The Boom of Newspapers
Newspapers were the main way to bring news to the people of the 18th century. In the time during and after the Revolution, newspaper publications became more widespread and frequent. Between 1776 and 1790, the number of newspapers published in the United States doubled.1 In addition, papers that were once being published as weeklies were now starting to publish an edition two to three times a week.2 The public debate over ratification began in the newspapers. Due to continuous threats against authors of controversial position pieces on ratification, such as tar and featherings, writers adapted the procedure of writing their pieces under pseudonyms.3 Some of the most famous pseudonyms include Publius (masking the identity of John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison in the authorship of the Federalist papers) and Centinel (masking the identity of the Anti-Federalist author Samuel Bryan).
The first of the famous Federalist papers appeared on October 27, 1787 in the New York
Independent Journal.4 However, it was much easier for these pro-ratification pieces, rather than pieces criticizing the proposed Constitution, to be published in newspapers across the country. Only twelve of the over ninety newspapers in America at the time published a substantial number of essays criticizing the proposed Constitution.5 The few printers that did venture to print every piece from every perspective often faced harsh reactions from their readers. These printers would face anything from verbal attacks to canceled subscriptions to threats of mob violence.6
Issue of Freedom of the Press
These strong biases toward the printing of pro-ratification pieces present in the publications of the time played into a much larger debate. Without the Bill of Rights, the current Constitution had no protection of 'freedom of the press'. The publisher of the Massachusetts Centinel,7Benjamin Russell, stated that he would not print any essays that criticized the Constitution.8 Those who opposed ratification responded to this threat by arguing that the press' liberty should not ever be restrained or limited. The acts of these pro-ratification publishers further ignited the 'Anti-Federalist' argument for the necessity of additional protection of rights.
As the constitutional debates took over the newspapers, they also infiltrated every aspect of common life. In particular, these debates largely affected the culture of taverns in America.
The battle between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists would take place in the taverns of the cities. Both the elite and middle class taverns would play a large role.
Never before had the common person had such a say in the fate of their own country. The working class taverns were common places of meeting and conversation. These places were often used to debate the newest issues with regards to ratification and establish political
identity.9 The elite taverns, sharing little aesthetically with10 their working class counterparts, were used as meeting places for influential politicians of the time. Here, heated debates over ratification took place and party politics were introduced into the growing political scene.11
In this extremely turbulent time in American history, the Constitution was sent to the people to debate. More than ever before there was an emphasis put on how information was being delivered to and discussed among the people. With the growth of newspapers, both the access to information and the problems with publication biases grew. But no matter the information people received or their position in society, the various details of the Constitution were constantly at the center of conversation.