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Robert Kennedy's United States History Class

LO I Lecture

Study Guide

Learning Objective One:

Discuss the role of propaganda in contributing to the development of colonial unification. Also discuss the role of the "popular leaders'" toward unification.

Lecture: LO1

Propaganda is the systematic spreading of a given doctrine or allegations which reflect the views and interests of the propagandist or author. Propaganda is a political tool which is used to motivate a given group of people or individuals into a particular action or non-action. As a political tool it has no intrinsic goodness or badness except as viewed by the user or receiver. Propaganda is the manipulation of reality. It is the seduction of human emotions to create a desired image.


It is important to understand the use of propaganda as a political tool and how it was used by both popular leaders and the media during the colonial period and today. In today's society, there is a tendency to create the representation of democracy, instead of a representative democracy. This is accomplished by image making with the use of advertisement to play on and DIRECT people's emotions toward a particular candidate or issue. The objective is to create anxieties about a candidate or issue, or to make people trust a candidate and feel good about him or an issue. During the colonial period as well as today, the media also participates in this image making process by the way it selects the stories or portions of stories it chooses to report.


This selective process exerted by the media over public opinion is called "gate keeping." By nature, "gate keeping" is "trickle down." The media selects topics or parts of topics to cover. By choosing to inflate a topic or choosing not to cover a topic, either partially or completely, the media creates in image that "trickles down" to the public. Thus, the information supplied by the media, especially by television--leads to electoral choices. These choices tend to be based solely on the values and attitudes of media executives and reporters.


It is almost impossible to overestimate the importance of the press in disseminating ideas in pre-revolutionary war America . Any educated American was likely to be versed in the philosophy of "hierarchy and balance" and John Locke, whose principles were constantly discussed in newspapers, pamphlets, and books .


The most important medium of communication within the press was the newspapers. Every colony except New Jersey and Delaware, already served by New York and Philadelphia printers , had at least one newspaper , and the rest, except for Georgia and New Hampshire, had at least two. Most papers were new; only 15 of them had been in print before 1764. Circulation was tiny by modem standards, around 1,500 or 1,600 per issue, and most papers were printed weekly. Most papers were new; only 15 of them had been in print before 1764. Circulation was tiny by modem standards, around 1,500 or 1,600 per issue, and most papers were printed weekly.


But colonial newspapers' readership far exceeded their subscription lists, and their circulation went far beyond their immediate localities. The New-York Mercury boasted in 1762 that it circulated in every capital from Nova Scotia to Georgia, as well as the West Indies, Great Britain, and Holland. Americans writing to correspondents in England often referred them to American newspapers.


A point of importance was that printers served as postmasters in the colonial postal service, and newspapers exchanged with other colonial printers were carried free of charge. Thus an important story in the Georgia Gazette would eventually find its way into the New-Hampshire Gazette and most of the papers in between.


American unity from the Stamp Act on was promoted by newspaper accounts of what the other colonies were doing: thus Massachusetts was prodded into action by newspaper reports of the Virginia Stamp Act resolves, and the need for a continental congress was fully debated in the press long before it was actually convened.


Although the newspapers were the most important means of communication, they more or less were tools for propagandists: Sam Adams and James Otis in Boston, Charles Thomson and Thomas Paine in Philadelphia, Richard Henry Lee and Patrick Henry of Virginia, to name a few.


These men are sometimes known as "popular leaders" and were primarily responsible for molding a common colonial identity by 1776. Because of the great diversity of the 13 American colonies, their emergence provided an indispensable common denominator for independence.

Sam Adams


James Otis


Charles Thomson


Thomas Paine


Richard Lee


Patrick Henry


They came to power during the ten-year period following the passage of the Stamp Act because the traditional leadership class within the colonies found themselves unable to act in any effective way to deal with colonial problems.

American newspapers reacted to the Stamp Act with anger and predictions of the demise of journalism.

Notice of Stamp Act of 1765 in Newspaper