Published in Washington, DC

Articles from 1848


About The National Intelligencer and Washington Advertiser and Weekly National Intelligencer

The National Intelligencer, & Washington Advertiser began as a tri-weekly newspaper in the new city of Washington, D.C., on October 31, 1800. It claimed to be the “first Paper printed in Washington” and is remembered for its extensive coverage of the congressional debates during the early years of the republic.

Thomas Jefferson, then vice president and a candidate in the presidential election of 1800, persuaded Samuel Harrison Smith, publisher of Philadelphia’s Universal Gazette, to launch a paper in Washington. In this era of aggressive partisan politics, most newspapers took a strong political position. The National Intelligencerhad a strong attachment to the Republicans, and to Jefferson in particular. However, Smith generally avoided the scathing personal attacks common in other newspapers such as the Federalist Gazette of the United States and the Republican Aurora.

Jefferson never wrote for the National Intelligencer himself, but he encouraged cabinet members to submit letters and articles. His support continued after he was elected president, as the National Intelligencer was provided with official notices, government proclamations, and government advertising. Smith benefited as well from information obtained through his personal relationship with the president. The National Intelligencer became the official newspaper of the Republican government, and Jefferson referred to it as the only reliable source of information regarding government actions and positions. Furthermore, Jefferson secured for Smith contracts for the publication of government documents, an important source of revenue.

The National Intelligencer was the first newspaper in Washington to provide detailed reports of congressional proceedings. Smith used his knowledge of shorthand, supplemented by copies of speeches provided by Congressmen directly, to produce detailed accounts of congressional debates. These formed most of the content of the National Intelligencer and were valued not just in Washington but throughout the country. With the House and Senate journals recording only official government proceedings, these news reports constitute the only record of the actual debates that occurred. Both Republican and Federalist newspapers relied on reports from the National Intelligencer, considering them the most accurate available.

The National Intelligencer initially covered only the House of Representatives. However, Smith’s ability to report on its deliberations was hindered by the Speaker of the House, Federalist Theodore Sedgewick. In December 1800, Sedgewick denied Smith’s request for a desk within the bar on the floor of the House so that he might provide a more accurate account of the deliberations. Smith was even barred from the gallery itself, until in March 1801 when a Republican majority took control of Congress.

Smith stayed with the National Intelligencer throughout Jefferson’s presidency. In 1809, Joseph Gales was made partner in anticipation of Smith’s retirement, which took place on August 31, 1810.

On November 27, 1810, Gales removed “& Washington Advertiser” from the title of the paper. He remained sole proprietor of the National Intelligencer until 1812, when he entered into a partnership with his brother-in-law, William Seaton. Gales and Seaton continued the paper’s extensive coverage of Congress that had begun with Samuel Harrison Smith. On January 1, 1813, the paper became the Daily National Intelligencer. Seaton and Gales volunteered for service during the War of 1812, but continued to publish a reduced size edition of the National Intelligencer. The newspaper did not miss an issue until the British attack on Washington in August 1814, when the paper, books, type and presses were burned. However the National Intelligencer soon resumed publishing and returned to its standard size on September 26.

In subsequent years, the National Intelligencer acted as spokesman for Jefferson’s successors, Presidents Madison and Monroe. In1819, Congress awarded the paper a printing contract, which it subsequently lost during the presidency of Andrew Jackson in 1829, but regained in subsequent Whig administrations. Gales and Seaton produced the Debates and Proceedings of Congress, also known as the Annals of the United States, a record of debates from the first Congress, largely based on the reports of the National Intelligencer and the American State Papers. In 1841, the two men launched the Weekly National Intelligencer, while still continuing the daily and tri-weekly editions.  “The Weekly National Intelligencer reprinted verbatim Congressional debates and government news published in the Daily National Intelligencer.  It summarized governmental news.  In contrast with the daily National Intelligencer, little to no advertisements appeared.”

Gales died in 1860, and on December 31, 1864, Seaton sold the National Intelligencer to Snow, Coyle and Company, a Washington publishing house. The newspaper suspended publication on June 24, 1869. Alexander Delmar renewed it on September 20, 1869, when he merged the National Intelligencer with the Washington Express to form the Daily National Intelligencer and Washington Express, which lasted until January 10, 1870.


Provided by: Library of Congress, Washington, DC