Guest Opinion: Jefferson Democrats' Dark History of Using Mob Rule to Silence Dissenting Press

 Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay



This last week, we watched as Twitter and Facebook silenced the President of the United States of America by removing him from their platforms. Not to be outdone, Apple, Google, and Amazon all decided to prevent an alternative social media company, Parler, from doing business. Across the nation, people are yelling that these actions are unprecedented, but are they? Is this the first time Democrats have attempted to silence dissenting political opinion through force?


Over two centuries ago, on June 18, 1812, Jefferson Democrats declared war on Great Britain. At that time, Jefferson Democrats controlled 107 of 143 congressional seats, 26 of 34 senate seats and Thomas Jefferson’s hand pick successor, James Madison, was president. Meanwhile in the city of Baltimore a Federalist publisher named Alexander Contee Hanson lived. Hanson owned one of the most powerful Federalist newspapers in the entire nation, the Federal Republican.

Hanson was the grandson of John Hanson, a delegate to the Continental Congress, who signed the Articles of Confederation. John Hanson was technically the first president of the United States as president of the Confederation Congress between 1781-1782. George Washington was the first president of the United States after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, which replaced the Articles of Confederation.

During the war of 1812, Federalists opposed the war as they believe it was manufactured by the Jefferson Democrats to further that party’s political interests. As soon as war started, Alexander Hanson used the Federal Republican to denounce Madison and the war. Within days, a mob of Jefferson Democrats destroyed the newspaper’s office including the printing press. Hanson fled for his life. The violence and threats to his life, though, did not stop him from printing the newspaper or mailing it to his subscribers in Baltimore. Shortly after the office’s destruction, Hanson returned to Baltimore, reestablished an office, and continued to distribute the Federal Republican.


No sooner had the citizens of Baltimore heard of Hanson’s return than they planned a second mob attack. This time, though, Hanson was not going down without a fight— he brought over seventy men into his office to assist him. Among the men defending Hanson were revolutionary leaders Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, father of Robert E. Lee, and General James M. Lingan.

On July 28, 1812, as the mob reassembled in front of the Federalist Republican’s new offices, local authorities turned a blind eye to the impending violence until the early hours of the morning. Eventually, when Hanson and his men ran low on supplies, the authorities agreed to take them to the local prison for their safety. Hanson protested that he had done nothing wrong and all he was trying to do was defend his property. However, because the men were running out of ammunition, Lee convinced Hanson that he had no choice but to be arrested and taken to jail for his own safety.

No sooner did the authorities arrested Hanson and his allies, then the mob stormed the building and destroyed everything inside, again. Not content to destroy Hanson’s property, the mob marched on the local jail where the authorities encouraged the crowd to go home. After the crowd started to disburse, the authorities sent the militia home, which left the prison unguarded.

Within minutes of the militia leaving, the mob reconstituted, surrounded the prison, and broke into it. They killed General Lingan and injured Major-General Lee—cutting off his nose and pouring hot wax over his eyes—so bad that newspapers across the country published his obituary. A week later, the public learned that someone secretly took him to a local hospital.


Lee and Madison were classmates at Princeton. They had a long-standing friendship. Since Lee was one of the nation’s foremost military experts, Madison may have asked Lee to come out of retirement to assist in the defense of his country. Lee had provided Madison advice on how to prepare the country’s defenses. Because the mob, in its frenzy, sought to silence Hanson and publish his supporters, it may have altered the course of the War of 1812. If, for example, Madison had the experience of Lee by his side, the British would never have captured and burned Washington, D.C.

Lee was willing to fight for the First Amendment rights of a local newspaper publisher, even though silencing Hanson’s publication may have advanced his own personal interests. Lee, as a Revolutionary War hero, understood the sacrifices that were made to ensure freedom for dissenting opinions. Lee placed such a value on free speech and expression that he was willing to die fighting a mob. And while Lee survived the attack, living for another six years, he was never the same man.

What we are seeing today is not unprecedented. In fact, what we are seeing is the Democratic party returning to its roots where it is using mob rule to silence the speech of its political opponents.

The great people of the United States will not be silenced and the principles of liberty and freedom will prevail. This great nation has overcome such churlish behavior in the past. The love of liberty is too engrained such that the silencing of political speech will not be tolerated.


Mark Meuser is a Constitutional Attorney with the Dhillon Law Group, which is based in San Francisco. You can follow Mark Meuser on Facebook


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