My Fellow Americans: Devastating hurricanes, Pearl Harbor, 9-11, the end of WWII, Lindbergh’s 1st flight across the Atlantic – while there is much that divides us, there have been times throughout our history when both triumphs and tragedies have inspired us to lay down our weapons and to unite as one. While these times of mutual good will are typically short-lived, they often act as a reset to help center us on that which binds us together. We need such a time!
It is was with the current atmosphere of angst as a backdrop that I was moved by an under-the-radar prayer found buried on page 11 of an issue reporting the assassination of President JFK. His death, airmailed via television directly into the living room of nearly every home in America, brought together Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike and unified us around shared grief. May a day come when such unity of spirit flourishes without the inspiration of deep sorrow, tragedy, or war. As another assassinated President once said: “A house divided against itself cannot stand (Abraham Lincoln).” It is time for us to lay down our weapons. Much is at stake.
Today I traveled to New York City by the way of The World (NY) dated April 3, 1866. The “Proclamation by the President of the United States” was presented on the front page of the issue. “…Therefore, I, Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, do hereby proclaim and declare that the insurrection which heretofore existed in the States of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Florida is at an end, and henceforth to be so regarded. In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and cause the seal of the United States to be affixed…”. This marked the official end to the American Civil War.
Today I traveled to Edinburgh by the way of The Edinburgh Advertiser dated December 20, 1765. There I found an account of a New Hamsphire stamp agent by the name of George Meserve being forced to resign for the second time. “…that Mr. Messerve, notwithstanding his late verbal resignation, determined to execute his office…about 400 resolute men, well equipped…Their purpose was to demand of Mr. Messerve a more explicit resignation…the repeated assurances from the Council, that the bale of stamped paper should not be opened…that they would never use them on any account, disarmed the populace of all their resentment…The stamped papers sent for the use of this province are lodged in the fort at Newcastle where they are to remain as a dead inactive lump of matter…”
We occasionally find nice editorials or letters in newspapers of the colonial era which express a concern for the relationship between England and the colonies. Most appear during the midst of the Revolutionary War, but they can be found, at times, in newspapers dated between the Stamp Act of 1765 and the outbreak of war ten years later.
The “Essex Gazette” of March 14, 1775 contains on page two a very rousing “call to arms” in support of freedom from the “tyranny” of England (one is shown below -both are viewable through the link). Hint is made for the need for freedom from British control some 15 months prior to the Declaration of Independence.
Take a moment to read this great letter, headed: “May Truth’s bright Beams and Freedom’s Rage, Confound the Villains of the Age.” A very appropriate piece as we now celebrate the 239th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
One of the joys of reading old newspapers is the opportunity to discover what were, in fact, very prophetic statements made long before anyone could have known they would become true. As they say, hindsight does provide 20-20 vision.
One of the best is found in “The London Chronicle” issue of Nov. 2, 1765. Some 150 years before the per-eminence of America as a world power both military and economically, a writer begins an article: “Little doubt can be entertained that America will in time become the greatest and most prosperous empire that perhaps the world has ever seen…”.
How true that statement would become, but to predict that future nearly a dozen years before America would even declare independence from the mother country was truly a stretch. It’s a neat find in an otherwise inconspicuous newspaper.
Finding “first” mentions of significant, people, places and terms is always a delight for the rare newspaper collector, and with the internet–and the time required–many fascinating items can be found.
The term “Columbia” as a reference to America, very commonly used through the 19th century in both print & image, was first used in the London publication “Gentleman’s Magazine” in 1738. Because the printing of Parliamentary debates was illegal in England, they appeared under the thinly veiled heading of “Debates in the Senate of Lilliput” or similar heading, with names & places often fictitious or taken from Johnathan Swift’s famous work, which was the literary sensation at that time. The term Columbia was coined by the famed Samuel Johnson, a regular contributor to the “parliamentary” reports found in “The Gentleman’s Magazine“.
In the June issue of 1738, the debates from Parliament note: “…It is observable that their conquests and acquisitions in Columbia (which is the Lilliputian name for the country that answers our America,) have very little contributed to the power of those nations…”.
A significant “first use” of a very popular poetic name for the United States of America.