The Media Strategies of the Revolutionaries
In summer 1776, at a castle near Paris, the owner's birthday is being celebrated. The guests have begun to devote themselves to merry games in the castle's English garden. A young couple ensconced at the entrance to an artificial grotto talk about the ideas of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) that are currently being put into practice on the other side of the world, in distant America. At this moment, Pierre de Beaumarchais (1732–1799) a writer of comedies and jack-of-all-trades enters the scene. He is an ardent supporter of the cause of American freedom and devotes his entire energy to organising arms deliveries to the rebels.1 He excuses his lateness with the fact that he has been reading the latest post from the New World. He has one of the letters with him, and he requests permission to read it out to the gathered guests. Beaumarchais positions himself on a hillock under a maple tree, the symbol of North America. In his hands, he holds the Declaration of Independence with which the 13 American colonies founded an independent state a few weeks earlier on 4 July 1776. In an emotional delivery Beaumarchais translates the contents of the Declaration into French: America's justification to the world, the appeal to natural law, human rights and the right of revolution, the accusations against the British king. His audience, among whom the castle servants have also intermingled, listens spellbound. Every listener feels that this declaration is of great relevance for his or her personal life.
This scene with its Rousseauian atmosphere, the enthused speaker and an audience merging into a community of equals is too perfect a composition for it to have taken place in reality. In fact, it is from one of the most significant novels on the American Revolution: Lion Feuchtwanger's (1884–1958) trilogy Die Füchse im Weinberg (1947/1948).2 Nevertheless, the literary fiction expresses several historical truths: the Declaration of Independence sought to state not only the interests of the American colonists, but also the fundamental rights of all mankind. The authors of the declaration explicitly addressed mankind as an audience in whose eyes the rebels sought to justify their actions and whose approval and acclaim they sought to win. The language they used was concise and rousing. The reader should not only be convinced by the arguments but also touched emotionally, inspired to take up the cause of justice and freedom. The Declaration of Independence was far from just a formal statement with which the colonies disassociated themselves from the home country according to international law. Rather, it was meant to be spread throughout the world and act as a call to support the American cause.3
However, Feuchtwanger's depiction is realistic in another respect: the Declaration of Independence arrived in the hands of its French admirer by post. All channels of information in this period depended on the post and its speed.4 Information from the New World came to Europe by ship and in most cases the delivery took between three and four weeks. It first arrived in London, Paris and Amsterdam and reached the countries of central northern Europe one to two weeks later; the dissemination among the northern, eastern and southern peripheries of Europe took another two weeks.5 One can retrace this flow of information by the dates on which the Declaration of Independence was published in the European newspapers: it appeared in the beginning and middle of August 1776 in British, French and Dutch newspapers,6 on 24 August in the Hamburgische Unpartheyische Correspondent7 and, at the same time, in the Polish press,8 at the end of August in the Göteborgs Allehanda9 and, finally, in two parts on 31 August and 11 September in the Wienerisches Diarium,10 to name just a few.
The fact that the Declaration of Independence was composed so as to have a powerful media impact makes clear how much the American politicians valued the importance and significance of such an effect. They had reached this conclusion through their experience in their own country. The American patriots could never have come together as a political party if they had not built up a network of correspondence and if many of the recently founded newspapers had not ensured that like-minded people in the 13 colonies could learn of one another and come to an agreement on a common platform regarding their interpretation of the situation and political goals.11 The communication between the colonies and the home country was outstripped by the communication in the colonies themselves. As a result, the borders between the 13 colonies became increasingly less important. Both aspects became significant contributing factors to American nation building.12 Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), one of the founding fathers of the USA, was directly involved in this process: as the postmaster general of the colonies he intensified and speeded up the post,13 and as a printer, publisher and newspaper editor, he brought publications onto the market that profited from the improved connections.
The skill with which the American patriots took advantage of public news coverage is demonstrated by the event that still today is seen as the opening of the struggle for independence: the Boston Tea Party. In order to express their opposition to British tax policy, the patriots organised a spectacular demonstration: dressed up as Mohawks, they stormed the trading ships of the East India Company and threw their cargo, several hundred crates of tea, overboard. This created an "unheard-of incident", about which the journalists of the Boston Gazette were well placed to report (they had been deeply involved in its preparation)14 and news of the event spread like wildfire. Other forms of resistance against the colonial power could have been more effective, but they would have generated less public commotion. In contrast, the Boston Tea Party as a performative act strikingly expressed the American interpretation of the conflict: the Indians as the contemporary symbol for America15 defended themselves against the indignities of British trade policy. The extension of the bone of contention from the specifics of tax policy to trade policy in general increased the potential for other states also suffering from the British trade monopoly in Northern America to identify with the patriots. The fact that the patriots were opposing this monopoly aroused the interest of third-party powers who caught whiff of an opportunity to increase their own share in the lucrative Atlantic trade.
As expected, the descriptions and pictures of the events in Boston circulated the media of the world, leaving behind deep impressions in the collective imagination. The idea of freedom, which is otherwise somewhat abstract and indefinite, acquired specificity, became tangible in this dramatic scenario. In America itself, the Boston Tea Party became a model for many similar demonstrations in other ports.16 On a global scale, it enjoyed over the following 250 years a career not only as a multimedia vehicle for the memorialisation of the American Revolution, but also as a pattern for numerous boycott movements against the goods of current or former colonial masters or domineering trading partners.
Great Britain and the Empire – from a Common to a Separate Public Sphere
It should come as no surprise that the Boston Tea Party, like the other events of the American Revolution, found the largest echo in Great Britain; the patriots in the New World were, of course, directly challenging the British Empire. It is striking that the conflict between the home country and the colonies was initially treated as an internal British problem. This was, on the one hand, because the secession had not yet taken place in practice, and the North American colonies in which British emigrants had settled were in any case seen as being more a part of Britain than other colonies. On the other hand, this was also due to the fact that political ideas and problems similar to those discussed by the Americans also shaped the debates in Britain.17 For example, the opposition in London had already demanded in the 1760s reforms of parliament and the electoral system that would break with the principle of virtual representation18 that the American patriots later attacked. Because at this time Americans mainly read British newspapers, this criticism also found an audience in the New World. Franklin, who twice resided in London for several years as the representative of colonial interests, introduced the views of the British opposition into the American debate via his correspondence. In addition, the argument on the reform of parliament in Great Britain was embedded in a basic conflict over the political state of the country, which according to the opposition had distanced itself from the ideals of the Glorious Revolution (1688/1689). A too powerful crown and a decadent aristocracy had, it was claimed, trampled all over the Bill of Rights of 1689. The conservative camp, however, maintained that parliament's share of power was sufficiently guaranteed and that Great Britain was seen throughout the world as the country with the most liberal institutions.19
This was precisely the frame of reference within which the British viewed the escalation of the conflict with the American patriots after 1773: members of the opposition emphasised the justice of the American critique of virtual representation, the population's lack of a voice in tax policy and the arrogance of the monarch.20 The conservatives, however, asserted that the Americans were represented adequately in parliament, which demanded, in their eyes justifiably, that the Americans also contribute to reducing the mountain of debt that had developed during the Seven Years War (1756–1763), fought, amongst other reasons, to defend the political and religious freedoms of the colonialists against France and Spain. According to them, refusing to pay these taxes was a sign of ingratitude and weakened the authority of parliament, which more than any other institution embodied the political freedom of the British.21 In America itself, the patriots and the loyalists fought each other with the same arguments. Great Britain and the American colonies formed a common space of political communication, in which the antagonisms between the home country and the colonies were not the decisive line of conflict, but rather the positions in the debates on the reform or conservation of the political system created in 1689.
This pattern changed when the Americans declared their independence in 1776. Now, the conflict could no longer simply be interpreted as an internal British matter. Nevertheless, many newspapers continued to defend the viewpoint of the former colonists.22 A decisive break only came in 1778, when France joined the war on the American side. Their alliance with Britain's archenemy cost the Americans considerable sympathy; the British closed ranks in the war against France and overcame domestic political divisions. When in 1779 Spain, too, declared war on Britain, and the two Catholic powers planned an invasion of the British Isles, the British population quickly united in their traditional defensive stance against Popery and "absolutism".23 The Americans were no longer seen as "almost fellow countrymen", whose political views one could approve or disapprove of, but rather as barbarians and savages who had to be brought back to the path of civilised virtue. Only some radicals continued to support the revolutionaries across the Atlantic.24
When taking an overview of the mediatisation of the American Revolution in Great Britain, one is struck – alongside the frankness with which the opposition could express its opinion25 – by the amount and intensity of the reporting.26 This only abated when, after 1778/1779, the war with the European rivals came to the fore:27 the clashes over Gibraltar and on Jersey and the naval battle of Dogger Bank took place closer to home and were therefore particularly dangerous. Until then, the newspapers had reported almost continuously on all facets of the colonial conflict, and all important manifestos of the actors involved on both sides of the Atlantic were published and discussed. After the publication of the Declaration of Independence, for example, John Lind (1737–1781) brought out a pamphlet28 that sought to refute the American arguments. France's entry into the war led to a similar public exchange of blows between the adversaries.29
Among the reasons for this phenomenal presence in the media was certainly the significance of the War of Independence for the daily lives of many Britons: the economic consequences of the broken trade links between the hostile states were evident everywhere and could only inadequately be compensated for by the profits made by military suppliers. In addition, many men served in the army or fleet, and many more were threatened with being called up due to the feared invasion.30 On the reaction to the defeat of Saratoga, the Gazette de Leyde could write in December 1777: "Toute la Nation est dans la plus grande consternation."31 The public discussion was a product of real experiences and perspectives, but it also had, in turn, an impact on the consciousness of the population. The continuous presence of the common problem in the media brought people together, especially in the years after 1778.32 In addition, British nation building benefited from the fact that the Irish and Scots came to identify with the cause of the empire more strongly.33
The newspapers were not only a forum for editors to express their opinions and print reports and documents. There was also space for comments from the public. For example, they contained numerous declarations of loyalty, but also calls for peace addressed to the crown from British cities.34 Here, there was a contest of opinions, as there was at the level of the readers' letters which allowed the lower middleclass to take part in the public debate.35 These authors confidently weighed up the pros and cons of the governmental measures. It seemed worth informing the public of every argument, every point of view. In this way, an ideal of the Enlightenment, a rational public, came close to being realised.36
Military developments, in particular, attracted considerable interest among the public. Readers followed strategic plans and their practical implementation step for step. The depictions were so detailed that even individual desertions of Hessians (German soldiers hired out by their ruler) found mention.37 The conduct of the military leaders was closely observed and received praise and criticism. When, after the capitulation of Saratoga, the British general John Burgoyne (1722–1792) had to answer to the House of Commons, the press also took part in the debate on the supposed failure of the commander.38 The public repeatedly criticised the fact that unsuitable individuals whose misconduct inflicted considerable damage to the nation achieved the highest offices.
In contrast, George Washington (1732–1799), the commander-in-chief of the American Continental Army, always enjoyed a good press in Great Britain. The media styled him as a modern Cincinnatus (519–438 BC), who left his estates when the Republic called in order to selflessly serve the common good. The fact that the British ascribed Washington the characteristics of a British gentlemen made it even easier to apply to him their own gentlemanly ideal of respecting the enemy.39 Initially, Franklin enjoyed similar popularity. Described as the "brother genius" of Voltaire (1694–1778),40 Franklin was in England until 1775 and defended and explained the position of the colonies in numerous newspaper articles.41 He argued that the Americans' demands should be met in order to preserve the empire that was, and should remain, the political home of the transatlantic colonies. His popularity in London was largely based on this moderate position and, indeed, the mediatory role ascribed to him. When he was seen as being one of those responsible for the Boston Tea Party and the resulting escalation of the conflict, however, his image worsened; it deteriorated even further when Franklin returned to America and thus unambiguously took up the cause of the rebels.42 Another figure to receive considerable attention was the American commodore and privateer John Paul Jones (1747–1792), who raided the English coast during the war.43 There was much fuss in the British media concerning his landing on the Dutch island of Texel in 1779, which seemed to contradict the neutrality of the Netherlands.44
Another indication of the considerable attention which the British public devoted to the American Revolution is its frequent appearance in literature. Robert Heilman has counted 75 novels published between 1776 and 1800 in England that referred to the events in the New World. However, on the whole, there were only short references to the conflict in dialogues; plot lines or entire novels that took place during the revolution in America were rare. The views on the American Revolution which were expressed in literature were extremely varied and one cannot identify a general political trend.45
In addition to texts, images also played an important role in the mediatisation of the American Revolution. Copper engravings, woodcarvings and etchings, which had been distributed in Europe since the invention of printing as broadsheets, depicted individuals and events from the War of Independence. In the 18th century, they migrated to the new printing medium of the journal, where they were published in a more permanent form. An example was the monthly London Magazine, a journal of the opposition which, among other things, regularly printed political caricatures.46 In painting, which generally dignified events from the distance of many years, the most prominent artists were two Americans whose lives are linked to Britain: John Singleton Copley (1737–1815) and John Trumbull (1756–1843). Copley's large-scale painting The Death of Major Pierson47 from 1783, which takes as its subject the failed French invasion of the British Channel Island Jersey in January 1781, is still today one of the best-known contemporary pictures of the American War of Independence.48 Trumbull himself participated in the war on the side of the Americans; his pictures examine death in battle, but also the momentous capitulations of British forces at Saratoga and Yorktown. The war at sea was depicted by the naval painter Thomas Whitcombe (ca. 1760–ca. 1824), who later achieved fame with his portrayals of the Wars of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. From the context of the American War of Independence, he painted the Repulse of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar in 1782 and the Battle of the Saintes in 1783.
Other visual media falling short of the artistic qualities ascribed to painting and graphic art have as yet received little attention from researchers. For example, the victory of Admiral George Rodney (ca. 1718–1792) over the French fleet near the Caribbean islands of The Saintes in 1782 was depicted on numerous ceramics.49 There still has not been a systematic investigation of the maps distributed in Britain during the war which also visualised the situation and events in America. Finally, clothing fashions also belong to visual culture; during the war, British women developed a preference for outfits that imitated uniforms.50
The Patriots in the Netherlands as Kindred Spirits
The link between events in America and domestic political debates in Great Britain during the first years of the war is little surprising as the colonies were still part of the empire. However, it is evident that in other European countries the revolution across the Atlantic also became connected to local questions – indeed, the degree to which the media discussed it depended on the potential for such associations. To a large extent, the media's interpretative task was to establish such discursive connections. For example, in the Netherlands, which at the end of 1780 were actually dragged into the military conflict by Britain's declaration of war, the polarity between pro-American and pro-British camps mirrored the conflict between the party of the stadtholders, the Orangists, and that of the popular opposition, the Patriots.51 While William V (1748–1806), who was related to the British royal dynasty and was well known for his Anglophile stance, initially condemned the rebellion in the colonies, the Patriots used the independence movement in order to bring an issue into the public sphere which would allow them to lobby for their own political goals. Criticism of London's policies towards the American colonies merged with criticism of the government in The Hague, and the adoption of the ideas of the rebels enriched the progressive discourse of Enlightenment in the Netherlands. Joan Derk van der Capellen (1741–1784), a leader of the Dutch Patriots, translated one of the most important critical pamphlets from Britain, The Fall of Liberty by Richard Price (1723–1791), into the local language in order to arouse sympathy for the American cause – sympathies which he knew could easily be transferred to the cause of the Dutch opposition. John Adams (1735–1826), the American ambassador to the Netherlands, managed to profit from this constellation: the Patriots used the events in America that he represented in order to create popular topics and images to strengthen their own position, and he himself supported the Patriots, which in turn created a pro-American public mood.52
The French-language Dutch newspaper Gazette de Leyde was, incidentally, one of the publications that were particularly important for disseminating reports on America. It was distributed throughout Europe and its contents cannibalised by other newspapers.53 Many articles on the revolution were second-hand reports. Because there were not yet any firmly established news channels,54 and most newspapers could not afford to employ their own correspondents or simply buy articles directly from them, editors compensated by quoting other newspapers. There was nothing to stop this process as copyright could not yet be enforced.55 On the whole, the quotations were explicitly identified as such, and often it was even remarked that the paper could not guarantee the reliability of the source.56 Certainly, this undermined the authority of newspapers and their claim to spread the truth.57 However, through this distancing method they relieved themselves of the responsibility of sorting out commonly repeated rumours from plausible information.58 Instead, this task was left to the reader, who was thereby addressed as an autonomously judging individual, fully in accordance with the ideals of the Enlightenment.59
Measured Debate in the Holy Roman Empire
If it is correct that the debate for and against the American Revolution was at its fiercest where it mirrored local lines of conflict, it is hardly astonishing that the discussion in the Holy Roman Empire took on a relatively moderate form. The particularism of Germany prevented the emergence of a single polarised debate throughout the empire. As a rule, newspapers held back from commenting on the events.60
Nevertheless, a response was evident on the book market: between 1770 and 1775, barely more than a dozen German-language works were published annually that dealt with or touched upon North America; in contrast, 40 such works appeared in 1776 and again in 1777.61 Most of these were translations of British authors. The events across the Atlantic were also sometimes mentioned in the belles-lettres, for example in Friedrich Schiller's (1759–1805) drama Intrigue and Love, in which the hiring out of Hessians by their ruler is criticised during a conversation.62 However, only a few plays of low aesthetic value specifically drew on the events in the New World. They put the focus on the fate of individuals without examining the general political perspectives.63
However, one must disagree with the older research, which observed only a sporadic and sketchy public discussion. The newspaper with the highest circulation in Northern Germany,64 the Hamburgische Unpartheyische Correspondent (20,000 copies), printed comprehensive articles and analyses of the events of the war and the warring parties in almost every issue.65 The Americans' political manifestos received as much attention as the British debates in the House of Commons.66 Even the text of the Franco-American alliance of 1778 was published.67 The merchants of Hamburg required precise information because the events of the war had an impact on business prospects, trade routes and fluctuations in price. On the whole, the paper used reports from the West European press, but in doing so the editorial staff sought to tone down the bias or openly discuss it in order to reduce its impact on their readers. Nevertheless, an unmistakable preponderance of sources from London created a slight pro-British leaning.68 On the whole, open statements of opinion were avoided, except in the case of atrocities or crimes against humanity, which provoked frank criticism.69
In addition to the newspapers, journals also took up the topic. During the 18th century, the political journal gained increasing importance as a new genre in Germany.70 Not only did they describe political events, but they also commented on them.71 One of the most notable new journals – the first issue appeared on 31 March 1774 – was Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart's (1739–1791) Deutsche Chronik, which immediately found a popular topic in the American Revolution. The paper appeared twice a week and achieved a print run of 1,600 in 1775. Schubart's work method has been well researched and can be seen as typical for the print media of his time. The editor of the Deutsche Chronik received around 25 newspapers, which he used as the material for his own reports. Readers' letters and correspondents' reports, which sometimes appeared anonymously or under pseudonyms, also often came from Schubart's pen.72 In general, voicing opinions was more important than systematic analysis.73
Schubart sympathised with the Americans, whom he believed to be involved in a just struggle for freedom and whose leaders he styled as classical heroes.74 This position wobbled, however, when the German princes started hiring out their soldiers to the British. Solidarity with his countrymen led the patriot to hope that the British troops would withdraw from the affair in a creditable way and so he was torn between the two warring parties.75 In March 1776 the Deutsche Chronik published exact figures on the hired soldiers and the prices they attracted.76 It was perhaps the journal's 1777 attack on a trade of soldiers planned (but not carried out) by Carl Eugen, the Duke of Württemberg (1728–1793), that provoked Schubart's ten-year imprisonment, which has gone down in German intellectual history as the prime example of the tyrannical suppression of the freedom of opinion and of the press.77
Other than this, the question of the hired German soldiers, the "Hessians" as the Americans called them, did not cause great controversy in the German press. The trade with soldiers was so normal in the 18th century that only decidedly Enlightened thinkers and humanists were repelled by it. The political and legal questions that lay at the heart of the conflict between the Americans and British were discussed much more intensively. Here, most papers sought to capture the entire spectrum of viewpoints and arguments. Support for just one side was rare;78 indeed, even Schubart's Deutsche Chronik failed to maintain such a stance. It would be an exaggeration to talk of the division of the German public sphere into pro-British and pro-American camps that shaped the lines of conflict between conservatives and liberals.79 One of the few newspapers to adopt a clear side – in this case for London – was the Stats-Anzeigen of the Gottingen professor August Ludwig Schlözer (1735–1809), who, however, had to put up with the accusation that he did so out of Hanoverian-British reasons of state.
The two great German powers, Prussia and Austria (neither of which possessed colonies or important trade links across the Atlantic and which, moreover, were at that time devoting their full attention to the War of the Bavarian Succession [1778/1779]), observed the events at a distance. Certainly, there were supporters of the Americans and British in Berlin and Vienna. However, most newspapers sought to give a balanced depiction. Despite the aversion of Frederick II (1712–1786) towards Great Britain, the Prussian press did not adopt a one-sided attitude.80 The twice-weekly Wienerische Diarium regaled its readers with constant and detailed reporting and extensive analysis of the conflict's background, but it rarely voiced an opinion.81 The political impact of the reporting of the American Revolution probably did less to promote particular positions and views than to inculcate the habit of discussing international politics and state building in the public sphere. In the German-speaking area, too, the discourse on the American Revolution was part of a process which presented politics as a topic for Enlightened reasoning.82
The research has established that the arguments and views on the American Revolution that circulated in the German media often did not depict a realistic picture of the political relations in the New World. The depiction and interpretation remained stuck at the level of the American-British debate in the 1760s, characterised by the colonists' desire for freedom and London's interest in having them contribute to financing the empire.83 The new discussions on the establishment of a republican system and its constitution and institutions that had been current in America since 1776 did not find an echo in Germany.84 Perhaps this is also explained by the missing link to domestic questions – the concrete formation of a republic was by no means on the German political agenda. It was only possible to get across a general, emotion-laden desire for freedom,85 a Rousseau-like enthusiasm,86 which fitted the mood of Sturm und Drang,87 and an Enlightened discourse on balancing the rights of the state and its subjects.
There has been very little systematic research into the depiction of the American Revolution in the visual media in Germany. If it is true that North America only entered the consciousness of broader sections of the Holy Roman Empire's population as a result of the mediatisation of the War of Independence,88 then it is necessary to ask what role pictures played in this process and what visual stereotypes were attached to the new topic. Apparently, there was an exchange of images across borders: Schiller, for example, possessed a print of Trumbull's painting of the Battle of Bunker Hill.89 A prominent German artist to deal with this topic was Daniel Chodowiecki (ca. 1726–1801), who completed a series of copper engravings.90 A popular visual medium that requires research is the posters used in some German countries to recruit soldiers.91
Comparative European Perspectives
One of the countries where the American Revolution was used by the opposition in a very one-sided manner was Sweden. Enlightened publications praised the Americans in order to implicitly criticise the regime of Gustav III (1746–1792). From the perspective of the history of reception, it has been noted that the praise of conditions in America prepared the ground for the mass emigration from Sweden to the New World [LL2] in the 19th century.92 Franklin's almanac Poor Richard was a bestseller in Sweden as it had been in many European countries.93 By contrast, pro-British moods were predominant in Switzerland, no doubt an expression of the country's traditional Anglophilia.94 The first complete German translation of the American Declaration of Independence appeared in Basel. The philosopher of history Isaak Iselin (1728–1782) published it in the moral-political journal Ephemeriden der Menschheit in October 1776. However, there was no commentary; as so often, the German-language press was content to quote documents without expressing a detailed opinion or providing an explanatory contextualisation.95
In crisis-ridden Poland, there existed only one newspaper at the time of the Boston Tea Party, the Gazeta Warszawska.96 Although this was published by a conservative member of the lesser Polish landed nobility, the paper sided with the Americans after initially adopting a neutral position. It accused the British troops of barbaric behaviour. The reporting generally used American sources. It regularly quoted the political manifestos of the rebels, normally also translated into Polish.97 In this way, the Gazeta Warszawska introduced the ideas and arguments of the American struggle for freedom into domestic debates. One journal printed a biography of Franklin along with his portrait, and Franklin's own works enjoyed considerable popularity in Poland.98
Overall, the Polish debate was more varied than its Swedish counterpart: the reformers traditionally preferred the British political system,99 whose suitability as a role model was now put in doubt by the American criticism. However, the view that the American model could not be transferred to Poland was also common. At the same time, it was paradoxically praised by reactionaries, who opposed the centralisation of authority.100 Only when called upon to wage its own war of independence – against the great powers aiming to partition Poland – did a widespread orientation towards the strategies and experiences of the Americans emerge in Poland. The research of the reception of the revolution points above all to the insurrection of 1794 led by Tadeusz Kościuszko (1746–1817), who had fought as a volunteer for the Americans.101
In Russia, too, the market for newspapers was poorly developed. The only newspapers were the Moskovskie Vedomosti ("Moscow Gazette") and the Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti ("St. Petersburg Gazette"); the former was published by the University of Moscow, the latter by the Russian Academy of Sciences.102 Both newspapers provided regular and detailed reports of the American Revolution and contextualised them expertly within world politics. The Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti took most of its information from the Hamburgische Unpartheyische Correspondent. The dependency on this link in the flow of news from North America meant that the Russian public only learned of the American events with a delay of more than two months. Thus, the capitulation of Burgoyne at Saratoga on 17 October 1777 was first reported in the Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti in the two issues of 19 December 1777 and 9 January 1778.
Journal publishing in Russia experienced a significant boom in the last third of the 18th century. While the political journals had initially only printed governmental decrees, they later began to publish news columns on contemporary events; in 1775, regular reporting of the events in North America began.103 The Moskovskie Vedomosti was published from 1779 by Nikolai Novikov (1744–1818), one of the most important representatives of the Enlightenment in Russia. Under Novikov, the paper now differed distinctly from the cautious Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti. He was more outspoken in his reporting and did not hide his pro-American position. Above all, he feted the figureheads Washington and Franklin. Some of Franklin's works were translated into Russian; in 1784, Novikov published a biography of Washington.104 Although the Moskovskie Vedomosti did not explicitly mention connections to Russia, the readers could infer that many of the ills against which the Americans fought were also present in their own country.105 In 1783, Novikov added a supplement to Moskovskie Vedomosti which increased the criticism, causing Catherine II (1729–1796) to intervene in the following year and ban the paper. That there had been no extensive censoring before was probably a product of Russia's interest in weakening its rival Great Britain. The tsarina had rejected an alliance with London,106 and she later founded the League of Armed Neutrality, whose members defended themselves against the British warships searching for contraband in order to protect their own trade.107 The censor could be circumvented anyway in that the banned texts dealing with the American Revolution could be sent by post to their Russian readers. Supposedly, the most important individuals and events were known even in Siberia.108
When one looks at Southern Europe, one finds a more developed press; at least, this is true of Italy where there was comprehensive newspaper coverage of the American Revolution. The pro-American mood was stronger, but the pro-British position found expression in papers such as the Gazzetta Universale. The pro-American camp profited considerably from the commitment of an intermediary: Filippo Mazzei (1730–1816), who had already met Benjamin Franklin in London in 1767, was received in 1775 by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) during a journey around the New World and was sent back to Europe by the Americans as a "business agent" – after a further meeting with Franklin in Paris, he settled in his homeland for several years in order to supply pro-American articles to the Italian newspapers.109
In Spain, the press sided decidedly with the Americans. It did so for reasons of state. The country desired a higher share of the Atlantic trade and welcomed every weakening of the British rival as a matter of principle. From 1779, Spain also employed military means to get revenge for the defeat in the Seven Years War that had led to the loss of Florida.110 The fear that the revolutionary spark could spread from the northern subcontinent to their own Latin American colonies had apparently little influence on Spanish perceptions of the conflict.111 Even in Portugal, which was allied to Britain, the newspapers demanded that London should allow the Americans their own parliament.112
Franklin in France: The Ambassador as a Medium
Finally, this article will examine the country which, besides Britain, was the European power most embroiled in the American conflict – France, whose entry into the war in 1778 made the final victory of the United States possible. For the Bourbon empire, too, the conflict across the Atlantic was bound up with its own political interests and intellectual dispositions. The desire for revenge against Great Britain went hand in hand with a Rousseauian fashion cultivated not only by the Enlightened public sphere but also by the aristocracy with their inclination to the bucolic – one thinks of Marie Antoinette's (1755–1793) Trianon.113 The American settlers, free farmers on free land, seemed to be the ideal citizens of a future republic characterised by pious devotion to nature and liberalism.114 The fact that the Englishman John Locke (1632–1704), not Rousseau, was the most important philosophical and intellectual inspiration for the colonists was deliberately ignored.115
Newspapers close to the government such as the Gazette de France initially faced the problem of having to hold back from expressing their opinion because the government was officially pursuing a course of neutrality despite the fact that it was secretly aiding the rebels. The policy of avoiding partisan support was even adopted officially to allay English suspicions. When the Gazette de France surprisingly reported the events in Saratoga at the end of 1777, this was taken in diplomatic circles as an indication of the end of France's policy of neutrality.116 Despite this policy, interventions by the media had ensured that even before this event the French public had slowly become attuned to the idea of supporting the Americans, which coincided with the French interest in weakening the British rival. The foreign minister Count Charles Gravier de Vergennes (1717–1787) subsidised the paper Les Affaires de l'Angleterre et de l'Amérique, which between 1776 and 1779 regularly reported on the British-American conflict.117 The stance was theoretically neutral,118 but the discussion of the British strife produced the desired affect among French readers. In addition, the Affaires published uncommented political documents and leaflets from the New World such as the Declaration of Independence or (in extracts) Thomas Paine's (1737–1809) Common Sense,119 the most popular manifesto of the American Revolution, which appeared in January 1776 and sold 120,000 times within three months.120 In addition, there were pro-American voices in the form of articles and readers' letters – the best-known guest author was Benjamin Franklin.121
The American ambassador Franklin, who from the turn of 1776/1777 was living in Passy near Paris,122 was a skilled media strategist, who transformed the communicative relations between the United States and France into transnational relations. As an American, Franklin published the manifestos of the American Revolution in France, he intervened in the public debate with pamphlets and letters to the editor,123 and his excellent connections to the New World ensured that he was the first to receive news of political or military events. He then placed them at the disposal of the French newspapers or fed them into his European network of correspondence.124 For example, on 4 December 1777 he was informed of the American victory at Saratoga; after he had personally passed on this information, it appeared in the press on 12 December.125 The ambassador also provided the political and private friends of his network with his own texts, which he described as "bagatelles" and which cuttingly commented upon and lampooned the political developments. Franklin, who had studied printing, produced the texts on his own printing press, which he acquired for this purpose almost as soon as he arrived in France.126
However, the ambassador Franklin was not only an active subject; he also appeared as a topic and object of media strategies and mediatisation. The media reported on him and perhaps in this way he promoted the American cause most effectively.127 It was not only the French public, but also the European media, who observed his activities.128 His first meetings with Marie-Antoinette and, a short time later, with Louis XVI (1754–1793) were followed closely. When in early 1778 Franklin met Voltaire in Paris, the newspapers styled this meeting as a spiritual event: two of the most important intellectual representatives of the era met, and the aged Voltaire handed the torch of Enlightenment and progress on to Franklin. The idea of Franklin receiving the inheritance of the great French thinkers was strengthened when a few months later Voltaire and Rousseau died in quick succession. Franklin seemed even closer to Rousseau, as both – in contrast to the elegant Voltaire – cultivated a middleclass, indeed a simple rural lifestyle. However, a shift in emphasis took place in so far as Voltaire and Rousseau were Anglophile, while Franklin stood for an Anglophobe position from 1774/1775 at the latest.129
His appearance became in itself a political message. The wire glasses, simple colonial dress and absent wig symbolised the natural man, who unpretentiously mastered the problems of life simply on the basis of his common sense – and who with the invention of the lightning conductor not only removed a danger but also supposedly demystified the gods.130 In a way, the figure of Franklin manifested the complex political and intellectual context of the American Revolution. Franklin became an icon and was depicted as such in numerous visual media. Owning a portrait of Franklin, copies of which were produced in large numbers in France and were disseminated throughout Europe, became a sign of sympathy with the American cause.
Franklin was, therefore, an experienced media strategist and became a medium himself – perhaps the most successful medium that was working on America's behalf. At least, this is true of the first years of Franklin's stay in France before the rise of general Gilbert de Lafayette (1757–1834), who in summer 1777 joined the American army as a nobody and reached the peak (for the time being) of his popularity during his triumphal return to France in December 1781. Franklin's media impact was of preeminent importance for the rebellious colonies. Weaker than the British Empire with regard to all other instruments of power, the Americans' final success is partially explained by the skilful public relations campaign which ensured that they could win powerful allies, above all France.
The American Revolution was a European media event on a number of levels. Firstly, it achieved a loud echo throughout the European public. This is hardly surprising as there were numerous countries directly involved in the war, while others – through the League of Armed Neutrality – were at the least politically entangled in it. There was frequent, detailed reporting, including many articles providing analysis and background information. Much of the print media drew its information from foreign printed material, so that the flow of information literally criss-crossed all over Europe. The same was true of the network of correspondence between political figures and private individuals. Above all the political journals that had emerged in the 18th century provided commentary and opinion. This adoption of views, but also the readers' letters in the newspapers, marked a change in reporting on politics from pure depictions to critical reasoning. The clash of opinions, which had traditionally taken place in pamphlets, forced its way into the periodical press media. In this respect, the discourse on the American Revolution promoted and mirrored the implementation of the forms of communication of the Enlightenment in Europe.
In addition, the broad stream of news from North America meant a global extension of Europe's horizons. The visual media, which have to date not been sufficiently researched, made a contribution to this. The position that Europe adopted towards North America is characterised by a high level of ambivalence. On the one hand, the former colonies and Europe continued to grow towards each other to form a single cultural space;131 i.e. a politico-cultural extension of Europe took place. However, the conceptual polarity of "New" and "Old" World exposed that Europe as a whole also defined itself in contrast to America; indeed from the high ground of the Enlightened thinkers inspired by Rousseau, Europe was regarded as backward, even decadent.
On the whole, the perception of the United Colonies or States was shaped by interpretative interests and stylisations. The analysis of the media representation of the American Revolution shows how the events and ideas from North America were reinterpreted for the particular needs of each individual country. In this way a tradition developed that has continued to influence the present: for the last almost 250 years, Europeans have used America as a space onto which they project their own hopes and fears, be it in the form of Americanism or that of anti-Americanism, in order to construct their own identities.