Friday, September 25, 2009

The Legacy of Publick Occurrences

A good friend of mine (his name is Doug) runs a news blog that he calls Publick Occurrences.

Unless you have more than a passing interest in American history, that may not mean much to you. In fact, your initial reaction may be that the word "public" is misspelled. Of course, I tend to be a little obsessive about spelling so maybe I am the only one who noticed.

But the name is taken from the name of the first newspaper in the Americas. The newspaper was called Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick, and it was intended to be published monthly. In fact, it was published in Boston for the first and only time on this date in 1690.

(And, in case you are interested, I believe that "publick" was the preferred spelling in the 17th century. The same is true, I have been told, of the spellings of "forreign" and "domestick.")

Following its debut, the paper was shut down by the government. On Sept. 29, 1690, the following order was issued:
"Whereas some have lately presumed to Print and Disperse a Pamphlet, Entitled, Publick Occurrences, both Forreign and Domestick: Boston, Thursday, Septemb. 25th, 1690. Without the least Privity and Countenace of Authority. The Governour and Council having had the perusal of said Pamphlet, and finding that therein contained Reflections of a very high nature: As also sundry doubtful and uncertain Reports, do hereby manifest and declare their high Resentment and Disallowance of said Pamphlet, and Order that the same be Suppressed and called in; strickly forbidden any person or persons for the future to Set forth any thing in Print without License first obtained from those that are or shall be appointed by the Government to grant the same."

I don't recall much being said about that newspaper when I was studying journalism in college. But that may have been due to the fact that it didn't have a lengthy history.

The newspaper certainly may have had something to do with the fact that freedom of the press was included in the first amendment to the Constitution, which was approved nearly 100 years later.

The case certainly seems to have raised some points about government censorship that have been addressed — to a degree — in the last 319 years.

I don't know if the timing was deliberate or coincidental, but on this date in 1789, Congress approved the amendments that later became the Bill of Rights once they were ratified by enough states.

It doesn't receive the credit it should, but September 25 was an important day in the early life of this republic. It wouldn't be correct to say that freedom of the press was born that day, but I don't think it would be stretching the point to say it was conceived in Boston on Sept. 25, 1690.

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