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From Boyhood to Manhood
The Boy Editor
by Thayer, William M.


For six months the Courant continued its attacks upon the government, after the editor came out of prison. It took up also, the inconsistencies of church members, and discussed them with great plainness. But the number of the paper for Jan. 14, 1723, was too much for aristocratic flesh and blood, and almost too much for blood that was not aristocratic. The Council was incensed, and adopted the following order:
"IN COUNCIL, Jan. 14, 1723.

"WHEREAS, The paper, called The New England Courant of this day's date, contains many passages in which the Holy Scriptures are perverted, and the Civil Government, Ministers, and People of the Province highly reflected on,

"Ordered, That William Tailer, Samuel Sewell, and Penn Townsend, Esqrs., with such as the Honorable House of Representatives shall join, be a committee to consider and report what is proper for the Court to do thereon."
The House of Representatives concurred in the measure, and it was rushed through, as measures are likely to be when the dander of legislators is up, and the committee reported as follows:
"That James Franklin, the printer and publisher thereof, be strictly forbidden by the Court to print or publish The New England Courant, or any other pamphlet or paper of the like nature, except that it is first supervised by the Secretary of the Province; and the Justices of His Majesty's Sessions of the Peace for the County of Suffolk, at their next adjournment, be directed to take sufficient bonds of the said Franklin for twelve months' time."
As soon as the Council took this action, the Courant club was called together, and the whole matter canvassed.

"The next thing will be an order that no one of us shall have a pair of breeches without permission from the Secretary of the Province," remarked one, sarcastically. "The Secretary has not brains enough to pass judgment upon some of our articles, and he is too English to judge rightly of New England necessities."

"We should appear smart, tugging our articles over to the Secretary each week for his permission to print them," suggested James. "I shall never do it as long as my name is James Franklin."

"Nor I," added one of the club.

"Nor I," another.

"Nor I," another still.

There was but one mind in the company; and all were disposed to fight it out on the line of freedom of the press.

"But, do you notice," added one of the club, "that no one but James Franklin is forbidden to publish the Courant? Some other person can publish it."

"Sure enough, that is so," responded James, "and here is our way out of the difficulty."

"Of course you can not publish it yourself," addressing James, "in defiance of this order of the Council."

"Of course not; but Benjamin Franklin can do it, as he is not forbidden. How would that do?"

"That can not be done, because he is only an apprentice," suggested a former speaker. "They can prove that he is your apprentice readily."

"Well, I can meet that difficulty without any trouble," said James, who was intent upon evading the order of the Court.

"Pray, tell us how? By changing the name of the paper?"

"Not by any means. Now is not the time to part with a name that the magistrates and ministers are so much in love with."

"How, then, can you meet the difficulty?"

"Well, I can return his indenture, with his discharge upon the back of it, and he can show it in case of necessity. At the same time he can sign a new indenture that will be kept a secret."

"Capital!" exclaimed one; "I never thought of that. The measure is a practical one, and I move that we reduce it to practice at once."

"I support it with all my heart, not only as practical, but ingenious," added another. "It is honorable to meet the tyranny of the Council with an innocent subterfuge like that."

All agreed to the plan, and adopted it enthusiastically.

"Benjamin Franklin, Editor of the Courant," exclaimed a member of the club, rising from his seat and patting Benjamin on the shoulder. "Don't that sound well, my boy? Rather a young fellow to have in charge such an enterprise, but a match, I guess, for the General Court of the Province."

"The youngest editor, proprietor, and publisher of a paper in the whole land, no doubt," suggested another. "But it is as true here as it is in other things, 'Old men for counsel, young men for war.' We are at war now, and we do not want an editor who will cry peace, when there is no peace."

"A free man, too," suggested another facetiously, "an apprentice no longer, to be knocked about and treated as an underling. At the top, with the laurels of manhood on the brow of sixteen!"

Benjamin had not spoken, but he had listened. Affairs had taken an unexpected turn. In the morning he had no idea of becoming editor-in-chief of the paper that made more stir in Boston than the other two combined. The promotion rather startled him. Not that he shrank from the responsibility; for he had no hesitation in assuming that; but the promotion was wholly unexpected. The honors came upon him suddenly, in a way he never dreamed of. It is not strange that he was somewhat dumbfounded, though not confounded. He maintained silence, because, in the circumstances, he could say nothing better than silence.

The plan of James having been adopted, all hastened to carry out the details. Benjamin received his indenture, with the endorsement that constituted him a free man, and he was announced as the publisher of the Courant, and as such his name appeared upon the paper, also as editor.

In the next issue James inserted the following in the Courant:
"The late publisher of this paper, finding so many inconveniences would arise, by his carrying the manuscripts and the public news to be supervised by the Secretary, as to render his carrying it on unprofitable, has entirely dropped the undertaking."
Benjamin inserted an amusing salutatory, as if the Courant was appearing before the public for the first time. It was as follows:
"Long has the press groaned in bringing forth a hateful brood of pamphlets, malicious scribbles, and billingsgate ribaldry. No generous and impartial person then can blame the present undertaking, which is designed purely for the diversion and merriment of the reader. Pieces of pleasantry and mirth have a secret charm in them to allay the heats and tumults of our spirits, and to make a man forget his restless resentment. The main design of this weekly paper will be to entertain the town with the most comical and diverting incidents of human life, which, in so large a place as Boston, will not fail of a universal exemplification. Nor shall we be wanting to fill up these papers with a grateful interspersion of more serious words, which may be drawn from the most ludicrous and odd parts of life."
Pretty good for a boy of sixteen! Good sense, tact, humor, and rhetoric combined in one brief paragraph! Not only the youngest editor in 1723, but the youngest editor of a city paper from that day to this, so far as we know. On the fact hangs a tale of the wonderful powers of a boy who can occupy such a place, and fill it.

We have said that the Courant of Jan. 14, 1723, was filled with matter that exasperated officials of the Province. The reader will want to know what some of those utterances were. We will copy a few:
"Religion is indeed the principal thing, but too much of it is worse than none at all. The world abounds with knaves and villains; but, of all knaves, the religious knave is the worst, and villainies acted under the cloak of religion the most execrable. Moral honesty, though it will not itself carry a man to heaven, yet I am sure there is no going thither without it."

"But are there such men as these in thee, O New England? Heaven forbid there should be any; but, alas, it is to be feared the number is not small. 'Give me an honest man,' say some, 'for all a religious man'; a distinction which I confess I never heard of before. The whole country suffers for the villainies of a few such wolves in sheep's clothing, and we are all represented as a pack of knaves and hypocrites for their sakes."

"In old Time it was no disrespect for Men and Women to be called by their own Names. Adam was never called Master Adam; we never heard of Noah, Esquire, Lot, Knight and Baronet, nor the Right Honorable Abraham, Viscount Mesopotamia, Baron of Canaan. No, no; they were plain Men, honest Country Graziers, that took care of their Families and their Flocks. Moses was a great Prophet, and Aaron a priest of the Lord; but we never read of the Reverend Moses, nor the Right Reverend Father in God, Aaron, by Divine Providence, Lord Arch-Bishop of Israel. Thou never sawest Madam Rebecca in the Bible, My Lady Rachel, nor Mary, tho' a Princess of the Blood after the death of Joseph, called the Princess Dowager of Nazareth. No; plain Rebecca, Rachel, Mary, or the Widow Mary, or the like. It was no Incivility then to mention their naked Names as they were expressed.

"Yet, one of our Club will undertake to prove, that tho' Abraham was not styled Right Honorable, yet he had the Title of Lord given him by his Wife Sarah, which he thinks entitles her to the Honour of My Lady Sarah; and Rachel, being married into the same Family, he concludes that she may deserve the Title of My Lady Rachel. But this is but the Opinion of one Man; it was never put to vote in the Society."

"On the whole, Friend James, we may conclude, that the Anti-Couranteers [opponents of the Courant] are a sort of Precisians, who, mistaking Religion for the peculiar Whims of their own distemp'rd Brain, are for cutting or stretching all Men to their own Standard of Thinking. I wish Mr. Symmes' Character may secure him from the Woes and Curses they are so free of dispensing among their dissenting neighbours, who are so unfortunate as to discover a Cheerfulness becoming Christianity."
It is not questioned that Benjamin wrote these paragraphs, among others; and for keen satire they are very remarkable as the composition of a boy of sixteen. At the present day they would be regarded as quaint, able and truthful, without awakening opposition. But, in 1723, no doubt there were tender consciences among the official sycophants of the English Government, that made a just application of these cutting words, so as to become exasperated and bitter. Hence, their tyrannical and unjustifiable legislation.

Mr. Parton mentions a fact that should be noted here: "Until the Revolution, the business of publishing newspapers in America was carried on almost exclusively by postmasters. Newspapers went free of postage in the colonies as late as 1758. Until that time, the postmasters had not only the privilege of sending papers through the mail free, but the still more valuable right of excluding from the mail papers published by others. Accordingly, we find that nearly all the pioneers of the press, in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, were postmasters. When a postmaster lost his office he generally sold out his newspaper, and a new postmaster soon bought or established one. John Campbell, however, feeling himself aggrieved by his removal, did not dispose of the News-letter [first paper in this country]; which induced his successor, William Brocker, to set up a paper of his own, the Boston Gazette, which appeared in December, 1719. Mr. Brocker expressly says, in his prospectus, that he started the new paper at the request of several merchants, and others, who 'have been prevented from having their newspaper sent them by the post, ever since Mr. Campbell was removed from being postmaster.'" [*]

[* Vol. i, p. 78.]

It is a significant fact that, in 1758, newspapers ceased to be carried free in the mails, and a charge of ninepence a year for each fifty miles of carriage was assessed; and our Benjamin brought about the change. He was then known as Deputy Postmaster General, and made the change in the interest of the public welfare. We think that, at the time, he must have recalled his tussle with the General Court, when, at sixteen, he edited the Courant.

Benjamin continued in his brother's printing office eight months after the occurrence just narrated, editor and publisher of the Courant. His brother never run the paper again in his own name, and, subsequently, he removed to Newport, R.I., where he established the Rhode Island Gazette in 1732.

Benjamin kept up his running fire against the truckling representatives of the British government, including ministers who were not outspoken against oppression and the censorship of the press. The blade of his satire became brighter and keener, and the circulation of the paper increased largely, showing that the portion of the population having the true American spirit, were in sympathy with the purpose of the paper. Mr. Sparks says of it:
"It touched with great freedom the vices and follies of the time. The weapon of satire was used with an unsparing hand. Neither the government nor the clergy escaped. Much caution was practised, however, in regard to individuals, and names were seldom introduced. There are some severe and humorous criticisms on the poets of the day, which may be classed with the best specimens of this kind of composition in the modern reviews. The humor sometimes degenerates into coarseness, and the phraseology is often harsh; but, bating these faults, the paper contains nothing, which in later times would have been deemed reprehensible."

Of the action of the General Court, imprisoning James Franklin, Mr. Sparks says: "He was sentenced by a vote of the Assembly, without any specification of offensive passages, or any trial before a court of justice. This was probably the first transaction, in the American Colonies, relating to the freedom of the press; and it is not less remarkable for the assumption of power on the part of the legislature, than for their disregard of the first principles and established forms of law."
This is a fair and just estimate of the affair. Probably officials saw their mistake, and concluded not to repeat it; for Benjamin was not molested in his business, though he continued to be as saucy and sarcastic as ever. From that day freedom of the press was assured in this country.

This narrative of Benjamin's connection with the printing office, at the time a new paper was to be established, shows that the circumstances called out a certain kind of talent he possessed, and thus helped to make him what he became. Success depends in a great measure on early directing the young in the path to which their natural endowments point. Square men should be put into square holes, and round men into round holes. Many careers are spoiled by reversing this law of nature, getting square men into round holes, and round men into square holes. A good mechanic has often been spoiled to make an indifferent clergyman or merchant, and a good minister has been spoiled to make a commonplace artisan. Overlooking the "natural bent," the youth has selected an occupation (or his father for him) for which he has no special aptitude, and he brings little to pass.

Benjamin was a square youth, and he got into a square hole, which he just fitted. He was not there by his own election; he was there by the lead of Providence, and he cheerfully acquiesced. Becoming the right boy in the right place, he grew into stalwart manhood and a useful life, as naturally as the sapling on congenial soil grows into the thrifty, fruit-bearing tree.

In the second chapter we spoke of Boston, in the infancy of Benjamin, as a place where bears were plenty, and other wild animals roamed. The Courant contained the following paragraph, about the time of its contest with the Court, and we copy it as a fitting close to this chapter:
"It is thought that not less than twenty Bears have been killed in about a week's time within two miles of Boston. Two have been killed below the Castle, as they were swimming from one island to another, and one attempted to board a boat out in the bay, but the men defended themselves so well with the boat-hook and oars, that they put out her eyes, and then killed her. On Tuesday last two were killed at Dorchester, one of which weighed sixty pounds a quarter. We hear from Providence that the bears appear to be very thick in those parts."


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