To “Alarm The Publick mind” A Reexamination of Pamphlets and Newspapers in Philadelphia And the Early Republics

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Arthur Scherr


abstract: This article compares the role of political pamphlets and newspapers in the early US republic, especially whether pamphlets were intended to appeal to a closed circle of political insiders while the target audience of newspapers was average citizens, a topic seldom discussed by journalism historians for the federal period. Pamphlets, lower priced compared to newspapers (whose publishers generally required a year’s subscription in advance), were more within the income range of average citizens. As a case study, pamphleteering activities of US senator John Taylor of Caroline, a Philadelphia resident during early the 1790s, are discussed, as well as those of Benjamin Franklin Bache, Thomas Paine, William L. Smith, William Cobbett, Benjamin Russell, and others involved in the period’s print culture. Emphasizing Philadelphia-based publications, and after comparing prices of pamphlets and books with the cost of a one-year subscription to newspapers during the 1790s, the author concludes that political writers viewed pamphlets as a way to reach a wide audience, not merely a restricted cohort of the wealthy or those in positions of political power.

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