anonymous newspaper pieces

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    Thatcher’s first known newspaper writing was an unsigned editorial celebrating the predicted election of James Bowdoin II as governor of Massachusetts in 1785, and defending him against suspicions of collusion with his son-in-law Sir John Temple, the British consul.1 But it was as A Rational Christian, defending the separation of church and state, that Thatcher first established an ongoing newspaper persona through an extended series (October 1785 through January 1786). It addressed a timely theme that would remain vital to his social philosophy until the last years of his life. Responding to “A New Light” ([Maine] Falmouth Gazette, 17 Sep. 1785), Thatcher concluded his opening salvo:

    the religion of our country . . . is yet untouched and unpolluted by the impure hands of the civil magistrate; and nothing that he can do, will ever add to its transcendant purity, beauty, and excellence. How far those particular States which have undertaken to enforce the worship of God, by annexing pecuniary penalties to the neglect of it, have shewn their wisdom, I do not pretend here to enquire: But that Congress may never place themselves at the head of any particular sect of religionists, is the ardent wish of one who endeavours as much as possible to be

    A rational Christian2

    “Scribble-Scrabble” was born of Maine’s earliest efforts to achieve separation from Massachusetts. It was Thatcher’s attempt to show that statehood was not only feasible, but an opportune occasion for revisiting first principles—specifically, the nature of authority in popular assemblies. “Senex” was not alone in noting the “evil tendency” of the various extra-legal conventions that launched the long and staggered separation movement. Thatcher’s most important contribution was in promoting a strict construction of delegated powers and defending a retained right of assembly.3

    As Crazy Jonathan, Thatcher expanded his repertoire—both topically, and by sheer numbers: twenty one essays appeared in the Cumberland Gazette between 13 September 1787 and 5 September 1791, addressing topics from law and judicature to religion, the importance of schools, and the qualifications of legislators. All were subjects that Thatcher was perfectly qualified to address, but the conclusive corroborative evidence of his authorship is to be found in the veiled references of friends. Catching him in an inconsistency with one of Crazy Jonathan’s positions during the ratification debates, shortly after Thatcher’s smallpox inoculation, Thomas B. Wait exclaimed, “O, my good friend, that cursed Small pox has made a crazy Jonathan of you in good earnest.” When the First Congress convened, Jeremiah Hill looked forward to Thatcher renewing his regular reports from the seat of government, “happy to acknowledge that Crazy Jonathan in his lucid Intervals has afforded me light in many Cases where darkness had clouded my Mind.” About the same time, Wait reported a conversation with Dummer Sewall of Bath, in which they discussed “News, Newspapers and newspaper writers—Among the latter he mentioned C---y J---n [Crazy Jonathan]—then the reputed Author—his abilities—his religious sentiments—his morals—his conduct in publick and in private life. It seems he has discoursed with . . .”—here Wait names some local notables—“Not one of whom, as I can can learn say a syllable in your favour.”4

    Only one newspaper opinion piece relating to the politics of Thatcher’s post-congressional career can been positively attributed to him: “One of the People,” written from “Elm-Trees” and published in the Portland Gazette, 31 August 1812, from a manuscript draft in Thatcher’s hand (printed below).5

    Paralleling the general trend of his private correspondence, Thatcher’s last published writings were devoted to religious controversy. These were not submitted to newspapers but to a more durable form of periodical: the semi-annual Christian Intelligencer and Gospel Advocate. In the first of two pieces submitted to the Christian Intelligencer under the pseudonym “Nazarenus” (the Nazarene), Thatcher adopts the familiar trope of a chance dialogue between him and a neighbor. The neighbor’s incessant challenge “What is your religion?” provides not only the title but the set-up for a survey of the contemporary religious landscape: for various reasons he discusses, Nazarenus rejects the label of Catholic, Calvinist, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, and Quaker. In desperation, the neighbor finally accuses Nazarenus of being a Universalist or a Unitarian, and Thatcher is content to leave it at that. Through it all, Nazarenus protests his independence and candor, since “If there be any thing in which I have indulged pride or vanity to excess, it is in thinking freely.”6 It might have served as Thatcher’s ultimate creed.

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