The American Revolution and it founding documents set the United States as an example of a modern country with high, though unfulfilled, ideals.
The friction of the rubbing of these new asserted rights has been the undercurrent of American life from the start, even today.
In 1812, in Baltimore, for a few raucous, terrifying and bloody days, the disputes that had simmered, boiled over into open conflict between American citizens.
The story of those days is the subject of Josh S. Cutler’s deeply researched and deftly written “Mobtown Massacre, Alexander Hanson and the Baltimore Newspaper War of 1812.”
In 1812, just thirty-six years after the revolution, the United States found itself again tethered to the ancient European conflict between England and France, including a threat to the new nation’s rights to, among others things, conduct its economy in the world market.
These disputes resulted in the War of 1812 between England and the United States.
Baltimore at the time was a rowdy, growing port city whose economy depended on the peaceful conduct of maritime trade, which was threatened by England.
Politically, the United States was, in general terms, divided into the pro-war faction, the Republicans, and the anti-war faction, the Federalists. This division was also a dispute about which founding father, either Thomas Jefferson for the Republicans or George Washington for the Federalists, got it right.
At the center of the Baltimore conflict is a young Federalist newspaper publisher Alexander Contee Hanson, whose brash and fervent editorial defense of the anti-war position, results in bloody and fatal mob action that shook Baltimore and signified how willing we are to defend our rights to freedom of speech and a free press.
My interest in the story was two-fold: I was a newspaper guy for thirty-six years, and for a while lived near Lovejoy Pond in Albion, Maine, named for another American newspaper martyr, Elijah Lovejoy, who died in Illinois defending his anti-slavery press.
Cutler’s telling of the Baltimore riots is detailed and based on meticulous research.
It is a near moment-by-moment chronicle of the events.
The style is clean and journalistic. Descriptions of the participants and the precise declarations of their beliefs and intents draw the reader into the conflict.
The book is an insightful and terrifying reminder of how fragile a threat it is that holds nations together.
I am a career award-winning journalist and the author of the four-book Frank Nagler Mystery series. Kirkus Reviews called Nagler "one of modern fiction's expertly drawn detectives." I have also written short stores, poetry, and literary fiction.