During the election of 1800, newspapers became the main source of information and opinion for the candidates, President John Adams (the incumbent), and Thomas Jefferson (the challenger—and his vice president). Editors printed scathing stories attacking the opposing candidate, making the 1800 election one of the most acrimonious in history.


Two of the key sources of the press’s criticism centered on Jefferson’s lack of religious faith and Adams’s Alien and Sedition Acts, which restricted the activities of foreigners and made it illegal to criticize the government, including the president.


Read the short announcement in the top-left corner (“The Grand Question Stated”) of the Gazette and answer the questions below. Take a look at this text version to help you:


The Grand Question Stated.
At the present solemn and momentous
epoth, the only question to be asked by ev-
ery American, laying his hand on his heart,
is “Shall I continue in allegiance to
Or impiously declare for


Gazette of the United States, & Daily Advertiser. Philadelphia, Oct. 8, 1800. Library of Congress


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Thomas Cooper, editor of the Sunbury and Northumberland Gazette in Pennsylvania, who criticized John Adams ahead of the election of 1800, was arrested, tried, and convicted under the Sedition (conduct or speech against the state) Act.

Directions: Read the bracketed section of Thomas Cooper’s editorial that was used as evidence against him in his trial for sedition. Utilize the magnifier to help you. Then use the annotation tool to take notes on the following questions:

  1. In what specific ways does Cooper criticize Adams? What is an example of a criticism that seems fair or even harmless?
  2. What is an example of criticism you think goes too far or could pose an “imminent threat”?
  3. How might news writing that contains a point of view in support of or against a policy or politician pose a challenge to those in power?
  4. What is a specific question you have about the article? Explain why.

Download the notes to share with your class.

Source: Editorial by Thomas Cooper, editor of the Sunbury and Northumberland Gazette. Nov. 5, 1799. National Archives

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