The Loyalist Press
The Loyalist Press
Definition. Anti-Whig newspapers and pamphlets began to appear in 1774 and existed in British-held regions until 1783. Unlike the rhetoric generated by the Patriot press, Loyalist propaganda had a more difficult time in achieving its goals: maintaining the morale of loyal colonists and demoralizing the enemy. In the end the pro-British press failed to win the hearts and minds of the American people.
Prewar Sparring. By the early 1770s royal officials recognized the power of colonial printers in fomenting discontent among the American people. Although Loyalist postmasters destroyed publications they deemed to be seditious, such as William Goddard’s (Philadelphia) Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser Journal, these efforts were not enough to stop the flood of anti-British material. Tory writers exchanged verbal attacks with their Whig counterparts in the newspapers. Jona-than Sewall published five series of anonymous essays between 1763 and 1775, refuting the criticism heaped on the Massachusetts royal governor. One of the most famous exchanges involved John Adams (“Novanglus”) and Daniel Leonard (“Massachusettensis”) in the Boston Gazette and Country Journal and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy and Advertiser in 1774—1775. While Adams emphasized “liberty and innovation,” Leonard extolled “order and imperial stability.”
Disadvantage. Once the war commenced in April 1775, it became clearly evident that the Whigs dominated the press and postal networks and could use those advantages to crush Tory polemics. As a result Loyalist propaganda was circumscribed, limited in time and place to those areas under direct British military control, usually major cities and the surrounding communities. During the course of the Revolutionary War, the cities occupied by royal troops for an extended period of time included New York, Newport, Philadelphia, Savannah, and Charleston.
THE LEADING AMERICAN PRINTERS OF ORIGINAL POLITICAL PAMPHLETS, 1764-1776
|Source: G. Thomas Tanselle, “Some Statistics on American Printing,1764-1783,” in The Press and the American Revolution, edited by Bernard Bailyn and John B, Hench (Worcester, Mass.: American Antiquarian Society, 1980), p. 354.|
|Edes & Gill (Boston)||34|
|James Rivington (New York)||20|
|William & Thomas Bradford (Philadelphia)||9|
|Robert Bell (Philadelphia)||5|
|Thomas Scjohn Fleet (Boston)||5|
|John Dunlap (Philadelphia)||4|
|John Holt (New York)||4|
Newspapers. Fifteen Loyalist newspapers appeared at various times following the Declaration of Independence, but not a single one published continuously from 1776 to the end of the war. The largest number in any one year was eight in 1778 while the smallest was five in 1779. New York City had the longest-lived and most-popular Loyalist papers, including Hugh Gaine’s New-York Gazette; and the Weekly Mercury, Alexander Robertson’s The Royal American Gazette, James Rivington’s Royal Gazette, and William Lewis’s New York Mercury. Because of the abundance of city newspapers, the British in 1779 organized the following daily schedule: Gaine published on Mondays, Rivington on Wednesdays and Saturdays, Robertson on Thursdays, and Lewis on Fridays. The Newport Gazette in Rhode Island ran from January 1777 to October 1779 while Philadelphia had three Tory newspapers during the British occupation from September 1777 to June 1778: the Pennsylvania Evening Post, Pennsylvania Ledger, and Royal Pennyslvania Gazette. There were also two German-language newspapers with pro-British slants, but they lasted only a few months. Charleston had three pro-British newspapers between May 1780 and December 1782: the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, The Royal Gazette, and Royal South-Carolina Gazette. The Royal Georgia Gazette appeared in Savannah (1779-1782) and the East Florida Gazetted St. Augustine (1783-1784).
Function. These newspapers served the royal cause on several levels. They acted in a psychological capacity, providing a semblance of normality for areas under British military and civil control. They also stimulated the economy by running advertisements and other information useful to consumers and merchants. Moreover, the papers announced British victories and published the decrees of army commanders and magistrates. Probably their greatest purpose was to provide a useful means by which Loyalists could lambast the Patriots and express the needs of “King’s Men” to the Crown.
Themes. Loyalist propaganda addressed various themes when attacking the Patriot cause. First and fore-most, the legal justification (both civil and biblical) of suppressing the rebellion was not lost on the Loyalist propagandists who urged “that obedience to legal authority is the positive command of God, and the constant doctrine of his word.” On 28 November 1776, 948 persons signed the Loyalist Declaration of Dependence, expressing their dedication to British constitutional supremacy. In The Christian Soldiers Duty briefly Delineated (1777), Charles Inglis appealed to soldiers “to assert the just rights of your amiable, insulted Sovereign — a Sovereign whose numerous Virtues add Lustre to his Throne.” Warnings of Patriot “illusions of victory” also surfaced. On 3 October 1778 “Concord” wrote the following admonishment in Rivington’s Royal Gazette: “Look forward, Americans! Compare the secure, prosperous, and truly free and independent state which is now most certainly and immediately in your offer, to the hazzards, intermediate distresses, and probably consequences of the projects into which the Congress wish to plunge you.” By the same token Tory writers downplayed the defeat of British redcoats by remembering how the martial prowess of England had reigned supreme in previous conflicts. And like all propagandists they spread rumor and falsehoods whenever to their advantage. For example, on 13 February 1781 Gaine reported the defeat of British lieutenant colonel Banastre Tarleton at the Cowpens, South Carolina. Simultaneously he printed an extract of a letter that claimed Lord Charles Cornwallis had defeated Gen. Nathanael Greene and taken sixteen hundred prisoners. Although Greene’s defeat later proved to be false, Gaine maintained that the news “arrived last Evening from Jersey from a Person who saw the Letter, and who may be relied on.” Pro-British writers also focused on the depravity
of the enemy, reporting on the depredations of rebel troops and the arrogance of Congress to deny overtures made by the Carlisle Peace Commission in 1778. “It is as near the truth to say,” wrote Leonard, that the enemy leadership displayed serious character flaws, especially “disaffection, petulance, ingratitude, and disloyalty.” In addition Leonard hinted at their ultimate moral shortcoming by stating that “the annals of the world have not yet been deformed with a single instance of so unnatural, so causeless, so wanton, so wicked a rebellion.” “Grotius” in a January 1775 letter summarized the Loyalist point of view on the rebellion when he asked Virginia lawyer Peyton Randolph how “could you thus attempt to make blind eyes blinder, to make the mad Americans rage, and the deceived people imagine vain things.”
Assessment. The Loyalist press ultimately failed in its mission to undermine the Patriot cause. Although it took the moral high ground by appealing to the colonials’ sense of loyalty to a gracious king, the press never presented a fully developed alternative and, for that matter, appealing, solution to the political crisis. The Loyalist press existed as long as the presence of British redcoats made it possible.
Catherine S. Crary, ed., The Price of Loyalty: Tory Writings from the Revolutionary Era (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973);
Janice Potter and Robert M. Calhoon, “The Character and Coherence of the Loyalist Press,” in The Press and the American Revolution, edited by Bernard Bailyn and John B. Hench (Worcester, Mass.: American Antiquarian Society, 1980), pp. 229-272.