Abstract: A rash, thoughtless, and imprudent young man: John Ward Fenno and the Federalist Literary Network in the Early Republic

Steven Carl Smith


This paper places the New York bookseller John Ward Fenno at the intersection of Federalist political culture and the development of the American book trade in the early nineteenth century. By examining Federalist literary politics detailed in the business records and correspondence of John Ward Fenno, this paper contributes to the "new, new political history" that examines the broader contours of everyday political life beyond the experiences of elite men. The son of an influential Federalist newspaperman, Fenno operated his New York bookstore and, to a greater degree, a literary distribution system against the backdrop of shifting cultural and political milieus in the wake of Thomas Jefferson's triumphant election in 1800. Fenno hoped to disseminate texts that would help restore American politics to what it had looked like prior to 1800, using New York as the center of his would-be Federalist network that connected American consumers to a larger transatlantic, particularly British and especially conservative, literary culture. In so doing, Fenno contracted a number of literary agents dotted around the early American landscape, the intent being to infiltrate distant print marketplaces with books and periodicals of his choosing.