National Intelligencer

City: Washington

State: District of Columbia

Samuel Harrison Smith, a prominent newspaperman from Philadelphia, founded the paper, whose first issue was entitled the National Intelligencer and Washington Advertiser, on October 28, 1800. A Jeffersonian-Republican, Smith established the paper as a semi-official organ of the Jefferson administration. In 1809, Joseph Gales became part owner of the paper, and in 1810, he assumed sole proprietorship upon the retirement of Smith. In 1812, Gales' brother-in-law William W. Seaton became an equal partner in the venture. Under Gales and Seaton, the National Intelligencer became one of the largest printing establishments in the United States. The paper eventually enjoyed the largest circulation in the nation and received unprecedented access to Congress and the Executive Mansion. It devoted most of its space to the proceedings in Congress, with Gales reporting debate in the U.S. Senate and Seaton in the U.S. House. Gales and Seaton continued the paper's allegiance to the Jeffersonian Republicans. It supported President James Madison and the War of 1812. The paper continued to operate until the British attacked Washington and destroyed the type and presses. After the war, Gales and Seaton re-built the Intelligencer, and from 1819 to 1827, the paper was the official organ of the administrations of James Monroe and John Quincy Adams. It also became the official publisher of Congress, garnering it considerable wealth and widespread circulation. Gales and Seaton subsequently compiled and published its records of Congressional activity in such volumes as the Register of Debates (1825-1837), the Annals of Congress (1834, 1849-1856), and the American State Papers (1832-1861). The election of Andrew Jackson and the decline of the National Republicans forced Gales and Seaton to re-evaluate their political allegiances. Gales' personal indebtedness to the Second Bank of the United States put him at odds with President Jackson on the bank, and eventually Gales and Seaton embraced the Whig Party, and the National Intelligencer began to endorse Henry Clay and his American System. As Gales and Seaton moved further from Jackson and his supporters, the National Intelligencer saw its influence wane, and in 1836, it lost its government contracts to Blair & Rives, which replaced the Register of Debates with the Congressional Globe. It also lost readership to the Washington Globe and other new papers. Nevertheless, the National Intelligencer remained the leading Whig newspaper in the country until 1848, when President Zachary Taylor decided to establish his own party organ. Though no longer tied to a political party, the National Intelligencer continued to publish daily, weekly, and tri-weekly, espousing conservative, unionist sentiments. After Gales died in 1860, Seaton continued on despite heavy debts until 1864, when he sold the paper to a group of Washington, DC businessmen, who attempted to change the paper from a political journal to a general interest paper. The new venture did not attract readership, and the paper ceased publication in 1869.

Joseph P. McKerns, "Gales, Joseph," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 8:633-34; Joseph P. McKerns, "Seaton, William Winston," American National Biography, 19:569-70; Ames, William E. "The National Intelligencer: Washington's Leading Political Newspaper," Records of the Columbia Historical Society (Washington, DC, 1966): 71-83.