December 9, 1793: Noah Webster launches The American Minerva

On December 9, 1793, a Connecticut Federalist by the name of Noah Webster founded New York City’s first daily newspaper. The American Minerva ran, in a variety of incarnations for over 150 years and eventually became the New York Sun which finally ceased publication in 1950.

Newspaper ReadersWebster launched his publication with this address to his readers:

It is the singular felicity of the Americans, and a circumstance that distinguishes this Country from all others, that the means of information are accessible to all descriptions of people. Most of the Citizens of America are not only acquainted with letters and able to read their native language; but they have a strong inclination to acquire, and property to purchase, the means of knowlege.

Of all the means of knowlege, Newspapers are the most eagerly sought after, and the most generally diffused. In no Country on earth, not even Great Britain, are Newspapers so generally circulated among the body of the people, as in America. To this facility of spreading knowlege over our Country, may, in a great degree, be attributed, that civility of manners, that love of peace and good order, and that propriety of public conduct, which characterize the substantial body of Citizens in the United States.

Newspapers, from their cheapness, and the frequency and rapidity of their circulation, may, in America, assume an eminent rank in the catalogue of useful publications. They, in a great degree, supersede the use of Magazines and Pamphlets. The public mind in America, roused by the magnitude of political events, and impatient of delay, cannot wait for monthly intelligence. Daily or at farthest weekly communications are found necessary to gratify public curiosity. But Newspapers are not only the vehicles of what is called news; they are the common instruments of social intercourse, by which the Citizens of this vast Republic constantly discourse and debate with each other on subjects or public concern. It is by means of these, that in times of danger, either from the hostility of insidious intrigue, an alarm is instantly conveyed, and a unanimity of opinion is formed, from Maine to Georgia…

The foundation of all free governments, seems to be, a general diffusion of knowlege. People must know they have rights, before they will claim them; and they must have just ideas of their own rights and learn to distinguish them from the rights of others, before they can form any rational system of government, or be capable of maintaining it. To know that we have rights, is very easy; to know how to preserve those rights, to adjust contending claims, as to prescribe the limits of each, here lies the difficulty. To form and to give duration to a system of government that shall ensure to every man his civil and political rights, and restrain every man from violating the rights of others, is a task of infinite magnitude. Indeed it is probably beyond the powers of man to devise a system for this purpose that can be perpetual; a system that will not in time crumble to pieces by its own imperfections, or be overthrown by the corruption and vices of men. The only anchor of hope left us by history and experience is that “free governments may be rendered durable, perhaps perpetual, by the knowlege, the wisdom and the good sense of the mass of people who are to be governed.” …

But Newspapers may be rendered useful in other respects. In America, agriculture and the arts are yet in their infancy. Other nations have gone before us in a great variety of improvements. They have, by observations and experiments, discovered many useful truths of which the people of this country are yet ignorant; or which are not generally known and applied to practice. The compiler of a paper, who will take the trouble to select from authors, those facts and principles in the arts which are found in other countries to abridge labor and render industry more productive, will perform a most essential service to his country. A useful fact, a truth, which cost some ingenious enquirer the labor ten year’s experiment, may be contained in a single column of a Gazette, and diffused among millions of people. Some exertions to collect such useful truths for this paper will be made by the Editor, and he hopes, with success.

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