History

Free From All Licentious Reflections, Insolence, and Abuse

“As our present political state affords Matter for a variety of Thoughts, of peculiar importance to the good people of New England we purpose to insert every thing of that Nature that may be pertinently and decently wrote. For ourselves, we declare that we are of no Party, neither shall we promote the narrow and Private designs of any such. We are ourselves free, and our Paper shall be free—free as the Constitution we enjoy—free to Truth, good Manners, and good Sense, and at the same time free from all licentious Reflections, Insolence, and Abuse … to state and defend the Rights and Liberties of Mankind.” From the Independent Advertiser, on January 4, 1748.

Samuel Adams was 26 years old in 1748; a Harvard College graduate working in his father’s malthouse (or brewery if you believe the marketing) and trying to figure out his place in the world. That year he would take a big step towards that goal with the publication of his newspaper, the Independent Advertiser. Heavily influenced by the writings and philosophy of John Locke, he would in turn influence countless people himself. He would write most of the content in the Independent Advisor for the next 27 years until the British would shut it down in 1775. Too late for the Mother Country, for the damage was already done.

Samuel Adams was 41 when the French and Indian War ended, leaving Great Britain in debt and looking for a way to relieve that debt. They chose taxation of the colonists who had already suffered the weight of the war with the French and Native American population. This would prove too much, and the Independent Advertiser became decidedly less neutral. Adams, as the primary writer of the newspaper, became a thought leader and the Father of American Independence. The period between the end of the French and Indian War and the beginning of the Revolutionary War cemented Adam’s place in history.

Nowadays its trendy in some orange circles to bash the media as fake. There’s no doubt that there’s plenty of fake media out there, but there’s also plenty of real news that politicians and profiteers would sweep under the “fake news” rug. The problem is knowing what, and who, to trust. And now there have never been more misinformed content writers, promoters of conspiracy theories, and the mad ramblings of direct sources on Twitter to fuel the chaos. These are strange, dark times.

Adams was considered a radical until enough people saw things the same way. It makes you wonder, what is considered radical today that will gain enough momentum to be commonly-accepted truth down the road? There’s plenty to choose from in the last few years leading up to this penultimate 2020. Who is rising up to state and defend the Rights and Liberties of Mankind? Plenty of people are. The question is, who will shake themselves free of the noise to listen? And if 2020 is indeed penultimate, what is the next chapter?

The concept of civilized discourse in politics has eroded over the last few years. That mirrors society as a whole, at least on social media and on the front lines of ideological debate. As a reader of history I know it wasn’t all that much different in Sam Adam’s time. We just have more advanced technology to amplify the licentious reflections, insolence and abuse. At what point does that technology start amplifying the truth, good manners and good sense instead? As it was when Samuel Adams was building his future, it will be when enough people start seeing things the same way. And demanding a higher standard.

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