In this editor's note from Founders Online, a National Archives resource, the author explores the roles of Thomas Jefferson and Philip Freneau in the founding of the National Gazette newspaper.
The partisan politics arising from the creation of the Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties gave birth to the partisan press, and newspapers throughout the United States aligned themselves with one party or the other. Both Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson worked anonymously and behind the scenes to encourage their respective partisan presses.
Over time, Jefferson’s letters reveal that, while he strongly supported freedom of the press, he was not immune to the partisan and personal attacks made upon him, and he supported some prosecutions for libel and sedition. Ultimately, he came to view attacks of the partisan press as a necessary evil.
Behind the scenes, Jefferson helped to develop the partisan press
"For god’s sake, my dear Sir, take up your pen, select the most striking heresies, and cut him [Alexander Hamilton] to pieces in the face of the public."
- Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1793
“His paper has saved our constitution which was galloping fast into monarchy, & has been checked by no one means so powerfully as by that paper”
- Thomas Jefferson, recalling the founding of John Freneau’s “National Gazette” to attack the Federalists, 1818
Jefferson, Freneau, and the Founding of the National Gazette:
"Quere—whether this salary is paid him for translations: or for publications, the design of which is to vilify those to whom the voice of the people has committed the administration of our public affairs—to oppose the measures of government, and by false insinuations, to disturb the public peace?
In common life it is thought ungrateful for a man to bite the hand that puts bread into his mouth; but if the man is hired to do it, the case is altered."