September 29, 2011
“‘The Most Powerful Engine of the Human Mind’: The Press and Its Readers”
Jeffrey L. McNairn
This reading focuses on the significance of the newspaper in the 1800’s. McNairn goes
into detail about the positive effects of the newspaper, specifically the way it brought knowledge,
entertainment and political information to people in Upper Canada. Newspapers were “theatres
for discussion” because they encouraged people to read and discuss the issues of the day together
(129). Newspapers provided people with an outlet for critical thinking and encouraged people to
act. Illiterate as well as literate people received information from the newspaper because
oftentimes it was read aloud by one person to a whole group of people in a coffee house or other
informal setting. Newspapers kept political figures in check by calling them out on their mistakes
or lies. By the 1820’s politics had begun to dominate the content of most newspapers.
Newspapers used to be polite and gentle in tone but soon became “political weapons to create
and reflect public opinion” (129).
Newspapers became universal tools of conversation. The opinions represented in the
articles could be read by hundreds of people in many different towns. Opinions of the article
were not clouded by who was speaking or how they were speaking because people often did not
know the author, they were not conversing one on one with the author but reading what the
author had to say. Because of the newspapers ability to reach so many people, it began to
integrate people “into a common political community” (130).
McNairn explains the