Being “first” at something has always signified some sort of prestige. Being first means being at the top, number one, the best. It seems as though that hierarchy parallels nicely with the Bill of Rights, which cites Freedom of the Press as its first amendment. But what is it that makes that amendment worthy of the coveted number one spot? And what were the framers of the Constitution thinking when they put it there? It’s simple; the press has made such an immense impact on America that without it there may not even be a Bill of Rights. Let’s start at the beginning.
In the 1760’s, newspapers began to grow at twice the rate of the colonial population, and they only kept growing from there. Soon after, they became a means of uniting against the British and fueling the revolution. This increased popularity and necessity of newspapers first of all points out the sheer importance of them. Colonials had a “taste for news” that was driven by religion, social issues, and political issues. Because it is only natural that people disagree on things, this “taste for news” paved the way for the need for freedom of the press. However, we must keep in mind that in the past, the definition of this freedom was much different than it is today, and for quite a while it was difficult to pinpoint exactly what that definition even was.
Without the privilege of being able to print freely, many printers found themselves incarcerated. But still, despite threats against their newspapers, printers continued to publish. This is yet another example of how the colonies thrived on newspapers to the point where printers risked spending time in jail just so that they could get the news out. Something that is that important to someone certainly deserves to be part of one of the firstly recognized issues in the Bill of Rights.
The American Revolution also displayed a great importance of the press and the need for freedom. During this time, both Patriot and Loyalist writers were using papers and pamphlets to gain support for their side. Freedom of the press was greatly needed then to ensure that both sides could publish without restraint. The first attempt to protect press freedom came from a Tory, yet it “fell on deaf ears.”
When the Puritans settled Massachusetts Bay, they brought the first printing press to American colonies. Their take on freedom of the press was not about protecting advocates of a certain point of view. Instead, to them it meant they would have the freedom to hire a press to produce copies of “tracts” disapproving of the established church. The thought of putting an end to control over the press was never present. The effort was always over determining who would have the control. These are only a few examples of how unclear the definition of “freedom of the press” really was.
Because the press is what helped urge colonials toward wanting independence from the mother country, it can be argued that without it America may never have become an independent nation. This means that without the press, there may have never been a purpose for a Bill of Rights. Therefore, it is simple to see just why the framers of the Constitution felt it necessary to make the first amendment, Freedom of the Press, the very first one.