What is propaganda and how was it used during the American Revolution?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Propaganda is something that is very hard to define.  In a sense, it is simply the process of putting out information that is meant to convince people to believe in a certain point of view.  However, we typically use the term in a somewhat pejorative way.  We typically use it to refer only to misleading information that is put out to convince people.  People rarely talk about “propaganda” being put out by their own side.  Instead, they identify with their own side and think that the other side’s information is propaganda.

What this means is that Americans do not typically talk about propaganda being used in the American Revolution.  However, if we are going to say that it was used, we can say that it was used to encourage Americans to fight the British.  It was used to convince them that they ought to side with the cause of independent.  It was also used to convince them that the British were bad and should be opposed.

Let us look at two examples of propaganda.  One is Paul Revere’s famous engraving of the Boston Massacre.  This engraving makes it look as if an organized group of British soldiers fired on innocent civilians.  This was, at the very least, an exaggeration.  We can say that this is propaganda because it somewhat misleadingly seeks to tell a story in which the British are the evil aggressors and the Americans are innocent victims.  A second example is the Declaration of Independence.  That document lists a number of allegations about what the British king had done.  It says that all of the allegations proved that the King’s actions had “in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”  Again, this is an exaggerated statement that is made to try to turn people against Britain and towards the cause of liberty.

Thus, propaganda was used in the American Revolution to try to persuade people to side with the Americans.