Hot-heads, gentlemen and the liberties of tradesmen: popular politics and the Philadelphia Tanners’ affair of 1739
Cultural and Social History
343 - 364
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Over the summer and autumn of 1739 Philadelphia’s two newspapers published competing versions of a hearing in the Pennsylvania assembly that was described as the ‘Affair of the Tanners’. What began as a minor property dispute in the colonial assembly became, with the aid of the local press, a citywide paper war for the support of the urban populace. This article argues the affair provides unique evidence for competing conceptions of the common good in the eighteenth-century colonial city, and was an expression of conflict with deep roots in Philadelphia’s history. The affair also shows how the medium of print could reflect both transatlantic cultural processes as well as distinctly local grievances, as a group of prosperous city artisans and their opponents utilized the city’s newspapers to articulate competing commonwealth ideologies.