PROPAGANDA: Conning the Masses.
Propaganda is defined as Biased Information spread to shape public opinion and behavior. This is achieved through the use of lies, half truths, oversimplification of complex issues, a selective telling of fact and using emotional responses to override rational thinking. Much of what was printed and disseminated by the Separatist party during the American Revolution fits under this heading, as does some of that printed by the Loyalists. This section will treat the many types and techniques of propaganda in use during the Revolution.
The Declaration of Independence is, frankly, a well written piece of fiction designed to cover over, misrepresent or fabricate platforms which show the justice of the Independence Movement in the 13 Mainland North American Colonies.(1,2) These claims, made famous as the justification for separation from Great Briton are clearly well within the definition of Propaganda: Biased Information spread to shape public opinion and behavior.
To treat more fully only several of the individual complaints and impositions of the Declaration will make the clear attempt at disinformation more transparent. Using the main tools of propagandists throughout history (half-truths, Omission of critical information, false dichotomy, attacking enemies and the use of emotional instead of reasoned pleas) the Continental Congress spread it’s message by not only this but other printings which will be addressed later on.
The principal complaints contained in the Declaration of Independence are as follows: (All Original Text is in Italic Typeface, and are numbered in order of appearance in the Declaration).(2)
- He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. This is a reference to the Massachusetts Capital and assembly being moved to Salem Massachusetts after Boston was deemed too dangerous to host the Royal Government (See Political Violence from February) (3). The Fact that this is not mentioned or even implied by the declaration’s authors shows this as a half-truth.
- He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people. These dissolutions were made only after the increased violence mentioned above, and after the representatives had passed laws and resolutions which were bordering on treason.
- He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance. This so-called swarm of officers harassing the people were in fact principally Customs officers charged with cutting down on smuggling in wines, tea, manufactured goods and suchlike goods. Such famous personages such as John Hancock were engaged in this trade, and such a governmental crackdown on illegal activity would be firmly against his financial interests. (3)
- He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature. There should be no need to mention the necessity of security forces to protect the King’s officers from the mob violence covered in the previous section on Political Violence. Further, such an environment as that in Massachusetts colony of generalized mob violence Martial Law would be the procedure used by most governments now as well as then.
14.A. For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us. The Quartering Act had been in effect in England and other regions of the British Empire for many years, and had been extended to the colonies when the army was sent to counter the French and Indian threat in the 1750s. This was eventually approved by colonial legislatures such as New York in 1771. Further, the troops were requested by the colonies in the first place, therefore the extension of the quartering act was a logical action. (4)
In addition, the American Separatists failed to understand the original intent of the Quartering Act, which was to bring troops quartered for long periods of time in one place into closer contact with the local population. This was found to be effective in preventing problems between the soldiery and civilians as the soldiers became a part of the community. This only happens, however, when the civil population is not actively engaged in harassing, attacking and slighting the forces stationed among them.
14.B. For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states: A clear reference to the Boston Massacre, the soldiers were acquitted due to the fact that they were the party attacked by a rioting crowd. Another example of the use of selective evidence.(5)
14.C. For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world: Another pointer to Boston. After the destruction of the tea in 1773, Boston harbor was shut down as a punitive measure, with intent to bring the political violence into check. This was a reactive movement by parliament, well within reason considering the political climate of the city.
14.D. For imposing taxes on us without our consent: The claim “no taxation without representation” is entirely a rallying cry without foundation. The colonies were clearly under the authority of Parliament, and further, were the colonies represented therein, they would have been out voted by the other members and taxed just the same.
14.G. For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies: The Quebec Act placed all territory past the Proclamation Line of 1763 under the government of the province of Quebec, instead of the thirteen colonies. The investors in the Ohio Company and similar ventures (George Washington among them) had already invested considerable money into the Ohio country, and thus stood to loose a large amount of money with this new development.(6)
- He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. The forming of Loyalist militias, Regular regiments and Ranging Companies to act in opposition to the Separatist forces were a natural military course of action and cannot be claimed as abnormal or termed as “Domestic Insurrection.” The Native population siding with the British was entirely their decision, and based on the Natives’ best interest. To claim otherwise is to obscure the finer points of the North American political scene at the end of the 18th century.
Other propaganda such as the extremely numerous handbills, broadsides and newspapers all had the same mission. (7) By misrepresenting the facts of the cases they presented, these works were all used to sway public opinion in favor of Separation by obfuscation of the actual issues. Hundreds of such items were printed throughout the revolution and before, however, only several examples will be cited here for the sake of brevity, clarity and the author’s sanity.
“A Bloody butchery, by the British Troops: or, The runaway of the Regulars” was an account of the battles of Lexington and Concord published in Salem, Massachusetts in 1775. It contains two accounts of the day’s events, as well as a section giving the casualty lists for the Massachusetts Militias involved. These accounts, when read over with even the slightest knowledge of the battles of Lexington and Concord, are so far askew from the reality of the situation as to be laughable. Word Choice, nomenclature, and the implications made are all essentially the recipe for propaganda: Attributing all wrong to the enemy forces, while praising friendly troops as Morally superior pillars of justice.
By attributing the first fire to an order given by the British commander, the collected Separatist troops as a Militia involved in their routine Exercises, and eliciting emotional response through descriptions of “the savage barbarity exercised upon the bodies of…[Separatist] wounded” without mention of the Operation’s origin or purpose, it uses half-truths to gain support for the cause.
Similar techniques are used in many other handbills, advertisements, broadsides and the very catchy, easily spread medium of music.
Propaganda was also used, much like that of the fascist parties of the first half of the Twentieth Century, to advertise and mark “Public Enemies” or Enemies of the State. Such tools were the main distinguishing features of such “Internal Enemies,” as they otherwise appeared identical to the rest of the population. As advertised in Boston, in 1768:
The true Sons of Liberty
And Supporters of the Non-Importation
ARE determined to resent any the least Insult or Menace offer’d to any one or more of the several Committees appointed by the Body at Faneuil-Hall, and chastise any one or more of them as they deserve; and will also support the Printers in any Thing the Committees shall desire them to print.
AS a Warning to any one that shall affront as aforesaid, upon sure Information given, one of these Advertisements will be posted up at the Door or Dwelling-House of the Offender.
This was clearly meant as both a warning against any action contrary to the approved party line, and as a marker for targeting so-called “Enemies of [Liberty/The State/Party/Race/Colonies, etc, Ad Infinitum]” who would otherwise be invisible. This is analogous to forcing Jews to wear Stars of David in Nazi Germany: an invisible, internal enemy is now visible; an Internal Enemy made External, so it can be targeted by public ridicule, social stigma and mob violence.
During the time period under consideration, those thus marked were frequently attacked, publicly ridiculed and targeted for general harassment, as seen with the examples Aforementioned. These persons were targeted and defamed “as an Enemy to his Country, a Post to Society, and a vile Disturber of the Peace, Police, and good Order…” or similar charges. The incessant affirmation that all opposed to the Separatist view were “Enemies of the colonies” intent on supporting actions which would “undoubtedly be the means of inslaving(Sic) the whole continent” served to inscribe the same thought on the hearts and minds of those who read and heard the message daily. As with any message, marketing an Idea and having it gain a near-subconscious foothold requires frequent repetition. Once this feeling was instilled, the implication of such activities would land the targeted persons on the list of those to harass.
Further, news reports of loyalists being attacked and abused are a form of threat in and of themselves, serving as a warning for those who have not made up their minds or are loyalists themselves.
Another Medium which gave promise for frequent repetition, easy memorization and fast dissemination was music (8). Songs were rewritten, new sets of lyrics to well known tunes would have spread like wildfire after they were distributed in broadside form (a long-standing tradition by thee 18th century). Some examples through the revolutionary period were “The Battle of the Kegs“ and “The new Massachusetts Liberty Song To the Tune of the British Grenadier.“ While the Battle of the Kegs derides the British Army as a generally comic enemy esteeming the defeat of empty barrels as grand heroics, it simultaneously makes them less formidable due to that. It also conveys news of actual events, and serves to keep the populace up to date on the developments in the war.
The earlier song from Massachusetts aggrandizes resistance to extra-continental authority while not actually mentioning any of the reasons why such action would be needed, justified or accomplished. However, the continual repetition of these themes would have quickly settled into the minds of those who heard it. Both these examples are written to easily sung, well known and popular tunes (Yankee Doodle and British Grenadiers, respectively), making them very easily passed on, person to person, colony to colony.
Other mediums such as handbills, informational broadsides and newspapers were exploited as well, and to great effect. They spread quickly through the Post and from hand to hand, colony to colony. Further, these items were read in public places, where the news would be passed on mouth to mouth (9). These publications were just as biased as any of the others available, frequently involving the same disinformation.
Take for an example An Account of a late Military Massacre at Boston, a broadside published early in 1770 at New York. It describes the so-called massacre as a premeditated action on the part of the British troops against peacefully assembled, concerned citizens, mostly young persons, occasionally throwing snowballs. After a short time, so it claims, Capt. Preston, the Commanding Officer of the guard detachment gave the order to fire on this assembly. The account entirely fails to mention the crowd was armed with clubs, staves, and similar weaponry, and was in a riotous posture. That the crowd had assaulted the lone guard initially posted at King Street, to the point where he felt obliged to call out the reserve guard under Capt. Preston, was also conspicuously absent from the account (5). Thus, a riot and assault on Government officers charged with enforcing the law turns into an infamous massacre.
Such a representation of British Troops especially, but also those loyal to the king in general, is designed to instill fear in the populace of these groups. Characterizing the British Soldier as a murdering savage, those opposed to the Non-Importation as those intent on Enslaving the populace, and supporters of the Stamp Act in the same manner is calculated to bring public opinion against them. The same was done to the Jews in Nazi Germany, as well as Communists, Socialists, Unionists and any other group not toeing the party line. On the other side, this fear was spread to the targeted groups through the actions of organizations such as the Falangalists, SA, Sons of Liberty, Fascisti and even unaffiliated individuals sympathetic to the Revolutionary cause. Through such harassment and hostility, conformity was established or those who were able fled. Any who remained loyal to their established government were usually then imprisoned thereby establishing the political homogeneity sought by the revolutionary powers.
In the interest of not continuing this section of the paper Ad Infinitum, suffice it to say that even if this were an exhaustive study of Separatist propaganda and printings, it would find little variation in these patterns for any sample taken.
On the other hand, most Loyalist propaganda came in the form of Legalistic protests, or Satires of the Sons of Liberty and their actions. Many of the Later are quite to the point, and effective. There are quite a few examples clearly pointing out the economic implications of Separatist actions, the absurdity of the Sons of Liberty’s resolutions for the general Populace, and are actually quite searing.
The Connections should be, to any person possessed of the most limited knowledge of Nazi Germany, quite obvious. Propaganda throughout the reign of the National Socialist Party engaged in Disinformation, misrepresentation and outright fiction so plainly that no documentation should be needed. The pointing out, or more accurately, fabrication of Enemies to the State, their Identification and the installation of fear throughout Germany was made manifest through propaganda. Once Identified, these persons were routinely threatened, beaten, assaulted, subjected to mob violence and forced into compliance or flight. The same as done in the Aforementioned examples from the American Revolution.
- Davidson, Philip G. “Whig Propagandists of the American Revolution” The American Historical Review Vol. 39 No. 3 (April 1934) pp 442-453 Jstor.org (Accessed 18 June 2011)
- The U.S. Constitution and Fascinating Facts About it 7th ed. (Naperville, IL: Oak Hill, 2006)
- Allen, Thomas B. Tories: Fighting for the King in America’s First Civil War (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2010)
- Cuthbertson, Bennett A System for the Complete Interior Management and Oeconomy of a Battalion of Infantry, 2nd ed. (London, UK: J. Millan 1779)
- York, Niel Longley “Rival Truths, political Accommodation and the Boston ‘Massacre'” Massachusetts Historical Review Vol. 11, pp 60. Jstor.org (Accessed 24 February 2011)
- “Thomas Glassock to George Washington, 22 August 1773.” The George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress American Memory Collection. http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/mgw:@field(DOCID+@lit(lw040144)) (Accessed 21 April 2011)
- Davidson, Philip G. “Whig Propagandists of the American Revolution” The American Historical Review Vol. 39 No. 3 (April 1934) pp 442-453
- Schlesinger, Arthur M. “A Note on Songs as Whig Propaganda 1765-1776” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series Vol. 11 No. 1 (January, 1954) pp 78-88 www.Jstor.org (Accessed 24 February 2011)
- Clark, Charles E. The Public Prints (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1994)