ERIC Number: ED245272
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1984-Aug
Reference Count: 0
Colonial Newspaper Reaction to the Somerset Decision.
To examine colonial American press coverage of the British court decision to free American slave James Somerset, a study was conducted to clarify why the decision worked as a victory for British abolitionists but was usually cited even in post-Revolution America in the passage of increasingly oppressive slave legislation. Twenty-three of the thirty-two regularly publishing newspapers of 1772 were selected for survey. The extent of coverage was ascertained by determining the number of insertions each paper devoted to the story during the trial period and by counting the total number of words given to the story in these insertions. Because of the colonial editors' tradition of transcribing verbatim British press accounts, completeness of coverage was determined in large part by word count. On a colony by colony basis, it was found that readers in the areas surveyed could be as well informed as readers of most British papers. For example, the "Boston Gazette" provided only 42 words on the story, while its rival, "The Massachusetts Gazette and Boston News-Letter," devoted some 2,700 words to it, including trial coverage and opinion papers. Since the patriotic press saw its duty as inflaming rather than informing the public, the findings suggest that coverage of the Somerset trial manipulated colonial fear of racial equality as a way of providing yet another reason colonists should seek separation from Great Britain. (CRH)
Publication Type: Reports - Research; Speeches/Meeting Papers
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers: Media Role
Note: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (67th, Gainesville, FL, August 5-8, 1984).