Perhaps a precursor to what would now be a typical Facebook post…
The June 19, 1804 issue of “The Balance & Columbian Repository“ newspaper from Hudson, New York, has a brief and seemingly purposeless news report reading in its entirety: “Monticello–Yesterday morning the President arose precisely fifty-nine minutes past four, and put on a clean shirt and breeches.” Had this appeared on the President’s Facebook page today, what might be some of the comments from his followers?
It is always interesting to read criticisms of political decisions of centuries ago with the luxury of hindsight. Early newspapers allow today’s reader to recognize just how much thought was not just wrong, but laughably wrong.
One example is in the August 6, 1803 issue of the “Columbian Centinel” which contains a letter complaining about Presidents increasing the national debt: “…those very papers are now extolling the wisdom of Mr. Jefferson in adding eleven millions of dollars to the funded debt of the United States. Great clamour was raised against the administration of Mr. Adams because he did not effect a greater reduction of the national debt…Now in a time of profound tranquility the national debt is to be increased fifteen millions of dollars in one year, for the purchase of a country most of which is uninhabited and totally useless to the United States.”
From that purchase in 1803 would be carved fifteen future states as well as two Canadian provinces. Its value to the United States would be incalculable today, and in fact was considered an incredible bargain many years before the Civil War.
An era rich in history… with hidden gems throughout…
Many rare newspaper collectors focus on the more memorable eras of history such as the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, or World War II. Brief date periods –as war events tend to be—can allow for a more concise collection without becoming unduly large if one concentrates on just the major events. Consequently, less notable eras often get over-looked without realizing there is a treasure trove of events which are both fascinating and historically significant found in period newspapers, and well within the range of the average collector.
One such era would be the 1800-1860 period which we designate on our website as the “Pre-Civil War Era”. This was a transitional time in American history as the events of the Revolutionary War and the struggles with creating the federal government gave way to a more secure nation and a more independent America as the nation grew in both size and complexity.
This sixty year era offers a great wealth of events which were formative for the American landscape. The century began with continual coverage of the funeral of George Washington who died less than 3 weeks before the new century began. Thomas Jefferson was the first President to be elected in the 19th century and he did not escape the headaches of war, as the “Barbary Wars” fell within his tenure. He also lead the charge for the Louisiana Purchase which more than doubled the size of the nation and would be home, in full or in part, for 15 new states that would eventually join the Union. Newspaper reports on the Lewis & Clark Expedition were few and far between, but finding even brief mentions in a period newspaper can be quite a thrill.
As the country grew a wealth of notable events transpired & were noted in newspapers of the day. Presidential elections and inauguration are always popular, and there were many in this era: Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Jackson, Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, and of course Lincoln, who was elected in this era, but would be inaugurated in the “Civil War Era”, a fascinating chapter of American history onto itself. For those who like to have :complete” collections, finding every election and inauguration is a doable quest.
The War of 1812 falls within this era and provides an opportunity for a sizable and notable collection on its own, from the declaration of War to the many naval battles, the attacks on Baltimore & Washington, the significant battle of New Orleans, and the treaty which ended the war. Collectors like that war events typically allow for collection “bookends” (war declaration and treaty of peace), between which they can become as focused as their budget will allow in collecting the major events.
The slavery issue would remain a stain on the American fabric during this era, with events such as the Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner insurrections, and the more notable John Brown raid at Harper’s Ferry, as lead-ins to the Civil War. Abolitionist newspapers would be created, including the Liberator & the Emancipator among others, and names such as Frederick Douglass, Dred Scot, and William Lloyd Garrison would make their marks in American history forever. And it was very much a political issue as well with the Missouri Compromise being just one of several federal decisions which had slavery as a basis. Relations with the Native Americans were troubling also, with the Seminole War, the “Trail of Tears”, and the many broken treaties commonly reported in newspapers of the day.
The Texas Revolution of 1835-1836 has a spice of historical romance similar to the events of the Old West, as both were dramatized in movies. The memorable Battle of the Alamo (starring John Wayne on the big screen) and its fiercely heroic soldiers & citizens, who knowingly faced death to establish the independence of Texas, remains a proud moment in not just Texas but American history. The battles which lead up to that event, and those which followed can be found in newspapers of the day, and mention names we remember from history books including Sam Houston and Davy Crockett.
The Mexican War was another event which resulted in the expansion of the nation with all the major battles reported in newspapers of 1846 to 1848. Just a few years latter attention focused once more on the West with the California Gold Rush and all the romance of a nation heading west to find their fortune. The newspapers reported those thrills, but also reported the struggles & hardships which would befall the many on the trek to the West. Newspapers of the day were more frank than were history books 100 years later.
Westward expansion wasn’t limited to the battle fronts or the quest for gold, as the Missouri River Expedition, The Yellowstone Expedition, the Rocky Mountain exploration, and reports on the Santa Fe Trail were all reported as the adventurous were discovering and creating history—and reported first in newspapers of the day. Such expansion was responsible for states to be created, and reports of statehood for Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois among others were detailed in newspapers, as were reports of changes needed in the United States flag to honor such additions.
The Erie Canal, creation of the cotton gin and the Pony Express were notable events during this period. Famous names were commonly found as their reports were making history & reported in newspapers as such, including the likes of Daniel Boone, John Jacob Astor, Bolivar, John Jay, Henry Clay, Horace Greeley, and Kit Carson to name but a few. Of special intrigue is finding reports of famous names before they became famous, such as inconspicuous mentions of Abraham Lincoln from 1848 when he was a member of Congress, or Jefferson Davis from 1833, nearly 30 years before becoming President of the Confederacy.
Judaica interest, reports of pirates, the Black Hawk Indian War, runaway slaves, William Henry Harrison’s one month Presidency, and the earliest reports of the Mormons and the journey across the country provide fascinating reading in newspapers of the pre-Civil War era. The Monroe Doctrine is just one of an endless list of historical documents and landmark Supreme Court decisions which were reported in newspapers of the day. Early newspapers from Hawaii, Florida, and Kentucky among others, more commonly found after the 1870’s are a special treat when found before the Civil War. And more than American history found their way into American newspapers. The Battle of Waterloo and the other Napoleonic Wars with mention of Buonaparte, Wellington and other key European figures put world history into perspective when such reports are found alongside notable events in American history.
If capturing history in the pages of the nation’s newspapers is your hobby, certainly there is much from the 1800 – 1860 period to excite any historical hobbyist. Do not overlook this fascinating era in the growth & development of the United States of America.
While posting an October 31, 1804 issue of THOMAS’S MASSACHUSETTS SPY, OR WORCESTER GAZETTE, Massachusetts, onto the Rare Newspapers website due to the presence of two letters from George Washington (written before 1800) and another from Thomas Jefferson, another item caught our interest. Under “Deaths” we found an obituary which seems unbelievable. Which is harder to believe, that newspapers from 1804 containing 3 Presidential letters are still available, or, that the details within the shown obituary are true? Fact or fiction? You decide.
The Constitutional Convention: A Narrative History from the Notes of James Madison, by Edward J. Larson & Michael P. Winship, ISBN 0-8129-7517
This book essentially condenses and annotates Madison’s notes taken throughout the Convention so that the language and the important concepts that were discussed can be understood today. The book includes a list of those attending the convention and their respective states. When you keep a copy of this list handy while reading the notes, you can get a clear picture of the regional motives behind the discussion as the constitution was developed. This book, in conjunction with The Founding Brothers, John Ellis, were both extremely helpful in developing a working understanding of what I consider to be one of the most interesting 10 to 20 year time period in US history.
I thought that in addition to all of your other reading, these two items may be interesting and helpful.
Thanks for your suggestions Jim. To the readers of this post: “If you have a chance to read either of these (or have already done so), the community would love to hear your reactions as well.
It’s always a thrill to find truly significant reports for very little money; proof that doing a bit of homework can be well rewarded.
A fellow collector (to whom who owe a special thanks for sharing his “find”) shares the uncommonly lengthy letter from Merriwether Lewis while on the Lewis & Clark Expedition, datelined at Fort Mandan, April 7, 1805. It appears on two inside pages of “The Balance & Columbian Repository” issue of August 13, 1805. Typically reports on Lewis & Clark are very brief. This is is not.
He shares this interesting letter for all who can appreciate reading history from the time it was made. Being a letter written directly Thomas Jefferson, how significant might this be? Any thoughts would be appreciated. Please enjoy the following:
One of the questions we field from customers quite often is “What truly spectacular, really historic item do you have to offer?”. One of our frustrations is that with many customers having a want list some of the better items which come into inventory never make it to a catalog or our website, as they are quoted to those wanting the event and sold rather quickly.
But occasionally we come across an item which ranks near the top of the desirability list for many collectors and we offer it in a catalog or on our website for all to see, and for those not inclined to make a purchase they can vicariously enjoy the description and photos of a great newspaper which rarely comes to market.
Not long ago we added to our inventory a Connecticut Journal issue from July 10, 1776 with a rather inconspicuous report on the back page of this single sheet newspaper (verified by the American Antiquarian Society as complete in a single sheet) reading just as any collector would dream:
“Yesterday the CONGRESS unanimously Resolved to declare the United Colonies FREE and INDEPENDENT STATES.”
As the description of the newspaper notes, It would be difficult to argue for a more significant news report in all of American history. Even the printing of the Declaration of Independence itself, which likely appeared in this newspaper a week or so later, would simply be evidence of the historic news which appeared first in this issue. This newspaper reports for the first time that America resolved to be independent, while the text of the Declaration of Independence that would follow would offer the particulars.
This is one of the better newspapers we have offered in our 32 years, and certainly a great addition to any rare newspaper collection. Click here to enjoy the photographs as the entire newspaper is visible on our site.