Happy birthday to us!
It was 220 years ago Tuesday, November 16, 1801, that the first issue of The Evening Post was delivered to 600 lucky subscribers in New York City.
It was a newspaper born in exile. Alexander Hamilton, former treasury secretary, had returned to Gotham out of power and disliked by members of his own party, the Federalists.
His political career was in tatters. If you’ve seen Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton,” go ahead and sing along: Hamilton had admitted to a torrid extramarital affair. He had publicly bashed the party’s leader, President John Adams. And in early 1801, Hamilton’s influence swayed the election to Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson. Adams didn’t agree with Jefferson, but thought him a man of principle and preferable to his opponent, Aaron Burr.
Hamilton was 43, with a wife and 8 children and only a law office to support them. Democratic-Republicans controlled the presidency and Congress. Newspapers were the primary way to spread political ideas, but the Federalist-leaning papers in New York were moribund. One, the Commercial Advertiser, was derided by another paper as “too drowsy to be of service to any cause; it is a powerful opiate.”
Hamilton saw one option: Start his own.
He gathered a group of investors at Archibald Gracie’s weekend villa, now Gracie Mansion. They pledged $10,000 to the cause. To edit, Hamilton chose William Coleman, who, as a reporter, covered the murder trial in which Hamilton and law partner Burr successfully argued for the defense.
The Evening Post was a hit from the start. Where most papers used two fonts, it used four. The paper was higher quality. In its first year, the circulation grew to 1,100 in a city of 60,000.
Each issue was a single sheet folded once, to create four pages; packed with advertising from merchants and ship owners as well as bits of news and political commentary, much of it supporting the philosophy of Federalists in general and Hamilton in particular: a strong central bank, peace with Great Britain and an “America first” view of policy decisions.
Coleman was a respected editor, though Allan Nevins, who wrote a history of The Evening Post in 1922, said two of his faults were that “his style, like Hamilton’s, was diffuse; he sometimes forgot taste and decency when assailing his opponents.”
Ironically, considering the fate of his boss, Coleman would kill a man in a duel in 1804, stemming from a dispute with the editor of a rival paper, the American Citizen. (The Daily News should be on notice.)
The first issue of The Post included a statement of principles, likely written by Coleman and Hamilton:
“The design of this paper is to diffuse among the people correct information on all interesting subjects, to inculcate just principles in religion, morals, and politics; and to cultivate a taste for sound literature.”
Sounds about right.
Hamilton would write for the paper under the pseudonym “Lucius Crassus,” mostly to bash Jefferson, and Coleman would sometimes visit Hamilton’s home at 26 Broadway. “As soon as I see him, he begins in a deliberate matter to dictate and I note down in shorthand; when he stops, my article is completed,” Coleman said.
On July 12, 1804, less than three years after founding the paper, Hamilton was killed by Burr in a duel. The Evening Post was not published on the day of his funeral, and for a week the paper had a heavy black border.
But his creation endured. The New-York Evening Post, now The New York Post, is the longest continuously published newspaper in the United States.
Along the way, the paper changed ownership, and political stances, a dozen times. It transformed into the tabloid format you see today in 1942, and Rupert Murdoch, who bought The Post in 1976, switched it from an evening to a morning paper.
Murdoch did everything from instilling the paper with a common-sense, conservative editorial perspective to introducing the famous gossip column Page Six — creating the paper you know today.
The Post now reaches an audience that would astound its founders. In print, it’s the sixth-largest paper in the country; online, more than 80 million people read it in a month.
But some things haven’t changed. The New York Post is still the enemy of the radical, the unpatriotic and the drowsy. It is fearless in standing up for what’s right. From Hamilton to Murdoch, it diffuses among the people correct information on all interesting subjects — with bellies and keyboards on fire.
So raise a glass today as you click or turn the page. To 220 years of journalism, and looking forward to 220 more.