Today in 1772, the town of Boston established a Committee of Correspondence as an agency to organize a public information network in Massachusetts; the Committee drafted a pamphlet and a cover letter which it circulated to 260 Massachusetts towns and districts, instructing them in current politics and inviting each to express its views publicly; in each town, community leaders read the pamphlet aloud and the town’s people discussed, debated, and chose a committee to draft a response which was read aloud and voted upon. When 140 towns responded and their responses published in the newspapers, “it was evident that the commitment to informed citizenry was widespread and concrete” according to Richard D. Brown (in Chandler and Cortada (eds.), A Nation Transformed by Information). But why this commitment? In Liah Greenfeld‘s words (in Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity), “Americans had a national identity, the English national identity… The English idea of the nation implied the symbolic elevation of the common people to the position of an elite, which in theory made every individual the sole legitimate representative of his own interests and equal participant in the political life of the collectivity. It was grounded in the values of reason, equality, and individual liberty.”
Good post, and how well it illustrates a powerful idea expressed in powerful words. How tragic, then, that we’ve let the commitment to an informed citizenry weaken over the decades.