Item of the Day: Cobbett’s Political Censor (1796)

Coincidence led me to today’s choice of Peter Porcupine’s radically Federalist journal, The Political Censor. While I was in Philadelphia, I ran across several satirical representations of Porcupine, some of whose writings I knew were in the Reading Room. Upon my return, I was just sitting down to read him when I happened upon last week’s wonderful post on Porcupine (William Cobbett) and Noah Webster by U. of Pennsylvania professor Mark Liberman at Language Log, the excellent collaborative blog of several prominent linguists. It was clearly time to blog Porcupine. Full Title:

The Political Censor, or Monthly Review of the Most interesting Political Occurrences, Relative to the United States of America. By Peter Porcupine.

Written by William Cobbett (as Peter Porcupine). Printed in Philadelphia for Benjamin Davies, No. 68, High-Street, 1796.

Introduction:

SOME of the principal debates of the present session of Congress, with Remarks thereon, appeared a few weeks ago, under the Title of, “A Prospect from the Congress-Gallery,” published by Mr. Thomas Bradford. The favourable reception of that work led me to undertake that which I now offer to the public. My plan, however, being altered, for reasons with which I am going to acquaint the reader, it became necessary to alter the title also.

No one, who has been an attentive observer of the violent and dangerous attempts, which have been made, and are still making, against the Federal Constitution, and consequently against the peace, prosperity and happiness of our country, can have failed to perceive, that they had their rise in the deception, which has been so industriously circulated through every part of the United-States. It is not to be presumed, indeed, that the leaders in this hostile and formidable combination have been deceived: they have long been marshalled and ready for the attack: but it is the delusion, which has been quietly suffered to steal its way among the people, that has called them into the field and encouraged them to assault, first the out-works, and at last the very citadel of our liberties and our lives.

The source of this delusion it is not difficult to discover: we have it continually before our eyes. I mean the public papers, and I speak with a very few exceptions.

The general government adopted the most effectual measures for facilitating the conveyance of information to every quarter of the Union, at the least possible expence. Hence subscribers to papers were found in abundance, and the editors, striking off numerous impressions, were, of course, enabled to furnish them at a low price. The intention of the government, as expressed by the President himself, was certainly the most beneficent, that of spreading true information and useful knowledge among all classes of the community. But what has been the consequence? Exactly the contrary. The French Revolution burst forth like a vulcano, and its devouring lava reached even us. The editors, perceiving the partiality of the most numerous class of their subscribers for this revolution, and all the novel and wild principles it has given rise to, have been seduced, by the love of gain, to flatter that partiality by extolling those principles, at the expence of every thing, their own private interest excepted. Their papers, which swarm like summer flies, are become the vehicles of falsehood in place of truth, of ignorance in place of knowledge. Like the tenebrificous stars, mentioned by a celebrated author, they shed darkness in place of light.

A veil has been carefully drawn over the distresses and horrors resulting from the anarchical system of France; or, when this could not be done, when the editors have feared to be anticipated by their fellow-labourers, they have endeavoured to out-vie each other in apologies for what ought to have been held up to detestation, or, at least, as an awful lesson to ourselves. Every one, even of the most destructive and impious acts of that pretended republic, has been trumpeted forth as the effect of a liberal and enlightened policy; while no insinuation, no subtilty, no audacious falsehood, has been left unessayed to thwart all the measures of our own mild and wise government, to disfigure its principles, and sever it from the affections of the people.

To countervail the malignant efforts of these retailers has ever been my wish; and, I hope, it will not be thought presumption in me, if I believe that the trifles from my pen, which the public have honoured with their perusal, have, in some slight degree, had the desired effect. But, alas, what can a straggling pamphlet, necessarily confined to a single subject, do against a hundred thousand volumes of miscellaneous falsehood in folio! Their sheets, if extended, would more than cover the surface of our country.

In opposing a literary monster like this, I am aware that a Porcupine, with all his quills, can never hope for complete success: but, nothing can be accomplished without being begun: I hope to call up abler hands to my aid: to me, it will be a sufficient honour to have led the way.

This I shall attempt, in a monthly work, of the same bulk and price as the one which is here submitted to the public. In this work I shall take a review of the political transactions of the past month; give an account of every democratic trick, whether of native growth or imported from abroad; unravel the windings of the pretended patriots, and more particularly those of the flour-merchants, and I trust, I shall be enabled to give, monthly, a sketch of political affairs more satisfactory, because more correct, than has ever yet appeared in this country. These will be the leading objects; but I shall exclude nothing, not entirely foreign to the nature of the work, that may contribute to the use or amusement of my readers.

The news-papers are supported by subscription, and for that very reason the Censor shall not. As long as people read, so long shall I write; and when the Bookseller advertises me that the work lies on his shelf, it will be a very good hint for me to draw in my quills.

Here, then, begins a bellum eternum between the fabricating Quid-Nuncs and me.–There is my glove, gentlemen; take it up as soon as you will. You well know that your abuse will infinitely redound to my honour; and therefore, to silence me, by rendering my work sterile and uninteresting, you are reduced to the cruel necessity of telling the truth.

I should think it necessary to offer an apology for having prefixed the title of Censor to the present Number; but the reader will at once perceive; that it is now assumed for the sake of uniformity, as applicable to the future contents of the work, and not to the remarks on the debates of Congress, a body to which I should be very sorry to be wanting in respect.

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Filed under 1790's, Journal, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt

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