Page:Political Censorship in the Oregon Spectator.djvu/1

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Political Censorship in the Oregon Spectator


[Warren J. Brier is assistant professor of journalism in the University of Southern California. His dissertation at the University of Iowa was on the history of newspapers in the Pacific Northwest, 1846-1896.]

The first printed English-language newspaper in the eleven far western states, the Oregon City Oregon Spectator, was begun as a nonpartisan publication in perhaps the most fervid political epoch in Pacific Northwest history.[1]

Of international concern was the question whether the United States or Britain would obtain control of the region. Wilderness Oregon was attempting to expand and crystallize its experiment in provisional government into a system meriting territorial status, and the first echoes of national politics were being heard in the isolated area.

The Spectator was begun on February 5, 1846, by the Oregon Printing Association, a group of seven prominent citizens who acquired type and a Washington hand press from the East and sold $10.00 shares to raise sufficient funds. The newspaper's motto, carried on page 1, proclaimed, "Westward the Star of Empire takes its way."

That six of the members of the association held posts in the provisional government indicates the close relationship between the Spectator and the politics of the moment. William G. T'Vault, president of the organization and first editor, was prosecuting attorney and postmaster general. The treasurer, George Abernethy, was provisional governor in Oregon.[2] However, the owners of the Spectator maintained for four years a strict ban on political discussion. One of the association's first acts was formulation of a constitution, which stated in Article 8: "The press owned by or in connection with this association, shall never be used by any party for the purpose of propagating sectarian principles or doctrines, nor for the discussion of exclusive party politics."[3]

  1. News publications preceding the Spectator in the Far West were foreign-language newspapers or manuscript editions. These were the Taos (N.M.) El Crepusculo de la Libertad, 1834; Santa Fe (N.M.) La Verdad, 1844; Santa Fe (N.M.) El Payo de Nuevo Mejico, 1845, and the Oregon City (Ore.) Flumgudgeon Gazette and Bumble Bee Budget, 1845.
  2. Other members and their provisional government positions were: John E. Long, secretary; John H. Couch, treasurer; J. W. Nesmith, circuit court judge; Robert Newell, who served on various legislative committees. The seventh member was John P. Brooks.
  3. Oregon Spectator, Feb. 5, 1846, 2:2-3.