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AURORA. Founded in 1790 as the General Advertiser by Benjamin Franklin's grandson, Benjamin Franklin Bache, this Philadelphia newspaper was the most important political journal of its era. After Philip Freneau's National Gazette folded in 1793, Bache's journal became the nation's leading outlet for criticism of the Washington administration and its policies. Adding Aurora to the title in November 1794, Bache defended the French Revolution and the Democratic-Republican Societies and bitterly opposed the administration's perceived pro-British slant. After publishing the leaked text of the Jay Treaty in 1795 and helping generate widespread protests against it, the Aurora became one of the few newspapers to extensively criticize George Washington himself, accusing the president of monarchical tendencies, financial malfeasance, and a poor military record. Losing the fight against the Jay Treaty, the Aurora emerged as the most important journalistic champion of Thomas Jefferson over John Adams in the elections of 1796 and 1800, becoming the hub of a Jeffersonian Republican newspaper network that spread the Aurora's message into every corner of the nation. The Aurora was widely cited by allies and enemies alike as a key factor in Jefferson's eventual victory.

Subjected to multiple forms of legal, social, and physical harassment, the editors of the Aurora were considered the primary targets of the 1798 Sedition Act; Bache was arrested under the law but died of yellow fever before he could be tried. His assistant, the radical Irish refugee William Duane, took over a revived Aurora and made it even more effective, setting its attacks on Adams and its defenses of Jefferson in the context of a wide-ranging indictment of British imperialism, religious intolerance, and the "reign of terror," which Republicans believed Federalists were conducting to force their opponents and the general population into submission. During 1800, Duane conducted a long investigation into alleged corruption at the Treasury and War Departments, supposedly covered up by arson just after Adams was defeated. Duane suffered myriad beatings, prosecutions, and lawsuits for his trouble, including a citation of contempt of the U.S. Senate that forced him into hiding for a time in 1800.

Duane's uncompromising radicalism on issues such as banking and the judiciary increasingly estranged him from the regnant Republican establishment, elements of which set up competing newspapers that aimed to curb his power. This campaign against the alleged "tyranny of printers" took its toll by the 1810s, reducing the Aurora to the status of influential in-house critic, rather than semi-official voice, of the Republican Party. It nevertheless continued to publish until 1824.


Pasley, Jeffrey L. "The Tyranny of Printers": Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001.

Phillips, Kim T. William Duane, Radical Journalist in the Age of Jefferson. New York: Garland, 1989.

Rosenfeld, Richard. American Aurora: A Democratic-Republican Returns. New York: St. Martin's, 1997.

Tagg, James. Benjamin Franklin Bache and the Philadelphia "Aurora." Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991.

Jeffrey L.Pasley

See alsoNewspapers ; Republicans, Jeffersonian ; Sedition Acts .

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