Tag Archives: United States History

Social Media at the Time of the American Revolution

No I’m not talking about the revolution that is being attempted in the US right now, I’m talking about the 1770s. Here is another history themed homework assignment that I enjoyed writing. What social media tools would I recommend if I could go back in time and be a consultant to Samuel Adams and friends?

“Samuel Adams and fellow revolutionaries used many techniques to achieve support for the United States Revolutionary War. With the use of “pen, platform, pulpit, staged events, symbols, news tips, and political organization”, these revolutionaries used events, manufactured if necessary, to appeal to and engage the senses of their hoped-for compatriots in the fight for independence from England (Broom and Sha 75). In the imaginary world of this assignment, I’m a time-traveling public relations consultant with the power to bring today’s social media tools to Sam Adams and the revolutionaries to help them win their campaign.

I’m going to recommend to Samuel Adams that he should add social media to the tools he is already using to make communication over long distances easier, cheaper, and less risky, with the potential to reach many more publics than presently. Some of the acts described below were considered by the British administration of the time to be treasonous and potentially punishable by death (Thernstrom 137), so the network and devices that Adams and his followers use will have to be secure from British spying.

Pen
The pamphlet “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine was a powerful piece of writing in favor of revolution that had a circulation of more than 100,000 copies throughout the colonies (Broom and Sha 76). Paine argued for independence with some fiery language, but the pragmatic argument that the colonies needed to be independent to form alliances with other nations in order to get assistance in fighting the British forces was considered the most persuasive (Thernstrom 143).

Thomas Paine and other eloquent and persuasive writers of their time would benefit from having their own blogs to publicize their content and collect subscribers so that the contact information can be shared with members of the revolutionary movement who are planning events and protests. Since readings of Common Sense were popular in taverns and coffee houses of the time (Thernstrom 143), audio and video presentations of this material that are shareable on social media will increase the reach tremendously. Most colonists at this time were not literate (Bitter 21), but would be able to consume videos and podcasts with the right receiving equipment.

Platform
A platform is easier to remember and rally around if it’s short and resonates with the public. “Taxation without representation is tyranny” is the well known slogan that describes the platform of the revolutionaries (Broom and Sha 76).

A graphic with a unifying image, such as the Liberty Tree, with this slogan should be prepared to use on social media outlets as a profile picture, header graphic, avatar image and any other identifying graphics that you need to reinforce your brand on social media platforms.

Pulpit
The British parliament passed the Quebec Act of 1774 which opened some additional areas of North America up to colonial American settlers, but with French law presiding and Catholic churches enjoying advantages over Protestant churches. Protestants were the majority of colonists and anti-Catholic feeling added more resentment against the British imperial government (Thernstrom 139). A further religious-based rift between Britain and America was widened by the Great Awakening, a renewal of Christian fervor in the colonies that made the old country seem more decadent and therefore less desirable to the colonists in comparison (Thernstrom 145).

Christian and Biblical references can be inserted when appropriate into communications to keep emphasizing the perceived moral superiority of the new society that is being created. Revolution-minded colonists did not shy away from including Biblical allegories and passages on items such as flags and needlework (“Religion and the…”), and such images could be adopted into memes or other sharable graphics. Ministers played a great role in propagating the idea of revolution against the British as a righteous cause (“Religion and the…”), and therefore making sermons available as shareable audio and video presentations could be very advantageous.

Staged Events
A provocative event can capture the attention of many members of the public who were otherwise indifferent (Broom and Sha 76). The Boston Tea Party was an event that could be considered staged. In all the other colonies except Massachusetts, ships carrying British Tea turned back when confronted by colonists who opposed the tea act because they had been persuaded by colonial tea wholesalers that it was dangerous for future liberty to grant a tea monopoly to the English East India tea company (Thernstrom 138). The Massachusetts Governor did not want to back down so he ordered all ships in Boston Harbor to remain until they unloaded all their cargo. In response, Samuel Adams and 150 followers dressed as Native Americans boarded the ships and unloaded 90,000 pounds of British tea into the harbor. This property destruction did not meet with universal approval even from colonists who opposed the tea act, but many lost sympathy for the home country when the British government reduced liberties in Massachusetts to the point where the colonial charter of 1691 was virtually null and void (Thernstrom 138-139). By provoking a harsh response from the British, Samuel Adams and friends re-ignited a lot of the anti-British sentiment in the other colonies that had risen during earlier unpopular tactics of the British but had temporarily quieted after most of the offending acts had been repealed or were left un-enforced (Thernstrom 138-139).

I recommend that Adams and followers should not publicize pictures of tea being destroyed, but instead try to propagate stories of British oppression throughout social media. Video footage of colonists trying to exercise some of their previously held rights, such as assembly, but being confronted by British officials and troops could be very effective and can be uploaded to YouTube, embedded on blogs, and more.

Political Organization
The Sons of Liberty and Committees of Correspondence were both formed in Boston to bring about the actions that the revolutionaries public relations efforts had inspired (Broom and Sha 76). The Massachusetts Committee on Correspondence urged the other colonies to limit importation of British luxury goods as a protest against the Sugar Act which they saw as an example of unfair taxation but received only limited support at that time (Thernstrom 131).

Social media is terrific for boycotts – a multimedia campaign with hashtags such as #boycottbritain or #boycottbritishgoods could be very effective as the colonists power to boycott has caused economic damage to Britain on more than one occasion (Thernstrom 132, 137).

Symbols
The Liberty Tree is an an example of a symbol that the revolutionaries adopted to identify their movement and get potential recruits emotionally involved (Broom and Sha 76). The original Liberty Tree was an elm located in Boston. Under its branches, critics of the British government met and launched a protest, inflamed by the Stamp Act, which they believed ushered in an unwelcome era of taxation without representation. The Stamp Act required revenue-raising stamps to be sold by the imperial government and be placed by the colonists on any printed matter. In addition, since violators of the Stamp Act were not to be tried in colonial courts but rather British admirality courts which heretofore had restricted themselves to navigation related cases, the colonists revolted in order not to set a precedence for trials without a jury (Thernstrom 131-132).

The “Sons of Liberty”, who led protests against the Stamp Act throughout the colonies created effigies of stamp officials and subjected the effigies to various indignities including symbolic hanging from the Liberty Tree. Using other methods to intimidate would-be stamp officials into resigning, such as property damage and marches, the “Sons of Liberty” wanted to keep the protests mostly symbolic but were sometimes joined by sailors and workers who had patronized the local taverns and were primed to engage in some burning and looting. The pressures from these acts of civil disobedience and property destruction were enough to make the Stamp Act unenforceable by the British (Thernstrom 132).

The Stamp Act was able to unify the colonies in their outrage more than the previous Sugar Act had been, although more widening of rifts between the British government and the colonists would be required to get the protest leaders more interested in revolution (Thernstrom 133-134). A popular manifestation of opposition to the Stamp Act was a skull and crossbones placed on papers where the hated taxation stamp should have gone. Many newspapers throughout the colonies used similar imagery (“A Pledge to…”), displaying how a symbol can spread socially even with non-electronic technology available. The skull and crossbones could be an even more popular image with electronic help to go along with hash tags such as #thefatalstamp.

News Tips
The Boston Massacre is one example of the revolutionaries’ ability to get their side of the story out first in order to promote their interpretation of events (Broom and Sha 76). Many colonists were persuaded to see the killings as deliberate acts of tyranny by Samuel Adams and the colonial press (Thernstrom 137).

Citizen journalists allied with the revolutionary cause are encouraged to take pictures and video of the massacre and send to as many social media channels and media outlets as possible, along with personal accounts and reports, to make sure our take on the event is prominent in the public discourse and disseminated as quickly as possible.”

Works Cited

“A Pledge to Violate the Stamp Act.” NCpedia, 2020, www.ncpedia.org/anchor/pledge-violate-stamp-act. Accessed 21 September 2020.

Bitter, John. “Which Came First – Journalism or Public Relations.” Public Relations Quarterly, Fall 1987, pp. 21-22. Accessed 20 August 2020.

Broom, Glen M. and Bey-Ling Sha. Effective Public Relations. Pearson, 2013.

“Religion and the Founding of the American Republic.” Library of Congress, 2020, https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel03.html. Accessed 21 September 2020.

Thernstrom, Stephan. A History of the American People: Volume One: To 1877. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984.