Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mein Streets

 The first issue of the Boston Chronicle, December 21, 1767 ( a month after the Townshend Duties went into effect)  reprinted an English article that had attacked William Pitt, a favorite of the Boston Whigs. An author who used the allonym "Americus" in the Boston Gazette edition for January 18, 1768, published by Edes and Gill, countered that Pitt was a defender of American freedom, should not be disparaged, and questioned the Chronicle's statement in its prospectus, that it would be politically neutral. In addition, the author, whom Mein believed was James Otis (still in his prime), suggested that the Chronicle had a "Jacobite" cast. Historians have tended to dismiss this insult and Mein's response to it as an overreaction. However, to call a Scot, loyal to the Crown, as a Jacobite when the memory of Culloden and the expanded meaning that the term "Jacobite" had taken in British politics at this time was certainly a very provocative act and Mein's reaction to it more understandable, if hardly justifiable.
    The Boston Gazette (not the first Boston newspaper to be so called) was founded by Edes and Gill in 1755 and it had become the principal Patriot newspaper for which many of the prominent  Boston Whigs of the day, to include Dr Benjamin Church Jr, wrote. Edes was the principal publisher and ardent patriot while Gill attended more to the printing side of the business. But the newspaper was the principal enterprise and source of income for Edes and Gill.
   As soon as Mein read the attack in the Gazette, he stormed into the Gazette's office, also on King Street, demanding to know the author's name. Benjamin Edes admonished him saying that, as a printer, he should know better than to ask "such an unpertinent, improper question." Mein was too angry to worry about "journalistic ethics" and responded that if Edes didn't divulge the author, he would assume that Edes was responsible "and the affair shall be decided in three minutes." Edes told him he was too busy and that Mein should return the following morning. Edes was either stalling for time or he may have been wishing to seek the author's permission to reveal his identity; but, in either case, when Mein returned the next day, Edes told him that he would not reveal the name. Mein challenged him to a fight and, after Edes declined, left the building. That evening, Mein encountered Edes' partner, John Gill, on the street and struck him with his cane, rather brutally. Gill retaliated with a lawsuit.
   In the February 1st edition of the Gazette, Samuel Adams, writing under the name "Populus" stated the affair was in no sense a private one, but a "Spaniard-like Attempt" on the freedom of the press; and at Mein's trial, so did James Otis, as Gill's counsel. Mein was fined L130, and though, on appeal, he got the amount reduced to L75 plus court costs, he still suffered a severe penalty.

James Otis, Jr

   Next - John Mein battles the Boston merchants.

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