Ruggles and the Penny Press

In the early nineteenth century, when many progressive movements were taking shape, determined political leaders and social activists relied heavily on the use of both the printing press and the post office.  For prominent figures like Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Susan B. Anthony, the penny press was a critical device.  In “The Hazards of Anti-Slavery Journalism,” Graham Russell Hodges states that the press allowed activists to communicate their ideas and challenges to other members (and other concerned individuals) of the movement or cause.  “Abolitionists organizing the battle against slavery during the 1830s quickly mastered the potentials of the penny press and the post office in their campaign to compel Americans to examine their consciences about the South’s peculiar institution” (Hodges 1).  Abolitionist organizations would effectively produce and distribute “fiery” anti-slavery propaganda throughout the North.  Their clear message could then be heard anybody willing to speak out against human bondage.  David Ruggles was an African-American printer in New York City during the 1830s.  Despite Hodges identifying him as the “prototype for black activist journalists of his time,” Ruggles never received the praise and notability demonstrated by many of the names mentioned above.  In his short, two-decade long career, Ruggles produced hundreds of newspaper articles and released several issues of his magazine, Mirror of Liberty.  The young abolitionist surely capitalized on the potentials of the penny press and was able to effectively communicate his message to others.

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