Benjamin Franklin Bache (1769–1798), the controversial editor of the Philadelphia newspaper the American Aurora, was one of the persons arrested under the Sedition Act of 1798. He was the eldest son of the only daughter of Benjamin Franklin — the inventor, journalist, statesman, and founder — and followed in the journalistic footsteps of his famous grandfather.
Bache became a printer like his grandfather
At age seven, young Benjamin accompanied his grandfather to France, where Franklin served as agent and minister for the American revolutionaries. While there, Bache became more fluent in French than in English. After attending school in France with John Adams’s son John Quincy, he continued his schooling in Geneva, Switzerland. Also while in France, Bache learned the trades of printing and type-founding.
Upon returning to the United States in 1785, Bache worked as a printer in his grandfather’s shop in Philadelphia. After Franklin’s death in 1790, Bache inherited the printing house. The same year, he established the General Advertiser (later the Aurora), becoming an active participant in the partisan journalism common during the early years of the nation.
Bache attacked Presidents and was arrested for libel under the Sedition Act
Fiercely pro-French and democratic, the newspaper attacked Presidents George Washington and John Adams, and it eventually succeeded the National Gazette as the leading organ for Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party. Through his newspaper, Bache defended the cause of the French Revolution and other Democratic-Republican positions. He relied on anonymous sources and leaks, and his paper was not above making personal attacks. The Aurora even reprinted forged letters attributed to Washington, but originally issued by the British in 1776. The paper also leaked the text of the Jay Treaty.
In 1798 authorities arrested Bache under the Sedition Act of 1798 for libeling President Adams, but he was released on parole. He died soon afterward of yellow fever at the age of 29. His widow carried on the paper after his death and married the associate editor, William Duane.
This article was originally published in 2009. Martin Gruberg was President of the Fox Valley Civil Liberties Union in Wisconsin.