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Misinformation Nation

Foreign News and the Politics of Truth in Revolutionary America

Jordan E. Taylor

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Fundamentally reshapes our understanding of the causes of the American Revolution and the pivotal role foreign news and misinformation played in driving colonists to revolt.

"Fake news" is not new. Just like millions of Americans today, the revolutionaries of the eighteenth century worried that they were entering a "post-truth" era. Their fears, however, were not fixated on social media or clickbait, but rather on peoples' increasing reliance on reading news gathered from foreign newspapers. In Misinformation Nation, Jordan E. Taylor reveals how foreign news defined the boundaries of American…

Fundamentally reshapes our understanding of the causes of the American Revolution and the pivotal role foreign news and misinformation played in driving colonists to revolt.

"Fake news" is not new. Just like millions of Americans today, the revolutionaries of the eighteenth century worried that they were entering a "post-truth" era. Their fears, however, were not fixated on social media or clickbait, but rather on peoples' increasing reliance on reading news gathered from foreign newspapers. In Misinformation Nation, Jordan E. Taylor reveals how foreign news defined the boundaries of American politics and ultimately drove colonists to revolt against Britain and create a new nation.

News was the lifeblood of early American politics, but newspaper printers had few reliable sources to report on events from abroad. Accounts of battles and beheadings, as well as declarations and constitutions, often arrived alongside contradictory intelligence. Though frequently false, the information that Americans encountered in newspapers, letters, and conversations framed their sense of reality, leading them to respond with protests, boycotts, violence, and the creation of new political institutions. Fearing that their enemies were spreading fake news, American colonists fought for control of the news media. As their basic perceptions of reality diverged, Loyalists separated from Patriots and, in the new nation created by the revolution, Republicans inhabited a political reality quite distinct from that of their Federalist rivals.

The American Revolution was not only a political contest for liberty, equality, and independence (for white men, at least); it was also a contest to define certain accounts of reality to be truthful while defining others as false and dangerous. Misinformation Nation argues that we must also conceive of the American Revolution as a series of misperceptions, misunderstandings, and uninformed overreactions. In addition to making a striking and original argument about the founding of the United States, Misinformation Nation will be a valuable prehistory to our current political moment.

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Jordan E. Taylor

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Reviews

A fearless navigator across the seas of information, Jordan Taylor provides fresh and fascinating insights about the perilous and uncertain world of the late eighteenth century. Today's readers will recognize themselves immediately in early Americans' struggle to process the news. A thoughtful, compelling, and essential work of history.

At a moment when we are consumed with the effects of misinformation and disinformation on our own political life, along comes Misinformation Nation to remind us that there is nothing new under the sun. Jordan Taylor lays out in great detail how and why faulty news, especially from overseas, fueled American politics from the start. This is vital history for today.

Jordan Taylor forces scholars to reconsider long-held assumptions about the American Revolution through his innovative analysis of how Americans grappled with the problem of information arriving from abroad at a dizzying pace and with uncertain veracity. We will be reckoning with Misinformation Nation for years to come.

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Book Details

Release Date
Publication Date
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Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
288
ISBN
9781421444499
Illustration Description
1 b&w illus
Table of Contents

Acknowledgements
Introduction. "Any Thing But the Age of Reason"
Chapter 1. Foreign Advices and False Friends: The Mediation Revolution in British America
Chapter 2. Taxation with Misrepresentation

Acknowledgements
Introduction. "Any Thing But the Age of Reason"
Chapter 1. Foreign Advices and False Friends: The Mediation Revolution in British America
Chapter 2. Taxation with Misrepresentation: Fears of Deception in the Anglo-American Imperial Crisis
Chapter 3. The Lying Gazettes: News from London in Revolutionary Politics
Chapter 4. An Ocean of News: Independence, Commerce, and Atlantic Information Exchange
Chapter 5. The Genius of Information: Scripting an Age of Revolutions
Chapter 6. The American Constellation: Dreams of a Continental Revolution
Chapter 7. Bentalou's Wager: The French Revolution and the Birth of American Partisanship
Chapter 8. Unmaking the Revolutionary Caribbean: Race, Commerce, and Communication in the Early Republic
Chapter 9. The Fruits of Revolution: False News and the Eclipse of the Federalists
Epilogue. Tanguy's Faithful Mirror
Appendix. A Note on Data Sources
Notes

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Jordan E. Taylor

Jordan E. Taylor (BLOOMINGTON, IN) is an editor and historian of American media and politics.