Although frequently attacked for their partisanship and undue political influence,
the American media of today are objective and relatively ineffectual compared to their
counterparts of two hundred years ago. From the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth century,
newspapers were the republic's central political institutions, working components of the party
system rather than commentators on it.
The Tyranny of Printers
narrates the rise of this newspaper-based politics, in which editors became the chief
party spokesmen and newspaper offices often served as local party headquarters. Beginning when
Thomas Jefferson enlisted a Philadelphia editor to carry out his battle with Alexander Hamilton
for the soul of the new republic (and got caught trying to cover it up), the centrality of
newspapers in political life gained momentum after Jefferson's victory in 1800, which was widely
credited to a superior network of papers. Jeffrey L. Pasley tells the rich story of this
political culture and its culmination in Jacksonian democracy, enlivening his narrative with
accounts of the colorful but often tragic careers of individual editors.