With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Benjamin Franklin Was America's First Political Leaker

Team Trump claims even the smallest leak can jeopardize national security; proponents point to the Pentagon Papers or Deep Throat as examples of leaks shedding light on governmental malfeasance.

But few in this maelstrom of distraction have mentioned the fact that leaks played an essential role in the American revolution, turning the tide toward the Patriots and away from the crown, setting the stage for the final, fateful rebellion. The Hutchinson Letter Affair was a scandal that ended two British officials’ careers and led to the public censure of the central leaker, none other than Benjamin Franklin

The story begins with the June 1772 death of former British MP Thomas Whately. A bigwig among the powdered-wig set, Whately was privy to loads of private information, most of it in the form of letters from equally powerful stalwarts….

Aghast by the contents, and secretly hoping they would show the Crown wasn’t all bad, but was just receiving bad advice, Franklin sent the letters to Massachusetts Bay Speaker and Patriot Thomas Cushing that December with explicit instructions to keep them hush-hush.

Cushing didn’t. He shared them with future beer-brand and then-clerk for the Massachusetts Assembly, Samuel Adams, who in turn read them to the Massachusetts Assembly, which subsequently opened an official investigation.

Adams wanted to move things along, so hit up newspaper man and famed propagandist John Hancock to spread words of the letters’ existence, a favor he was more than happy to oblige and set to work penning a report that the Massachusetts Assembly deemed the letters a danger to its government. Other papers joined in, too, fanning the flames as only the press can.

Read entire article at The Daily Beast