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Grolier Club Exhibitions

We the People: 1733-1792

The work of transforming thirteen British colonies with diverse populations into a single nation culminated in the adoption of the Constitution of the United States in 1787. Its preamble - "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity" - reflected the years of struggle that preceded it and formed the basis for over 200 years of continuing debate.  

The New-York Weekly Journal

The New-York Weekly Journal.

Volume 1, numbers 2, November 12, 1733. New York: Printed by J. P. Zenger.

The first uniquely “American” periodical, published by John Peter Zenger, was The New-York Weekly Journal, which touted the importance of the freedom of the press (seen here in a remarkable opening essay). Zenger suffered prosecution and imprisonment as a consequence of his valiant fight to defend his principles.

The Christian History

The Christian History.

Volume 1, number 1, March 5, 1743. Boston: Thomas Prince. 

By 1740, the non-indigenous population of the American colonies numbered nine hundred thousand.  Their ancestors emigrated to the New World to practice freedom of worship, so it is not surprising that the first magazine in America to last more than a year was devoted to religion. Published between 1743 and 1745, each issue contained defended “the [evangelical] revival spirit of the Great Colonial Awakening [by Jonathan Edwards] against mounting criticism by conservatives.”

The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle

The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle.

Volume 1, frontispiece, 1744. Boston: Rogers and Fowler. 

The first successful American magazine, published between 1743 and 1746. It was sold in Philadelphia by Benjamin Franklin. This 1744 frontispiece features a magnificent example of colonial American copperplate engraving by James Turner.

The Independent Reflector

The Independent Reflector.

Volume 1, number 1, November 30, 1752. New York: Printed by James Parker. 

The first magazine published in New York, edited by William Livingston. It was suppressed by local British authorities, in particular over his protest of the installation of a bishop to head the newly formed King’s College (today’s Columbia University). Livingston went on to become the first governor of New Jersey and a signer of the United States Constitution, the document that codified the liberties for which he and Zenger had fought.

The American Magazine, and Monthly Chronicle for the British Colonies

The American Magazine, and Monthly Chronicle for the British Colonies.

Volume 1, number 4, March 1758. Philadelphia: William Bradford.

Published in support of the British political position against the French on the North American continent during the Seven Years’ War. The magazine’s primary purpose is revealed in its motto, Prævalebit æquior [“the more equitable will prevail”], which appears below a repeating cover cartoon that depicts a Native American flanked by an Englishman offering items of peace (a Bible and cloth) as opposed to a Frenchman offering items of war (gunpowder and a tomahawk.) 

The Bee

The Bee.

Volume 1, number 1, February 12, 1765. Philadelphia: William Honeycomb [Anthony Armbruster].

The first periodical in the American colonies devoted to essays of political satire. It was published for just three issues between February 12 and March 7, 1765, by Anthony Armbruster under the pseudonym William Honeycomb before being suppressed after inciting the wrath of the colonial governors and Quaker parsons who were the targets of its “lively stinging.”

The Freeholder’s Magazine, or, Monthly Chronicle of Liberty

The Freeholder’s Magazine, or, Monthly Chronicle of Liberty.

Volume 2, numbers 1–6, March–August 1770. London: Printed for Isaac Fell.

No magazines were being published in America at the time of the notorious Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770. A re-engraving of Henry Pelham’s original of the event was published in London to illustrate a six-page account. While various American broadsides and newspaper printings, including the highly sought reprinting by Paul Revere, fueled the fires of colonial revolution, an image of the massacre did not appear in an American magazine until 1835.

The Royal American Magazine, or Universal Repository of Instruction and Amusement

The Royal American Magazine, or Universal Repository of Instruction and Amusement.

Volume 1, number 6, June 1774. Boston: I[saiah] Thomas.

Original printed wrappers of early American magazines were rarely preserved and often contain unique and important information about publication and provenance as well as advertising.

The able Doctor, or America Swallowing the Bitter Draught

The able Doctor, or America Swallowing the Bitter Draught.

Paul Revere. Extracted from The Royal American Magazine, June 1774. Boston: I[saiah] Thomas. 

The able Doctor first appeared in The London Magazine for April 1774, accompanying an account of the debate in Parliament on the Boston Port Bill, the “Intolerable Act” responsible for the closing of the Port of Boston. Within a couple of months a pirated version was re-engraved by Paul Revere and appeared in the June 1774 Royal American Magazine. Sneaking a peak under America’s skirt is the Earl of Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty.

The Royal American Magazine, or Universal Repository of Instruction and Amusement.

The Royal American Magazine, or Universal Repository of Instruction and Amusement.

Volume 1, numbers 1–12, and volume 2, numbers 1–2, January 1774– February 1775. Boston: I[saiah] Thomas. 

Isaiah Thomas introduced The Royal American Magazine in January 1774.Throughout his six months of editorship, articles appeared in support of the cause of independence, accompanied by inflammatory illustrations engraved by his friend Paul Revere, including portraits of patriots Samuel Adams and John Hancock. The magazine took a more moderate tone after the editorship was ceded to Joseph Greenleaf, and it limped to an end in March 1775.

Boston Magazine

Boston Magazine.

Volume 1, number 24, October 1785. Boston: Freeman.

The first magazine of any consequence to be published in Boston in forty years. Boston Magazine began with a promise of original material in October 1783, but never overcame lukewarm public interest and the mismanagement of the disparate group of prominent Bostonians that comprised its editorial board. The first year and a half are notable for John Norman’s illustrations of prominent patriots, early balloon aviation, and poetry by former slave Phillis Wheatley.

The Columbian Magazine, or Monthly Miscellany

The Columbian Magazine, or Monthly Miscellany. 

Volume 1, number 12, August 1787. Philadelphia: Seddon, Spotswood, Cist, and Trenchard.

Benjamin Franklin’s copy, with his name written on the front wrapper, presumably by the publisher. Columbian was the best illustrated magazine of the century, started in September 1786 by a handful of men, including Matthew Carey; John Trenchard, an engraver who contributed two copperplate engravings for each number and Charles Cist, a Russian immigrant who went on to establish the government printing office. The magazine’s name was changed in 1790 to Universal Asylum.

The New-Haven Gazette, and the Connecticut Magazine

The New-Haven Gazette, and the Connecticut Magazine.

Volume 2, number 32, September 27, 1787. New Haven: Josiah Meigs, Daniel Bowen, and Eleutheros Dana. 

Of the four contemporary printings of the United States Constitution, by far the most graphically dramatic. It is also the first Connecticut printing. The New-Haven Gazette, and the Connecticut Magazine, which ran between February 16, 1786, and January 1, 1789, was a hybrid, but clearly deserves mention as a true magazine. It was a consequential literary and political journal, respected and quoted by its peers, ably edited by Josiah Meigs. 

The American Museum, or Repository of Ancient and Modern Fugitive Pieces

The American Museum, or Universal Magazine.

Volume 7, number 7, February 1790. Philadelphia: Mathew Carey.

Mathew Carey left Columbian to begin American Museum in January 1787. Like its rival, it had quality literary and nonfiction content. Illustration was sparse but included Benjamin Franklin's map of the Gulf Stream. Lasting for twelve productive six-month volumes, its greatest strength was as a repository of political documents including, in the appendix of this issue, the only contemporary magazine iteration of what was eventually to become the Bill of Rights (ratified in December 1791).

Plan of an African Ship’s Lower Deck, with Negroes, in the Proportion of Not Quite One to a Ton

Plan of an African Ship’s Lower Deck, with Negroes, in the Proportion of Not Quite One to a Ton.

In The American Museum, or Repository of Ancient and Modern Fugitive Pieces, January–June 1789. Philadelphia: Mathew Carey. 

Many eighteenth-century American magazines had antislavery content aimed particularly at the evils of the slave trade, including Benjamin Rush’s essays in Columbian and Noah Webster’s in his American Magazine. The most vocal was Mathew Carey’s American Museum, which published an article entitled “Remarks on the Slave Trade” in May 1789 accompanied by a stunningly graphic engraving of a fully loaded slave ship.

The Massachusetts Magazine, or Monthly Museum of Knowledge and Rational Entertainment

The Massachusetts Magazine, or Monthly Museum of Knowledge and Rational Entertainment.

Volume 1, number 1, January 1789. Boston: Isaiah Thomas.

After publishing his intensely revolutionary newspaper, The Massachusetts Spy and editing The Royal American Magazine in 1774, Isaiah Thomas, started Massachusetts Magazine in 1789 and began publishing the first American novel, William Brown’s The Power of Sympathy, in its first issue. During its seven-year run, it produced high quality journalism and illustration. Thomas founded the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1812. 

The Children’s Magazine

The Children’s Magazine.

Volume 1, number 2, February 1789. Hartford: Printed by Hudson and Goodwin. 

The first children’s magazine printed in the United States, issued by the publishers of the Connecticut Courant. The stories and articles were more often directed at adults, which brought about its demise after a mere four issues. This is the only known copy of the second issue from February 1789. 

The Gentlemen and Ladies’ Town and Country Magazine

The Gentlemen and Ladies’ Town and Country Magazine.

Volume 1, number 4, May 1789. Boston: Nathaniel Coverly.

The first American magazine to mention the female gender in its title. While the contents were undistinguished, the wrappers are exceedingly rare and graphically interesting due to a very early use of the eagle as a symbol of America. 

The Lady’s Magazine; and Repository of Entertaining Knowledge

The Lady’s Magazine; and Repository of Entertaining Knowledge.

Volume 1, numbers 1–6, June–November 1792. Philadelphia: W. Gibbons.

The first magazine in America targeted exclusively to women. The engraved frontispiece by Thackara and Vallance is an allegorical image of the “Genius of the Ladies Magazine,” presenting the figure of Liberty with a copy of the first great feminist treatise, Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women. Aside from its importance as a pioneer, this magazine has received little historical attention.

We the People: 1733-1792