Benjamin Bache

Image of the signature of Benjamin Franklin Bache, written in black ink on a tan background.
Benjamin Franklin Bache was the founder and editor of the Aurora.

Courtesy of American Philosophical Society, Bache Papers, Castle Collection.

 
As founder of the Aurora newspaper, Benjamin Bache was a vocal opponent of the Washington and Adams administrations, and outspoken supporter of Jefferson. Bache turned the Aurora into one of the most influential newspaper in U.S. politics; even after Bache's death, it is said the Aurora played a role in the creation of the Alien and Sedition acts and in Jefferson's election.
 

"Bache has the malice and falsehood of Satan...the wrath of an insulted people will by & by break upon him."--Abigail Adams to her sister, April 1798

"The freedom of the press is the bulwark of liberty...If the people are enlightened the nation stands and flourishes, thro' ignorance it fails or degenerates."--Benjamin Franklin Bache, October 1, 1790

He was "...the most formidable check upon ambition and false policy which this nation has possessed for five years past."--William Duane, September 1799


 

Early Life

In late 1776, Benjamin Franklin departed for France on a diplomatic mission. He was accompanied by his seven year-old grandson, Benjamin Bache (middle name “Franklin’), referred to by Franklin as “Kingbird” or “Benny.” At his famous grandfather’s house in Passy (near Paris), young Bache received the best possible tutelage in the printing arts from not only his grandfather, but also the best French printers of the day.

After Benny Bache returned with Franklin to America in 1785, he finished his education at the University of Pennsylvania (then known as the Philadelphia Academy), and in 1787 entered into a printing/publishing business in Franklin Court with his grandfather. The printing house stood in the courtyard, on the north side of the Franklin mansion. Benny married Margaret Hartman Markoe in 1791, and the couple moved into their house at 112 High Street (now 322 Market Street) in mid-1792.

 

The Aurora

Bache’s early efforts in the printing trade included the publication of children’s books, Greek and Latin texts, and Bible stories for local schools. He also set up a type foundry and book bindery in the printing house, but those ventures failed early on. In fact, it wasn’t until after his grandfather’s death in 1790 that Bache began to make his mark with the publication of a daily newspaper. By the early 1790’s, the Aurora had become the most influential newspaper in the United States.

With the U.S. Capital residing in Philadelphia from 1790 to 1800, the Aurora became the voice of opposition against the perceived (and sometimes real) pro-British sympathies of the Washington and Adams administrations, as well as their “federalist” allies in Congress. With the tacit support of Thomas Jefferson and open support of other “democratic republicans,” the Aurora mercilessly attacked the federalists and helped shape the character of two-party politics in America.
 

Later Life and Legacy

In keeping with his grandfather’s legacy, public service was deeply important in Benny’s life. His persistence in calling for more transparency in government and greater freedom of the press was a pioneering exercise of First Amendment rights, an effort that kept government censorship out of the press and laid a foundation for the next two centuries of journalism in America.

In June of 1798, Bache was indicted by the Adams administration for seditious libel. While awaiting trial later that summer, one of the worst yellow fever epidemics in local history swept through Philadelphia, claiming the life of the 29-year-old editor on September 10. After Bache’s untimely death, there were rumors of federalist attempts to buy out the Aurora, but his widow, Margaret, retained and continued to publish her husband’s newspaper, with William Duane at the editorial helm. William and Margaret married in 1800, and successfully continued the newspaper through the year 1822.
 

Last updated: June 7, 2017

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