Lesser lights than Franklin, educated by the same process, were found all over colonial America. From this fruitful source of native ability, self-educated, the American cause drew great strength in the trials of the Revolution.
THE COLONIAL PRESS
=The Rise of the Newspaper.=—The evolution of American democracy into a government by public opinion, enlightened by the open discussion of political questions, was in no small measure aided by a free press. That too, like education, was a matter of slow growth. A printing press was brought to Massachusetts in 1639, but it was put in charge of an official censor and limited to the publication of religious works. Forty years elapsed before the first newspaper appeared, bearing the curious title, Public Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestic, and it had not been running very long before the government of Massachusetts suppressed it for discussing a political question.
Publishing, indeed, seemed to be a precarious business; but in 1704 there came a second venture in journalism, The Boston News-Letter, which proved to be a more lasting enterprise because it refrained from criticizing the authorities. Still the public interest languished. When Franklin’s brother, James, began to issue his New England Courant about 1720, his friends sought to dissuade him, saying that one newspaper was enough for America. Nevertheless he continued it; and his confidence in the future was rewarded. In nearly every colony a gazette or chronicle appeared within the next thirty years or more. Benjamin Franklin was able to record in 1771 that America had twenty-five newspapers. Boston led with five. Philadelphia had three: two in English and one in German.
=Censorship and Restraints on the Press.=—The idea of printing, unlicensed by the government and uncontrolled by the church, was, however, slow in taking form. The founders of the American colonies had never known what it was to have the free and open publication of books, pamphlets, broadsides, and newspapers. When the art of printing was first discovered, the control of publishing was vested in clerical authorities. After the establishment of the State Church in England in the reign of Elizabeth, censorship of the press became a part of royal prerogative. Printing was restricted to Oxford, Cambridge, and London; and no one could publish anything without previous approval of the official censor. When the Puritans were in power, the popular party, with a zeal which rivaled that of the crown, sought, in turn, to silence royalist and clerical writers by a vigorous censorship. After the restoration of the monarchy, control of the press was once more placed in royal hands, where it remained until 1695, when Parliament, by failing to renew the licensing act, did away entirely with the official censorship. By that time political parties were so powerful and so active and printing presses were so numerous that official review of all published matter became a sheer impossibility.