Anne Royall, also known by her birth name Anne Newport, was a journalist who faced many ethical dilemmas in her career, because many saw Royall as an ethical dilemma in and of herself. She was not the typical woman of her time. In fact she was far from it. Anne was the first American female journalist and she was nothing but a free spirit. Many in America considered her at the time a scold, a gossip and a radical.
If Royall were alive today, she would have a lot to say about freedom of the press and where this country is headed. However, before a point can be made for this, Royall’s controversial background is something we need to delve into.
An argument can be made that Royall’s career started when her mother ended up working for a revolutionary war major. Major Royall would let Anne study books in his library. Up until this point Anne didn’t know much about the world, education or any literary articles, because she would run wild and explore wherever they were living at the time. She was a basic tomboy and she only knew Indian lore, which she learned from the Indians. She also learned about Indian lore from other non-Indians who told her stories they had been exposed to while traveling the nation.
Major Royall started a friendship with Anne helping her learn through books and guiding her in key concepts of evangelism and free masonry. They were married in 1797 and Anne continued to study under him until his death. The major’s influence is just one of many reasons why Anne turned out to be a radical journalist. She helped and oversaw the plantation duties, but with the family bumping her off of the Major’s inheritance list she suddenly found herself with a lot of time on her hands. Thus another reason for her radical journalism.
Anne Royall was to be the sole heiress of his will and was supposed to receive, not only a large sum of funds, but also their huge plantation and all of their slaves as well as other possessions. Major Royall’s family had a tizzy-fit about the fact Anne was to inherit everything of his and froze the will so she couldn’t claim any of it. At this point Anne took three of their slaves and decided to take a tour of the south.
It was on this tour that she started her journalism career. At every place she visited she wrote down what she saw and experienced in her book. She jotted down everything from good to bad, but what made her so hated was that she often painted everything in a bad light. She criticized everyone she met and everything she saw. Perhaps, she was hypercritical due to her life experiences, contested will and husbands death. One may never know if that was truly the case, but it is something to consider as her controversial tactics unfolded.
Her free masonry, evangelicalism and anti-federalist radical thoughts also came through in her writings. She took Jeffersonianism to the next level because she was so boisterous in her views and was not afraid to tell people where to go. These writings made her famous and gave her a nickname, “ Widow with a Serpents Tongue”.
Anne was not well liked, but like a train-wreck her writings couldn’t be avoided. She had many regular readers. Whether they liked her or not is another story altogether. She wandered all over the nation for ten years and continued to write her “malicious” pieces. Everywhere she went she was described as “two beautiful blue–eyes that’s prying glitter was unwelcomed.” Children were even warned to avoid her when she came into town.
In 1824, her husband’s will had been broken leaving her penniless so she decided to contest for a pension based on the fact she was a revolutionary major’s widow. This contest would continue for years, but she marched on Washington to make her point. She tried to enlist the help of John Quincy Adams for this matter as well as other matters. She felt strongly about such matters as sound money, liberal immigration and tariff laws, the abolition of flogging in the Navy and ultimately a free press. One might say she had no filter and didn’t care what others thought of her as long as in her mind she was doing what was just.
John Quincy Adams obviously didn’t want anything to do with this woman, who attacked Washington based on radical principles and wrote malicious articles about citizens or pubic figures. However, she got to him eventually in a rather questionable way.
Upon marching to Washington in 1824, she found John Quincy Adams bathing in the Potomac River and sat on his clothes until he had heard her out. She had gotten an interview from him for her writings at the same time. Let’s face it where was he going to go? This scandalous move won great respect for her, at least with him.
Anne then dined at the White House and Adams described her as a pest that he liked. He forgave her for her sly journalistic tactics at the river and gave her a nickname, “ Virago errant in enchanted amour”. This eccentric beauty may have been a little pushy, but she got what she wanted most of the time. Sometimes she got more than what she wanted because of her controversial stances on issues.
Anne’s first published writings were books on her travels: Sketches of History, Life, and Manners in the United States were the first of her five travel books that included her malicious attitude toward where she visited and the people she had met along the way. She also attacked any movements she didn’t agree with in these books and it won her quite a few enemies. While they were still fairly popular at the time they were regarded by many as filth and gossip. A Vermont storekeeper pushed her down a flight of stairs due to something she had written in one of her travel books. She was attacked similarly to this on multiple occasions throughout her career. Still she wrote on.
Her writings often told people to be better, more Christian, and get involved in free masonry, etc. It was like an over-bearing mother constantly telling you what you should do and what you shouldn’t do. If you opposed her she would tell you how your ideas were moronic in every single way. This gave her a bad reputation as a common scold. In those days you could be tried for being a common scold and bothering the peace with such opinionated ideals. So it was only a matter of time before Anne to get in trouble.
In 1829 she was arrested and charged with being a common scold. The court found her guilty as charged, but instead of harsh physical punishment, which was the customary punishment for a scold, they gave her a $10.00 fine. This was also because of her age- at this point she was 60-years-old.
It’s honestly a miracle she made it that far without any court cases, arrests or federal indictments. Her tactics were far from ethical (for the times) and often times were so bluntly executed that it’s hard to imagine her surviving with only physical attacks up until that point in 1829. She was a big believer in free speech and found that it was only necessary to protect free speech by speaking out against what was unjust or immoral.
And so the opinionated Royall still kept writing. In 1831 she stopped traveling and decided to live in Washington, D.C. There she opened up her own newspaper, PAUL PRY. This newspaper’s sole purpose was to criticize the government and expose government corruption to the people.
She wrote this paper in a house she rented behind the capitol. She had to take the sink out of the house to make room for the printer, but Anne didn’t care she was determined to publish her newspaper. She didn’t have any willing workers so she went to a catholic orphanage and got two orphans to help run the printer. Again, Royall believed that exposing corruption and freedom of the press by any means necessary was not only a constitutional right, but also a basic human right.
Paul Pry was a four-page newspaper lined with foul language and deadly insults (sounds like Twitter). In Anne’s blunt fashion she announced her newspaper policy in the first issue, “ No party, the welfare and happiness of this country is our politics.” The newspaper had editorials that covered political and local issues. The first page of the paper was completely covered with advertisements- which helped the paper survive as long as it did.
Her attacks on the government in her newspapers were often valid and most of what she printed, although considered radical, was the truth. She was a woman of her beliefs. At one point at man tried to bribe Royall to not print an article. She was offered $2000.00 so not only did she print the article, but added in the part about the bribery offer. Paul Pry was not styled like the papers of the time and often had crude editing. These issues lead Anne Royall to be criticized greatly and in November 1836 the paper ended without warning.
Royall then opened up a newspaper that was edited better and styled after the newspapers of the time. She not only had the same articles that she would have published in Paul Pry, but added literary creative writings and anecdotes that many newspapers printed at the time. This paper was called the Huntress. Not only was this paper more creative, but it also had less foul language and less shock value than Paul Pry. She still had her eccentric touch in this paper though.
She had her own column for her own special ramblings. The other semi-controversial thing she did with this paper was she would publish the names of subscribers who were behind or had not paid for their subscription for the paper. This was a tactic used to shame people into paying her for her work. This tactic is a bit unethical and scandalous, but the “list” people eventually paid Royall.
She continued the paper until her death in October of 1854. She was buried in the Congressional Cemetery. The other newspapers of the day only gave a sentence or two about her works and her life. She was a radical beauty with a bluntness and conviction for her causes. She was seen as a freak during her time, but ultimately she is seen today as an activist of free speech and an anti-federalist.
If Royall woke up today and looked around at what the press was up to she wouldn’t believe it. She would be sorely disappointed about how everything has changed, but for the worse. In her mind she would say that we no longer have free speech or freedom of the press. She would not have believed in political correctness. The censorship of today in the press would have been considered hogwash to her. She would be disappointed that America went with a more federalist direction.
The FCC is the Federal trade Commission of Communication. The fact that they have any say in anything the press does would be enough to make Royall flip in her grave. Royall as mentioned in her brief history above was an anti-federalist, She believed strongly that the government should stay out of what people do and should not be controlling of the press. She would believe today that a journalist couldn’t run a true story about corruption and other issues, because of the censorship of the FCC.
In some ways she may have a valid point too. A journalist who can only write so much truth or so much of the truth is limited in trying to do a good job for the people of the country. A journalist’s purpose in Royall’s mind was to give information to enlighten the people about what’s really going on in the country. She was an advocate for truth.
Today it is much harder to do this with regulations from the FCC and other governmental organizations interfering with freedom of the press. The technology we have today is making it harder to get stories out without information being altered or deleted. The current climate also makes journalist think twice before printing any issues with the government, creating a chilling effect on journalists. Today journalists are monitored and threatened at times because of current technological advances. It’s a bit scary when you think about this because it’s almost like big brother is always watching.
Royall would think that America has gone down hill with everyone relying on technology. Due to an agenda-driven society the rights to privacy have been usurped and/or curtailed by government. Anne believed privacy was a good thing and the government should stay out of your business.
Royall would believe the government has gotten too big for it’s britches. She would say it’s time for a new revolution and would probably call on the free masons for help in this matter. She would also march on Washington again to promote the end of the FCC and other Federal initiatives.
In all seriousness, Royall would say we have no free speech whatsoever. She would look at the Snowden incident with great pride that someone actually stuck up for the country and spoke up against the government with such bravery. She would be appalled by what the government was doing spying on it’s own people and would probably cry something about the government being a Benedict Arnold in the streets. She would note that Snowden gave up his rights so that others could have rights and that if America was truly a free country with free speech that still valued truth Snowden wouldn’t be in Russia right now. He would be at home, with no fear, drinking a cup of tea with his significant other.
One could imagine how furious she would be to see governments spying on a campaign for political office by the very agencies that are assigned to protect the people. We have seen how the highest level of agencies have criticized and conspired a presidential candidate and then later a president. This is something we may expect from another country or communist Russia or China, but not in the United States of America where we have constituted protections. She would have started a new newspaper by now.
The newspaper she wrote today would probably be called Assassin which would expose the corruption of the nation. She would have books upon books she wrote about everything going on in this country and how Federalists have tricked the American people. She would continue to write about how we do not have sound money with the Federal bank (Federal Reserve) and she would probably have her own T.V. show as well. She might even be bigger than Oprah.
Royall without a doubt would tell the FCC where to go as well as the Federal government. She would wonder what happened to the American spirit and why we were all on tiny devices that were sucking up our energy. She would say that these were one of the main reasons we lost our freedoms and aren’t willing to stick up for them anymore. In essence she would think that this is the reason we have lost our constituted republic.
In short Royall would say that we have become too fat and sassy. American’s are too comfortable in their lifestyles to care about real issues. American’s are too lazy to do anything about government corruption and they do not understand the implications of a Federal system or Federalists. Part of the reason for this is that Americans are no longer educated, but reeducated. Perhaps, she would make a comeback and start a Jeffersonian group much like the tea-party group or other side groups in the political arena.
However, whatever her endeavors would be when she woke up in 2018 one issue is for certain she would be disappointed in where America is and where America is headed. Without free speech there is no freedom of the press and without freedom of the press there are no real checks and balances for the people. Royall felt strongly about this and she would realize that journalism is dead and that the media has been co-opted by political parties and agenda. Royall even this many years later may have a point.
Author Information | Alabama Literary Map. (2009, October 1). Author Information | Alabama Literary Map. Retrieved June 1, 2014, from http://alabamaliterarymap.lib.ua.edu/author?AuthorID=163
HistoryBuff.com — Anne Royall: America’s First Professional Female Journalist?. (n.d.). HistoryBuff.com — Anne Royall: America’s First Professional Female Journalist?. Retrieved June 5, 2014, from http://www.historybuff.com/library/refroyall.ht
Jackson, G. S. (1937). Uncommon scold, the story of Anne Royall,. Boston: B. Humphries.
Porter, S. H. (1972). The life and times of Anne Royall. New York: Arno Press.