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Early State Records’ New York broadsides provide valuable insight submitted byJoyce Savio Herleth

When one considers the events leading to the Revolutionary War, the focus tends to be on broad policy issues or major events, such as the Stamp Act and the Declaratory Act, the Boston Tea Party, Lexington and Concord, and ultimately, the Declaration of Independence.    But the New York Early State Records on LLMC Digital create a historical perspective that demonstrates a more complete and complex view of this period of time.  Although typically printed for a specific purpose, and not intended as a permanent document, the collection of broadsides (LLMC #20666-21067), collectively demonstrate tensions building between the Loyalists and the Patriots in small and large issues, as both sides claim God on their side. 

One of the advantages of a broadside is the sole focus of its message, although a reader might be able to review both sides of an issue within days.   Using pseudonyms, LLMC #20774, 20776 and 20777 present polarized views of the 1769 New York Assembly’s passage of funds to house British troops as required by the British Parliament’s Quartering Act.  A December 16, 1769 broadside entitled "To the betrayed inhabitants of the City and County of New York" and signed by “A Son of Liberty,” criticizes the New York Assembly for its caution in acceding to the governor and Parliament.  The author concludes that “the Liberties of the People are betrayed.”  Two days later, “A Citizen” counters by supporting the New York Assembly's “sensible” approach to the passage of money to support the British.  Finally, on December 23, 1769, “A Plebian” argues in support of the Son of Liberty in "An Answer to the Citizen's Address to the Public," in a scathing attack on the December 18th broadside.     

Somewhat like Twitter, these three broadsides condense a significant historical event into major (and sometimes strident) themes.   Unlike Twitter, the authors often were articulate and respectful regarding their opposing essayists.     Ultimately, broadsides give the researcher an opportunity to reflect not only on the historical significance, but also on the personal aspects of those troubled times.  

Early State Records is one of LLMC’s most substantial initiatives, thanks to the patronage of several libraries which are listed *here*. In Phase One, LLMC is digitizing 919 reels from the Library of Congress’ microfilm collection, containing the records, treatises, newspaper accounts and other legal or related documents from pre-colonial through early statehood of the 15 Atlantic Coast states as well as Native American tribes.  At the time of this article, LLMC is completing the 87 New York reels.  Applying advanced digitization post-processing and value-added metadata  to these primary and secondary sources which were held in numerous state, federal and foreign libraries, historical societies, archives and legislatures, LLMC’s LLMC Digital online service will make many rare and little seen documents, such as the broadsides, available to researchers and society as a whole. 

Written by Joyce Savio Herleth, Saint Louis University School of Law