Controversy over the Coverage of the 4th of July

It was 1814, the war had been going on for two years, and the antagonism between those who supported the war and those who were against it had not lessened.  When the New York Evening Post made its report on the events of the day, it was immediately attacked for the way it had done so.  The following are extracts from its reporting:

“The military made a very elegant and soldierly appearance.  Their highly improved music since within a year produced the most exhilarating effect.  His Excellency the Governor was attended for the first time by a guard on foot!  The Tammany Society turned out with all their might; they particularly exhibited a fine shew of pappooses just under 20.  The genius of Columbia appeared in female attire, and to make the representation as natural as possible, they judiciously selected the most delicate and thinnest gentleman among them, whose cheek bespoke more of the lily than the rose, walked with downcast eye, as he gracefully and modestly held his inside garments just above the knee. . . . We had like to have forgot the Honorable Corporation.  These fathers of the city shewed their respect to the occasion by eating an excellent dinner and quaffing the best of wines together, and when they rose from table, about sun set, ordered all the bells in the city to set up a funeral toll, which was faithfully observed ‘swinging slow with sullen roar’ for about two hours, being the usual manner in which the guardians of our city express joy.”

The National Advocate responded to this the very next issue:

“The facetious Evening Post of Tuesday, made himself, and I suppose, his readers, exceedingly merry, with some remarks on the celebration of the last anniversary of our Independence.  It is a fatality usually attending the humour of that paper, that very few, if any body, can understand it.  It is like a dull razor, without either edge or point, and its operation is usually analogous to that of a gun fired at random–if it hits at all, ten to one but it is where the owner least expects.  Indeed the poor dull rogue of an editor continually reminds one of the celebrated archer

‘Who shot at a frog– / But missing his mark, shot into a bog.’

The article in question was, probably, really intended to ridicule his Excellency the Governor, the Military, and the Tammany Society–but the unlucky squire, as usual, in his attempts at wit, has blundered out, what appears a miserable attempt, to throw the whole ceremony of the day, its object, and its intention into ridicule. Those who don’t know his immutable faculty at writing, so as to mean any thing, or nothing, just as it may suit his purpose, will be surprised at his apparent insolence, in thus attempting to degrade the anniversary of our national existence, and to outrage the feelings of every American, born this side of Connecticut river.”

Toasts offered up during Fourth of July celebrations often were marked by local feelings and attitudes.  The following sedate toast was offered at Albany, New York (Albany Argus, July 8, 1814):

“America–The last refuge of persecuted liberty, the only asylum of oppression, the only nation on earth blessed with a free government; its constitution and its people will be the peculiar care of heaven; if we are true to ourselves we may defy the utmost malice of our implacable foe, and all the myrmidons of tyranny.”

In contrast, two toasts given at a barbecue at Springfield, Tennessee, offer a more war-like spirit (Nashville Whig, July 13, 1813):

“May the hand of providence inflict Nebuchadnezer’s punishment on every federalist who is a tory to his country, and may he be driven out fro amongst men, and eat grass with the Ox, until seven times pass over him, and his senses return, to act upon the level and square with his republican brethren.”  The other refers to a good old Western custom: “A lasting jacket of the essence of Pine Knots covered with the plume of a Goose, for the enemies of America.”


About the Author

Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.

Mary Bowden