alien and Sedition Act-it allowed the president to imprison or deport aliens that were considered "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States" at any time
(3) The Alien Enemies Act-it authorized the president to imprison or deport any male citizen of a hostile nation over the age of 14 during times of war
(4) The Sedition Act-this allowed the prosecution of those who were critical of the federal government.

At the time, the majority of immigrants supported Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans, who were the political opponents of the Federalists. These controversial pieces of legislation were denounced by Democratic-Republicans and were a major issue in the election of 1800 (won by Jefferson). The Sedition Act and the Alien Friends Act were allowed to expire in 1800 and 1801, respectively. The Alien Enemies Act, however, remains in effect today. (It has recently been considered as the means by which President-elect Donald Trump could fulfill a campaign promise to ban Muslim immigrants). During World War II, it was used to detain, deport and confiscate the property of Japanese, German, Italian, and other citizens of the Axis nations who were residing in the United States.

There had been a split between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans since Alexander Hamilton and Jefferson disagreed while members of the first Cabinet. These political differences were especially strong during John Adams' term, with the Democratic-Republicans supporting France during the French Revolution. Some even talked about something similar happening in the United States to overthrow the Adams government. When Democratic-Republicans in some states refused to enforce federal laws, such as the 1791 whiskey tax, the first tax levied by the national government, and threatened to rebel, Federalists threatened to send in the army to enforce the law. Unrest was sweeping Europe and was spilling over into the United States, with calls for secession being heard in some parts. Some leading Federalists saw this as being caused by French sympathizers and French-sympathizing immigrants. They responded with the Alien Act and the Sedition Act in order to guard against what they perceived as the threat of anarchy.

Democratic-Republicans opposed these acts and denounced them as an attack on free speech. (Ironically, after the 1800 election, the Acts were used by them against Federalists.) The Acts were a major political issue in the elections of 1798 and 1800. The Sedition Act was used in a number of prominent prosecutions against the editors of newspapers with anti-Federalist leanings, including James Thomson Callender, a Scottish citizen, who had been expelled from Great Britain for his political writings. (Callender was the subject of the previous entry in this series) Living first in Philadelphia, and then seeking moving to Virginia where he felt safer, Callender wrote a book entitled "The Prospect Before Us". The book was read and approved by Vice President Jefferson before its publication. In the book, Callender called the Adams administration a "continual tempest of malignant passions". He referred to Adams as a "repulsive pedant, a gross hypocrite and an unprincipled oppressor". Callender, who was writing for the Richmond Examiner at the time, was indicted in the spring of 1800 under the Sedition Act and was convicted, fined $200 and sentenced to nine months in jail.

Another prominent person prosecuted under the Sedition Act was Matthew Lyon, a Democratic-Republican congressman from Vermont. He was indicted in 1800 under the Sedition Act for an essay he had written in the Vermont Journal in which he accused the Adams administration of "ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice". At trial, he was fined $1,000 and sentenced to four months in jail. After his release, he returned to Congress.

Benjamin Franklin Bache (the grandson of Benjamin Franklin, and the subject of the first entry in this series) was editor of the Aurora, a Democratic-Republican newspaper. In his paper Bache had accused George Washington of incompetence and financial irregularities. He wrote that "the blind, bald, crippled, toothless, querulous Adams" was guilty of nepotism and monarchical ambition. Bache was arrested in 1798 under the Sedition Act, but he died of yellow fever before trial.

In November 1798, a man named David Brown led a group in Dedham, Massachusetts which put up a liberty pole with the words, "No Stamp Act, No Sedition Act, No Alien Bills, No Land Tax, downfall to the Tyrants of America; peace and retirement to the President; Long Live the Vice President". Brown was arrested in Andover, Massachusetts and was taken to Salem for trial. He was tried in June 1799. Brown pled guilty but Justice Samuel Chase asked him to name others who had assisted him. Brown refused. He was fined $480, and sentenced to eighteen months in prison, the most severe sentence ever imposed under the Sedition Act.

While government authorities prepared lists of aliens for deportation, many aliens fled the country during the debate over the Alien and Sedition Acts, and Adams never signed a deportation order.

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The Democratic-Republicans made the Alien and Sedition Acts a major issue in the 1800 election. When Thomas Jefferson assumed the Presidency, he pardoned those still serving sentences under the Sedition Act and ordered their fines to be repaid. But Jefferson also used the acts to prosecute several of his own critics before the acts expired.

The Alien and Sedition Acts were never appealed to the Supreme Court, whose right of judicial review had not yet been established. (That would occur later in the famous case of Marbury v. Madison in 1803.)

These acts had serious ramifications that lasted long after their implementation. Whole the acts were in effect, Jefferson and James Madison secretly drafted the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions which denounced the federal legislation. Jefferson drafted a threat for Kentucky to secede. In writing the Kentucky Resolutions, Jefferson wrote that the Alien and Sedition Acts would "necessarily drive these states into revolution and blood." Jefferson set in motion the doctrine of states' rights. The influence of Jefferson's states' rights doctrine continued right up to the Civil War and beyond.

It should be noted that Adams did not write the laws, but he did sign them into law, and failed to appreciate their harm to free speech or their potential for abuse. Though not yet President, Thomas Jefferson exacerbated the situation with his irresponsible call for Kentucky's secession, something which was not only treasonous, but which gave legitimacy to those who would subsequently put the interests of their states ahead of the interests and unity of the nation. It was not the last time in the nation's history when federal legislation would be passed limiting the news media's ability to criticize the president.
Benjamin Franklin Bache wasn't the only newspaper editor to attack the early Federalists. James Thomson Callender, a Scottish immigrant to the United States, was another journalist whose controversial attack journalism was a thorn in the side of Federalists, earning him a reputation as a "scandalmonger", due to the content of his reporting. Callender became a central figure in the press wars between the Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties and in the late 1790s, Thomas Jefferson sought him out to attack President John Adams. Callender did so willingly. But after Jefferson became President, Callender bit the hand that once fed him after being denied employment as a postmaster by Jefferson. It was Callender who first reported on Jefferson's alleged children born to his slave concubine Sally Hemings.

J. T. Callender was born in Scotland in 1758. He did not receive a formal education, and worked as a clerk in the Edinburgh Sasine (equivalent to Recorder of Deeds). While working there, Callender published satirical pamphlets criticizing the writer Samuel Johnson. He also wrote pamphlets attacking political corruption and calling for Scottish nationalism. This cost Callender his job in the Sasine office. In 1791 Callender wrote a pamphlet criticizing an excise tax. This earned support from reform-minded members of the Scottish nobility who became his patron. In 1792 he published The Political Progress of Britain, a controversial critique of the British government. This got him into trouble with the government and he had to leave for Ireland and then to the United States in order to avoid prosecution.

When he arrived in the United States, Callender obtained a position as a Congressional reporter in Philadelphia. His first article criticized pro-war sentiment. He supported himself by ghostwriting and became part of a group of radical Republican journalists who socialized together and held similar views on democracy and economic nationalism. He wrote a series of pamphlets in which he called for the government to support the poor by progressive taxation. He also called for economic independence from Europe, and the promotion of local industry. This earned him the enmity of Federalists, and as well as that of some of the more conservative Republicans.

Callender continued to write articles that attacked Federalist positions. He used a mix of logic, satire and personal invective. At first he limited his attacks to the excise tax system. But his attacks became personal as he railed against the nation's early national heroes and founding fathers: George Washington, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton. He criticized both their policies and their personalities. In his pamphlet History of 1796, he published the story of how Alexander Hamilton was carrying on a sexual relationship with a married woman, Maria Reynolds, how Hamilton was being blackmailed over the affair, and accusing Hamilton of financial corruption. Callender presented compelling evidence of Hamilton's adultery. Later, in 1797, he wrote Sketches of the History of America, in which he told his readers that the affair was a distraction from Hamilton's greater offense: partnering with Reynolds' husband in corrupt financial dealings. Hamilton denied being a party to any improper financial dealings, but confessed to having the adultery. Although the financial charges were never proven, Hamilton never again held public office.

Callender did not hesitate to criticize the venerable George Washington He wrote of the first president, "If ever a nation was debauched by a man, the American nation has been debauched by Washington. If ever a nation has suffered from the improper influence of a man, the American nation has been deceived by Washington. Let his conduct then be an example to future ages. Let it serve to be a warning that no man may be an idol, and that a people may confide in themselves rather than in an individual."

He was equally mean-spirited in his criticism of John Adams. He referred to Adams as "a hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman." He described the choice that voters had in the 1796 election as a choice "between Adams, war, and beggary, and Jefferson, peace, and competency!"

By 1798, Callender found himself mired in financial problems. He was forced to seek poor relief, and that year his wife died of yellow fever. That same year he was exposed as the anonymous publisher of the attacks on the Federalists. He was exposed as his by a rival pamphleteer, William Cobbet. This not only placed Callender in legal jeopardy, but in physical danger as well. He fled from Philadelphia to Virginia, leaving his children behind.

Thomas Jefferson then came to Callender's rescue. Jefferson liked Callender's attacks on Hamilton, and wanted to create an opposition press to that of the Federalists, one that was sympathetic to Jefferson and his party. He sought to use Callendar's poisoned pen against John Adams in the next election. Jefferson had met Callender in Philadelphia, and began supporting the editor financially with government contracts such as he was able to provide. He also provided feedback on early proofs of Callender's anti-Federalist pamphlet The Prospect Before Us. It was just at the time before the publication of the pamphlet, that Callender was required to flee on foot from Philadelphia to Virginia.

Callender lived for a time refuge at the plantation of Senator Stevens Thomas Mason. In Virginia, he completed The Prospect Before Us. The subject of this pamphlet was alleged political corruption among Federalists and within the Adams administration. In June 1800, in retaliation for The Prospect, Callender was prosecuted under the Sedition Act by the Adams administration. His trial was presided over by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase. (Chase was later impeached, in part due to his handling of the Callender trial.) Callender was fined $200 and given a jail term as well. He was released on the last day of the Adams administration, in March 1801. After his release, Callender and the others who had been prosecuted were pardoned by the new president, Thomas Jefferson.

One might have expected Callender to be grateful to his former benefactor, the man who had let him out of jail and pardoned him. But when Callender asked Jefferson to appoint him Postmaster of Richmond, Virginia, Jefferson refused to do so. Callender had warned the president that if Jefferson did not make the appointment, there would be consequences. Callender accused Jefferson of conspiring to deprive him of money owed to him by the government after the pardon. Jefferson's refusal to make the appointment because he believed that if he put the temperamental Callender in a position of authority in the Federalist stronghold of Richmond, it would have been a recipe for disaster.

Having been snubbed by Jefferon, Callender returned to newspaper work and changed teams, becoming the editor of a Federalist newspaper, the Richmond Recorder. In a series of articles on the subject of corruption, Callender criticized Jefferson. He revealed the fact that it was Jeffersonwho had funded his earlier pamphlets criticizing Hamilton and when Jefferson denied this, he published Jefferson's letters to him as proof of his claims. In response, Jeffersonian newspapers published articles claiming that Callender had abandoned his wife to die of a venereal disease. Callender retaliated with a series of articles in which he claimed that Jefferson fathered children by his slave Sally Hemings, something later proven to have credence many years later, following the science of DNA testing. Callender also accused Jefferson of attempting to seduce a married neighbor decades before.

Callender was supposed to appear as a witness to provide testimony in a New York trial, The People vs. Croswell. This was a libel allegation against publisher Harry Croswell, who had reprinted claims that Thomas Jefferson paid Callender to defame George Washington. Croswell's lawyer was Alexander Hamilton. President Jefferson had begun a selective campaign against individual newspaper critics. But the matter did not proceed to trial until after Callender's death.

Callender was popular among newspaper readers, but had enemies in both the Federalist camp as well as among Jefferson supporters. In a surprise attack in December 1802, George Hay clubbed Callender on the head with a walking stick. Hay had been Callender's lawyer at one time. The attack was payback for an article Callender had written about Hay. Then, the following March, the offices of Callender's newspaper were attacked by young Republicans from Hay's law firm.

On July 17, 1803, Callender drowned in three feet of water in the James River. He had fallen into the shallow edge of the river, but was too drunk to save himself from drowning.

In 1998, a DNA analysis confirmed that Eston Hemings Jefferson's descendants were related to the Jefferson male line. A number of historians including Joseph Ellis and Andrew Burstein, have made the case for concluding that Jefferson had a long-term relationship and several children by Sally Hemings. It seems that Callender's accusation had been on the mark. In 2000, the journalist and author William Safire published a historical novel, Scandalmonger, about Callender's life in the United States and based on letters of notable people of the time, including presidents Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe.
The phenomenon of a news media entity siding with one party or one political philosophy is not a recent one. It was a problem that President George Washington had to face right from the time when his administration split into two factions or parties, namely the Federalists and the Ant-Federalists (or Democratic-Republicans). The latter group was supported by a number of newspapers, and perhaps the most prominent of the time was the Philadelphia Aurora. It's editor was a man named Benjamin Franklin Bache, who was named after his famous grandfather, Benjamin Franklin.

The Philadelphia Aurora was published six days a week in Philadelphia from 1794 to 1824. Bache was the newspaper's founder as well as it's editor until his death in 1798. It was sometimes referred to as the Aurora General Advertiser. William Duane was a co-founder of the paper. The Aurora's articles denounced Federalists, a often viciously attacked George Washington and John Adams.

Bache was the son of Benjamin Franklin's only daughter Sarah "Sally" Franklin. Sally's mother was Deborah Read. Sally married Richard Bache on November 2, 1767 and on August 12, 1769 she gave birth to the future editor of the Aurora. Benjamin Franklin was also bache's Godfather. On October 29, 1776, Bache accompanied his famous grandfather on his diplomatic mission to France. Bache was seven when the party sailed for France. Soon after arriving in France, Franklin enrolled Bache in a local boarding school. He later attended the same school as young John Quincy Adams. In the spring of 1779, Benjamin Franklin sent Bache to Geneva. The young man returned to Paris in 1783 where he learned be a printer until they left Europe to return to Philadelphia in 1785. Bache was a good student at the University of Pennsylvania. He graduated from the school in 1787

On his return to Philadelphia, Bache began working as a printer at his grandfather's shop on Market Street. As his grandfather's health began to falter, Bache supervised the print shop’s operations. When Benjamin Franklin died in 1790, Bache inherited Franklin's printing equipment and many of his books. It was then that he founded The Philadelphia Aurora. It was a newspaper that held fierce pro-French and democratic position. Bache claimed to be fair and balanced, stating, "This paper will always be open, for the discussion of political, or any other interesting subjects, to such as deliver their sentiments with temper and decency, and whose motives appears to be, the public good. The strictest impartiality will be observed in the publication of pieces offered with this view."

The paper first published on October 1, 1790. It was then called the General Advertiser, and Political, Commercial, Agricultural and Literary Journal. In the paper, Bache and many other democratic-republicans criticized Federalist policies and practice. On January 1, 1791, Bache dropped the word “Agricultural” from his paper’s title and removed the motto – “Truth, Decency, Utility” – from the nameplate. He enlarged the size of the paper's pages and narrowed the paper's focus to mainly political matters. Later that year, Bache also dropped the words “Political, Commercial and Liberty Journal” from the name of the paper. In November 1794, Bache renamed the paper The Aurora and General Advertiser. and adopted the motto, “Surgo Ut Prosim” (I rise to be useful).

Bache was an ardent supporter of the French Revolution. He wrote an article in the January 25, 1793, contrasting the difference between the French and American Revolutions in which he said:

There is that difference between the French and American Revolutions, that the latter was not opposed by cunning priests, nor cruel aristocrats determined to overthrow every principle of honesty and humanity, for a chimera misled by common sense—A royal puppet on this spot, did not dance on the wire of a band of courtiers; the most despicable and abandoned wretches that ever disgraced mankind. The focus of both despotism and nobility was far from this land of liberty, and its glorious adherents could not be infected with the pernicious breath of mad royalty and impudent aristocracy. The popular cause was opposed openly, sword in hand, and victoriously fought by the friends to the rights of men; had the French republicans met with such opponents, they had not done those excesses, the king, the nobles and clergy have roused them to by the most perfidious contrivances. A king did not forswear himself in America, nor had the American people more than one Arnold; their tempers were soured neither by misery nor by a complicated system of treachery, framed coolly and pursued with the greatest obstinacy. The American people were not loaded with enormous taxes that had reduced millions of their fellow citizens to the utmost misery to maintain haughty plunderers in sloth and profligacy. All this odds must be reckoned by impartial men; to explain the difference insidiously delineated between the two revolutions, by some desperate royalty, or a narrow minded plan.

Bache was one of the first and most vocal of George Washington's critics. He denounced the Federalists and attacked both Washington and his successor John Adams. Perhaps his most controversial claim was when he accused Washington of secretly collaborating with the British during the American Revolution. The Aurora was constantly attacking Washington for having what Bache called monarchical tendencies, for his hostile actions toward France, for having contempt for the public, and for his friendly relations with Britain. Bache did not present any appearance of impartiality. His articles were full of praise for Jefferson and hostile to Washington and Adams. This was so despite the fact that Washington had enjoyed a close relationship with Franklin.

In a letter sent by Washington to Henry Lee on July 21, 1793, the president said that he considered Bache's writings to contain "arrows of malevolence," and that "the publications in Bache’s papers are outrages on common decency; and they progress in that style in proportion as their pieces are treated with contempt and are passed by in silence, by those at whom they are aimed."

During the Presidency of John Adams, the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed in 1798. This legislation provided for the arrest of those who were critical of the government. Bache was arrested under this law. He wrote articles claiming that the federal government had fallen into the hands of an aristocratic party aligned with Britain, and that the Federalists (particularly Washington and Alexander Hamilton) were promoting their own interests at the expense of those of the general public. Bache objected to the US Senate's holding its meetings behind closed doors, which fed his conspiracy theories. For example, he argued that discussion about the Jay Treaty should have been open to the public and that its secrecy was proof of some nefarious intent.

Bache was also the target from Federalist supporters. This hurt Bache financially and he was often unable to pay his own employees in a timely manner. Federalists withdrew business from him, as did many who were not Federalists, but who thought his criticism of Washington to be unfair. In 1798, he encountered financial problems. Bache was criticized by other journalists in their papers. William Cobbet, who wrote under the pen name "Peter Porcupine", wrote intensely personal and mean-spirited articles about Bache and about Franklin. This became so intense that Bache's friends became concerned for his personal safety. In April 1797, while Bache was researching an article about the construction of the ship USS United States, Clement Humphreys, the son of the ship’s architect, physically assaulted him. Bache escaped with minor injuries. He then printed an accusation that the ship's carpenters were taking bribes. In May 1798, Bache’s residence and office were threatened by an angry mob. They smashed the glass door leading to his office, but refrained from vandalizing his home.

Bache was physically assaulted by John Ward Fenno for criticisms that Bache had published about Fenno's father. Fenno confronted Bache, demanding that he publicly apologize to his father and when Bache refused, Fenno assaulted him. Generally, Bache did not seem to be intimidated by such threats.

Bache was arrested on June 26, 1798 and charged with “libeling the President & the Executive Government, in a manner tending to excite sedition, and opposition to the laws, by sundry publications and republications.” Even after Bache was arrested for violating the Alien and Sedition Act, he was not deterred. He was jailed for his offence, but managed to post bail. After his release, he publicly condemned the Act in print as a violation of the First Amendment. The matter did not proceed to trial however. Before being tried, Bache died in 1798 at the age of 29 from yellow fever during an epidemic that hit Philadelphia. He was buried in the Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia. He is regarded by some as an early champion of freedom of speech and the First Amendment, while others regard him as an early example of the worst type of partisan journalism.


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