Friday, October 28, 2011

The Pennsylvania Packet - Facebook of the American Revolution

To the free and independent ELECTORS of the City of PHILADELPHIA.

. . The custom has been to deny the right of voting to all persons who have come from Germany, &c. until they have been naturalized, and taken such oaths as men now-a-days much object to; and what seems peculiar to this city alone, all men below the estate of fifty pounds are precluded.  Now I must profess myself of the Forester’s opinion, that every man in the country who manifests a disposition to venture his all for the defence of its Liberty, should have a voice in its Councils. . . .

From an open letter published on April 29, 1776 in Dunlap's Pennsylvania Packet

In this day of protests and rebellions organized through Facebook and other online resources, we wonder how something like the American Revolution could have ever been organized and the word spread.

Every city in early America had a newpaper. These periodicals were small, usually 3 or 4 columns, only one page, and published at most a few times a week. They didn't have investigative reporters, but they would print just about any document brought in to them. These papers were delivered to those who could read and afford subscriptions, but were also read aloud in taverns and other gathering places.

In the 1770s, John Dunlap printed his Pennsylvania Packet three times a week. In 1780, he joined forces with David Claypoole who eventually took over publication. In 1784, the Packet became America's first daily newspaper.

The Pennsylvania Packet was the first paper to print The Declaration of Independence on July 8, 1776 and, in 1787, the first to print The United States Constitution. Throughout the Revolution, Dunlap printed open letters, such as the one above. Many of Thomas Paine's letters were published, which he frequently signed "Common Sense" or merely, "C.S." Paine's essay Common Sense was originally printed as a brochure, but the full text appeared in the Packet at the end of the war.

Francis Hopkinson, signer of the Declaration, wrote many essays and poems for the Packet. His "Battle of the Kegs", a parody describing events of British-occupied Philadelphia, was published in March of 1778 and his tribute to General Washington, titled "A Toast" came out the next month.

"A Toast" can be heard on Colonial Revelers 1st CD, Revelry, Reflection & Revolution, along with  "God Save Our Thirteen States," printed in the Pennsylvania Packet in 1779.

Your humble servants,

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