In the bitter verbal battling which rumbled beneath the physical violence of the pre-Revolutionary years, the heavy advantage rested with the radical press. Led by such pseudonymous journalistic swordsmen as Samuel Adams, Joseph Hawley, and Joseph Warren, the patriots skewered the administration and the loyal faction without restraint, and almost without opposition.1 Only one tory printer possessed sufficient journalistic skill and courage to brave the muscular threats with which Sam’s Mohawks imposed their ideas of liberty. That man was John Mein, printer of the Boston Chronicle. It was Mein, for example, who crippled Adams’ nonimportation campaign by publishing authenticated lists of the self-styled “well-disposed” merchants who, having signed the agreement not to import, were quietly landing and selling forbidden goods.2
Mein’s combative nature and his journalistic skill plunged the Boston Chronicle into controversy from the very start of its brief existence. In the first issue, under a London dateline, Mein ran a sharp attack on William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, the idol of the Sons of Liberty.3 A violent response by “Americus” appeared in Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette, indirectly accusing Mein, among other things, of Jacobite leanings.4
Storming into the Gazette’s office, Mein unsuccessfully demanded that the editors name the author; returning the next day, he repeated his inquiry and was again repulsed.5 Finally, that evening, Mein met Gill and, by his own admission, caned him.6
Gill sued Mein for £200 at the April 1768 Suffolk Inferior Court, where with Adams as Gill’s counsel the case was tried on 28 April 1768; after a “long hearing” the jury brought in a verdict for Gill of £130 and costs.7 Both parties appealed. Meanwhile, Mein had been cited criminally for the assault, and at the April sitting of the Court of Sessions, had been fined forty shillings.8
At the March 1769 Suffolk Superior Court, the civil matter went to trial on Mein’s appeal, with Kent and Auchmuty defending Mein, while Otis and Adams (whose minutes appear below) represented Gill. This time Gill won again, but the verdict was reduced to £75 and costs. A motion for a new trial was made in Mein’s behalf, but later withdrawn.9
From the state of Adams’ minutes, it seems probable that he opened for the plaintiff and was followed by Kent for the defendant. Plaintiff’s evidence then went in, but defendant did not introduce any. Auchmuty closed for defendant, and Otis for plaintiff.
Although Mein’s plea had traversed (denied) the assault, and had not attempted to justify it, the Adams minutes suggest that Mein conceded the striking but sought to minimize the damages by arguing provocation.
1. The best treatment of this subject is Arthur M. Schlesinger, Prelude to Independence 84–109 (N.Y., 1958); see also John C. Miller, Sam Adams, Pioneer in Propaganda 174–176 (Boston, 1936); E. F. Brown, Joseph Hawley 63–68 (N.Y., 1930); John Gary, Joseph Warren 60–63 (Urbana, 111., 1961).
2. On Mein’s life, see Alden, “John Mein: Scourge of Patriots,” 34 Col. Soc. Mass., Pubns. description begins Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Publications. description ends 571–599 (1942), and Bolton, “Circulating Libraries in Boston, 1765–1865,” 11 Col. Soc. Mass., Pubns. description begins Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Publications. description ends 196–200 (1907). See also No. 12. On the Boston Chronicle, see Matthews, “Bibliographical Notes to Check List of Boston Newspapers, 1704–1780,” 9 Col. Soc. Mass., Pubns. description begins Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Publications. description ends 403, 480–483 (1907); Schlesinger, Prelude to Independence 107; Andrews, “Boston Merchants and the Non-Importation Movement,” 19 Col. Soc. Mass., Pubns. description begins Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Publications. description ends 159, 227–230 (1917).
3. “It is confidently reported that the E. of C—’s gout is only political, and that notwithstanding his late indisposition he will soon appear on the scene of action and struggle hard to guide the reins of government, but having lost the confidence of the people, whom he has deceived by his contradictions and changes, and never having been a favorite with the nobility, whom he always affected to dispise, he will while he exists be considered by every disinterested man as a miserable monument of wrecked ambition.” Boston Chronicle, 21 Dec. 1767, p. 5, col. 1. In the same piece, the Marquis of Rockingham received praise for having “quieted the commotions which shook the state by the repeal of the American Stamp Act; while he preserved the constitution in full vigour by the act for securing the dependence of the colonies.”
4. “When I read the Proposals, for publishing the Boston Chronicle, I tho’t on the Plan with Satisfaction, hoping thereby much good would accrue to America in general, and to this province in particular; with Pleasure I also noted the judicious Advice given Messi’rs Mein and Fleeming by their Friends of Taste. It runs thus:
“’We suppose you intend to study your own Interest; if you would do it effectually, be of no Party, publish and propagate with the greatest Industry whatever may promote the general Good. Be Independent—Your Interest is intimately connected with this noble Virtue—If you depart from this, you must sink from the Esteem of the Publick, to the partial Praise of a Party, who, when their Purposes is serv’d or defeated, may perhaps desert you, and then how can you expect that those whom you have revil’d will support you’—To which at that Time they answer’d.—’Whenever any Dispute claims general Attention, the Arguments on both Sides shall be laid before the Publick with the utmost Impartiality.’
“But to the Surprize of many, how are they fallen off from their own Purposes, and the excellent Caution of their Benefactors—Instead of giving impartial Accounts concerning Affairs at Home, and the unhappy Disputes lately arisen between the greatest Men of the Nation; they have made Choice of, or printed under Guise of being taken from the London Papers, the most infamous and reproachful Invectives, that ever was invented against the worst of Traitors to their King and Country, and who are these that are thus censur’d? Why, men held in the highest esteem and veneration in the British Parliament. Patriots and Friends and Deliverers of America from Oppression. He who nobly vindicated her Cause, almost against the whole Senate, who cast behind him all Lucre of Gain, when it came in Competition with the Good of his Country, and sacrific’d his Family-Connections and Interest to the publick Welfare. He that through real Infirmities hardly stood, (not to cover his politic Schemes and Ambition as his Enemies would insinuate) but stood though tottering, and in the Cause of Liberty made that heroic Speech before the august House of Commons, in Opposition to the Stamp-Act, sufficient to eternize his Fame, and ought to be written in Letters of Gold to perpetuate his Memory. Could the Sons of America be ingrateful, or countenance the greatest Falsities, rais’d only to prejudice their best Friends and Benefactors—God forbid! Let that Dishonor stain with the blackest Infamy the Jacobite Party—And though Invectives should be daily thrown out, let us keep our Integrity to the Confusion of our Enemies; who, for a long Time have exerted their Power to shake the Props of our Constitution, and bring a free people into Bondage, thereby to satisfy their more than common Avarice, &c.” Boston Gazette, 18 Jan. 1768, p. 1, col. 3.
Benjamin Edes (1732–1803) and John Gill (d. 1785) had been partners since 1755. Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America, 1:136–140 (Worcester, 2d edn., 1874). “Gill was a sound whig, but did not possess the political energy of his partner. He was industrious, constantly in the printing house, and there worked at case or press as occasion required.” Id. at 140.
“In consequence of a piece signed Americus, published in the last Monday’s Gazette, Mr. Mein came to our office between 4 and 5 o’clock the same afternoon, and there being a number of persons present, he desired to be spoke with in private, accordingly I withdrew with him to another room—when he said, I suppose you know what I am come about. I told him I did not. Well then, said he, I am come to demand the author of the piece you printed against me; and if you will not tell me who he is, I shall look upon you as the author, and the affair shall be decided in three minutes. In reply to which I said, Mr. Mein, above all persons in the world, I should not have thought a Printer would have ask’d such an impertinent, improper question; and told him that we never divulg’d authors; but if he would call on the morrow between 9 and 10 o’clock, being then very busy, I would let him know whether I would tell the author or not,—and added,—if we have transgress’d the law, it is open, and there he might seek satisfaction. He said he should not concern himself with the law, nor enter into any dispute; but if I did not tell the author, he should look upon us as the authors, and repeated it, the affair should be settled in three minutes. I then ask’d him, if what he said with regard to settling the affair in three minutes, was meant as a challenge or threat? which he declin’d answering, but said he would call at the time appointed, and then departed.
“Accordingly the next morning, I was at the office precisely at 9 o’clock, where I found Mr. Mein, who immediately after my entrance, and saying your servant, ask’d whether I would tell him the author of the above piece or no. I told him I would not. He then said he should look upon me and Mr. Gill as the authors. I told him he might and welcome. I then ask’d him what he meant by saying the last night he would settle the affair in three minutes, whether as a challenge or threat? He answered, if I would take my hat, and take a walk with him to the southward, he would let me know. I told him I was not to be at every fellow’s beck, and did not regard him. He then said, I shall look upon you as the author. I reply’d, you may. Your servant, and your servant. B. Edes.” Boston Gazette, 25 Jan. 1768, p. 2, col. 1.
7. Massachusetts Gazette, 5 May 1768, suppl., p. 1, col. 3; SF 101491.
8. Rex v. Mein, Sess. Min. Bk., Suffolk, April—May 1768.
9. Min. Bk. 89, SCJ Suffolk, Aug. 1769, C—12; SCJ Rec. 1769, fol. 235.