Final Project

Throughout this entire semester, we as a class have studied many forms of communication.  We have discussed cave paintings and the beating of drums all the way up to the current day iphones and social networking media.  However, we were not able to cover everything.  One of those forms of communication that was never mentioned was the pamphlet.  The pamphlet is a small informational piece that provides some sort of information to the reader.  They were pertinent in American History during
several eras.  However, they were extremely important for the colonies during the Revolutionary Period from about 1730 to 1780.

The most famous pamphlet during this era might have been written by Thomas
Paine.  Common Sense was a pamphlet written in 1776 that literally could alone spark the Revolution.  Over the course of the pamphlet, Paine attacked Britain for all the atrocities that the “Mother Country” had committed.  What was amazing
about this piece is that Continental Congressmen brought home copies of Common Sense to families across the continent.  In fact, South Carolina
delegate Christopher Gadsen passed out the pamphlet while carrying the famous
yellow flag that read “Don’t Tread on Me,” while reading Paine’s pamphlet.  It may have outraged many Loyalists, but from Gadsen to Jon and Samuel Adams in Boston, Common
Sense
was everything to them in order to persuade the colonists to start a
war.  The pamphlet went across countrysides, rallying the cause to start a war.[1]

One of the pamphlets that became famous for a different reason was Thomas Whately’s
letters concerning the Stamp Act of 1765. Whately was an English politician who wrote letters in Britain discussing the fairness of the Stamp Act. Of course theses letters were compiled into pamphlets in the colonies, and were then passed out around taverns for colonists to read.  The problem with Whately’s pamphlet was that it showed the mistake the British made: it made it clear that the colonists were not even given the opportunity
to tax themselves.  This of course angered the colonists, and this lead to many problems for the British trying to govern this tax law.[2]

Another Revolutionary pamphleteer is James Otis of Massachusetts.  Now, Otis did write many pamphlets, but what made his pamphlets famous was the speech he gave on the Writs of Assistance in 1761.  Former President John Adams said that Otis “…was a flame of fire.  With a promptitude of classical allusions, a depth of research, a rapid summary of historical events and dates, a profusion of legal authorities…he carried away all before him.”[3]  Otis was a great speaker and his words after his most famous speech was put into a pamphlet in the colonies.  By defending the merchants against the Crown Lawyers (royal British lawyers), Otis in the pamphlets became another fixture of hope towards breaking away from Britain, and the pamphlets circulated the colonies as a reminder of that.[4]

“If they had, and I imagine no American will fay, they had not, then the parliament
had no right to compel them to execute it.”[5]  Spoken by John Dickinson, these words echoed in his letters as colonists grew tired of the abuses of the British.  From 1767 to 1768, Dickinson’s works were reprinted into pamphlets in the 13 colonies, specifically discussing the Townshend Acts.  Dickinson took the role of a regular farmer, but using his intellect, told a persuading tale of how Britain’s overbearing rule on the colonies was affecting this particular person’s livelihood.  For several years, his works were constantly looked at for their perspective, but also for the fact that they told an intriguing tale.[6]

Now, pamphlets are seen everywhere in America today.  They are small, compact, and provide great amounts of information.  But when this nation was first starting, pamphlets were used as an extremely powerful tool to will the colonists to fight back against the British.  During my research, I was not able to find statistics on this particular area for the amount of pamphlets produced, but many quotes were found coming from former Congressmen and Presidents during this era.  These pamphlets were used as a
war cry, a spark to fight for a much greater cause than some of us realize.  Had it not been for these pamphlets, they may not have been enough supporters to fight back against Great Britain.  That would definitely change how the world is today.



[1] Harvey J. Kaye, Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (London: Macmillan Publisers, 2006), 50-56.

[2] Edmund Sears Morgan, The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution (Chapel Hill: UNC Press Books, 1995),50-64.

[3] James Otis, Famous Orators of the World and Their Best Orations (Philadelphia: J.C. Winston Company, 1902), 23.

[4] Ibid., 23-25.

[5] John Dickinson, Letters From a Farmer, in Pennsylvania, to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies (London: Oxford University Press, 1774), 8-9.

[6] John Dickinson, The Writings of John Dickinson: Political Writings 1764-1774 Volume 1 (Philadelphia: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1895), 279-287.

 

Comments are closed.