Fox News, The Post, at the Founding of the Nation

by on Oct.28, 2010, under History

The news media today crawls in the sludge of partisan attacks and dirty laundry from which it seems incapable to rise above.  The current trend towards ruthless, and very often baseless, assertions goes well beyond reason and no doubt furthers the media’s descent into pure propaganda.  The stories include:

“The treasury secretary is an aristocratic tool of the rich, using his office to further the financial gain of his powerful friends at the expense of the common man …”  “The former president traded sexual favors from the wife of the candidate to secure votes…”  “The president, described as a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman” plans to name himself king and groom his son as his heir…”

This would seem enough to cause Abigail Adams, a leading figure in the American Revolution to call for a censure on the freedom of the press.  As a matter of fact, it did, as the”hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman” was none other than her husband, a hero of our nation’s founding; John Adams.

These claims were actually made in the press at the time immediately following the founding of the United States, and were, of course, untrue.  The treasury secretary was Alexander Hamilton.  The purported pimp of a candidate’s wife for votes was Thomas Jefferson1; the claim supposedly coming from John Randolph, a congressman from Virginia.  And this was not the half of it.  James Callender, came in from England, aided by Jefferson in establishing himself in the U.S., became the source of tabloid style, political attacks thrown in any direction which opposed the current source of his paychecks.  He even attacked Mr. Jefferson when he refused to give him a government job.

Abigail actually wrote to Jefferson in 1804 stating; “In no country has calumny, falshood[sic], and revileing[sic] stalked abroad more licentiously, than in this.  No political character has been secure from its attacks, no reputation so fair, as not to be counted by it, until truth and falshood[sic] lie in one undistinctioned heap”.

The attacks were not just tabloid style, but fear mongering just as we would find in the media today.  For example, Alexander Hamilton, writing under a pseudonym attacked Jefferson and his party; “Hence it is, in the present moment, we see the most industrious efforts made to violate the Constitution of this State, to trample upon the rights of the subject, and to chicane or infringe the most solemn obligations of treaty; while dispassionate and upright men almost totally neglect the means of counteracting these dangerous attempts.”

In 1798 John Adams received the what became known as the Alien and Sedition acts.  All accounts I’ve read had Abigail Adams encouraging the president to sign the acts into law.  Of interest here is the 4th act which made a high misdemeanor “false, scandalous, or malicious writing”.  However, this one act is often sited as a major cause of his failure to win reelection in 1800.  The new congress that followed repealed the acts and the newly elected president Thomas Jefferson, the man who made efforts to “trample upon the rights of the subject [the people]” pardoned all those imprisoned under the act.

So where does this leave us today?  Are Fox News and it’s less bombastic counterparts on “the left” off the hook given that the tradition of often baseless and even seditious political attacks in the media date back to the nations founding? Does the fact that Hamilton and Jefferson directly employed and encouraged these practices lend them merit?

In my opinion… no.  Madison wrote “A  popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce, or a tragedy, or perhaps both.”  Further, “Do not separate text from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government.”  In essence, a well educated and informed populace is required, and to understand their work, we must understand these people and the times in which they lived.  Jefferson wrote that ““Information is the currency of democracy” and “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”

In the words of these two men we find what I read to be the caveat in the core pillar of our system of government.  Government of the people, by the people, and for the people cannot be carried out effectively if the people are not well informed and do not prize education.  Any source that intentionally distorts the truth or circulates out right falsehood as truth for some political goal is, in my opinion, acting to subvert the true sovereign recognized by the consensus of the founders; the people.  Do I agree with Abigail and the Sedition Act, no.  But warning labels are used on many products to alert people about the contents, perhaps the same can be applied to the media.  *Warning*: the following program may contain material presented as factual and unbiased, when actually the exact opposite is true.  People are advised to seek other sources before reaching any conclusions.

And it goes further…  What if Hamilton and Jefferson had put aside their anger and sat down together as Washington had requested in letters to both men?  What if the politicians in the North and those in the South set out with the only goal being to work for ends of mutual benefit instead of slashing and burning and the near constant threats to secede from or dissolve the union?

And today, when we honestly ask who among us wants “big government breathing down our necks”, spending our money with reckless, let alone money borrowed from not-necessarily-friendly powers.  I would wager no one would raise their hands.  I would think no one wants high taxes… no one wants our rights trampled.

However, with fear running high, and anger and hatred stoked We The People will never sit down and safely debate the salient questions.  In my opinion, the people involved in creating this country committed an act of historic greatness indeed, but that does not render their every act great, or even the best choice.  Perhaps its time we relegated these worthless practices, that are at once injurious to those people and to the nation itself, to the magazines on the supermarket check-out racks.  If we don’t I fear that we will never come together as “We the People” and ensure that the guards we appoint for our security are actually concerned with it.

1: Cokie Roberts, Ladies of Liberty: The Women who Shaped Our Nation

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4 Comments for this entry

  • Don

    Scott – Is there even still time to save the vision of our founders?

  • newenglander

    I enjoyed reading your post. My take on the subject:

    Almost all people believe that an educated electorate is the keystone of a strong democracy…unfortunately, when education itself is criticized as elitism, the practice is a large chasm away from the theory.

    Ad hominem attacks and slanderous/libelous assaults on the candidates themselves instead of their platforms is, to me, the ultimate form of laziness and is the hallmark of people who cannot compete on any meaningful intellectual level. And, I guess, in a country where the average number of hours of TV viewing per day is constantly rising, that should come as no surprise to anyone.

    Establishing and maintaining a “by the people, for the people and of the people” government requires the engagement of the people (duh!). When that participation wanes sufficiently, you are eventually left with either tyranny, chaos or revolution.

  • admin

    Hi Don, I think there is, but my opinion is hardly worth mentioning. I have been asking for some time for people to reengage in actual debate. I think, if we can learn to ignore the ratings-driven, politcally motivated distractions, and actually talk to each other, we have a chance.

  • admin


    Very impressive! Your first statement about the pervasive opinion on education,and to the point, those who value it, is, to my mind, a critical factor. It is also a testament to the misrepresentation of the founders of the nation who not only held education in the highest regard, but would be referred to as elitist today (or at least “nerds”) The fact that Jefferson is so often reveared by the same people making those assertion, and that he had an expansive library that he insisted accompany him in his travels, makes a great illustration.

    He even, I learned recently, had his bed embeded in a wall so that his study and his bedroom were linked, and both readily accesible from it.

    And your second paragraph is impressive as well. While I think would say it is the laziness, a choice not a indictment of the people’s capacities, and the blatently drive to, at the same time, enourage and exploit that laziness by some of questionable intent that summarizes the scenario you correctly draw attention to.

    Your last paragraph, in my opinon, summarizes a probable outcome very concisely.

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