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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Advertiser's first editorial

Editor's note: This is the editorial that founder Henry Whitney wrote in the first edition of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser. We thought it was important to present this "bookend" of our history, but know that it reflects the prejudices of 1856 and that Whitney refers to Native Hawaiians in a way that is, at best, paternalistic. We didn't think it was right to cut out those brief passages, so we hope you'll read this editorial simply as the intriguing historic document that it is.

Thank heaven the day at length has dawned when the Hawaiian Nation can boast a free press, untrammelled by government patronage or party pledges, unbiased by ministerial frowns or favors a press whose aim shall be the advancement of the nation in its commercial, political and social condition.

The day that witnessed the abolition by Liholiho Iolani of the tyrannous system of tabus, which had crushed with despotic power from the most ancient days, the liberties of this people will not be longer remembered than that which witnessed the advent of free thought and free principles throughout the group.

That such a press, truly independent and free, has long been needed here, all must admit; but to establish one on a permanent basis, and to conduct it in such a manner as to give general satisfaction and produce good results in a community made up of such various elements as ours, is an undertaking of so great risk that few have been willing to attempt it.

It is needed in the family to enliven the social evening circle. It is needed in the counting room of the merchant whose eye glances instinctively to the marine and commercial news. It is needed in the farm house and on the distant plantation to convey thence whatever is transpiring at the metropolis and throughout the kingdom.

It is needed by the wealthy shipowner abroad who seeks reliable advices from his cruising vessels. It is needed in the palace and the government halls, that the rulers of the nation may feel the throbbing of the public heart and guide their councils with discreetness. And lastly, it is needed by the intelligent native who is seeking to extend the sphere of his knowledge by the acquisition of our noble mother tongue.

We want a medium for expression of public thought some mirror to portray our national features some fit representative to bear to the enlightened nations of the earth the badges of our dignity and worth, not of our ignorance and vulgarity, and that will command from them respect and esteem.

The time has come when the attempt shall again be made, when the reading, thinking, laboring portion of the community, who are the life and soul of the nation, shall have an organ adapted to their necessities, breathing their thoughts, carrying the spirit of enterprise to every portion of the kingdom and breaking through the crust of indolence and lethargy which is fast burying this nation and must soon seal its fate, like the mighty stream of lava rolling down the sides of Mauna Loa, which turns the hitherto impenetrable forest into a dreary waste.

We therefore issue this morning the pioneer number of the "Pacific Commercial Advertiser," a paper destined, we trust, to exert more than an ephemeral influence on the industrial and social condition of our community and nation. The principal objects of this paper have been set forth by the publisher, some weeks since, which will be found on the first page. They certainly embrace a wide field, scarcely occupied at present, which will furnish material to fill the medium-sized sheet on which The Advertiser is printed.

The main objects of a newspaper should be to encourage every branch of lawful industry to be the exponent and leader of public opinion on the great questions of the day to aim to make that public opinion powerful and irresistible to second the government in all its honest efforts to improve physically and mentally the condition of the body politic to frown with imperious scorn on every attempt to infringe popular rights and on every act that tends to violate the confidence reposed by the nation in those elevated to authority in a word the public welfare these we conceive to be the end and aim of a public press.

But the community such as this made up of inhabitants from every portion of the globe, from the frozen shores of northern Russia to the most southern portion of Africa, America or Australia, what can be looked for but diversity of thought and opinion on every subject that may be embraced in the columns of a newspaper, whether it be on morals, politics, religion or reforms.

One perhaps desires a paper to commence a fierce attack on the government and every member of it; another would have excluded from its columns everything that bears the semblance of the teachings of morality and religion, and devoted wholly to commercial intelligence; while a third would frown on every item that causes mirth and on notices of public amusements, but would have its columns wholly devoted to morality and religion.

In the outset of our enterprise, we might as well have a distinct understanding with our patrons. To each and all of them we respectfully say, that in the form and style and general management of this paper and its contents, we must be left to our judgement, to act with entire independence.

To commence on any other basis, would be but to render our sheet what every former attempt has been, the tool of a party or the mouthpiece of a minister. Suggestions will always be cordially received; dictation never. To be entirely independent in what we have to say is all we seek, to show when occasion demands it, that the political wisdom of the nation is not all centered within the radius of the flickerings of the foreign office candlelight, or how far the financial prosperity of the country is dependent on the movements of the Lord Treasurer.

"The days are rapidly passing away," says the London Times, "when any Newspaper of character can avow itself as the unflinching advocate of any party or any person of anything, in fact, except that which ought to be the object of all periodicals as well as all permanent writing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. To give true narrative of passing events and to make on those events just, natural and pertinent reflections, is all to which we aspire, it being a matter to us of the purest indifference what party, what clique or what individual reputation may be damaged or promoted by our faithful and fearless discharge of the duty we undertake."

This is what we shall aim at to give a truthful record of the present, and to point out the errors of the past, that they may afford experience for the future. If the policy of the government is clearly detrimental to the public interests, or the acts of its officials open to animadversion or reprehension, the errors of the former will be plainly pointed out, and the shortcoming of the latter fearlessly exposed and condemned.

As this paper is established for the public good, so its columns will always be open to a free and temperate discussion of matters of general interest. Correspondents will always be welcome, but they will bear in mind that brevity will be a chief recommendation to notice. We cannot allow anyone to monopolize our columns, however important the subject may be. Neither can personal abuse be allowed by us, nor our paper be prostituted to become the vehicle of petty individual disputes or party bickerings.

Doubts have been expressed to us in regard to the propriety of publishing a portion of our issue for the Hawaiian race. It may be that such a publication is not demanded by them but we think it is, and are willing at our own risk to make the trial. The truth is, the experiment of a sterling weekly paper, partly in English and partly in Hawaiian, ought to have been made by the Government years ago, instead of wasting its funds in foreign publications of doubtful utility.

The intellectual eyes of the native race have been opened for years, but beyond a few elementary columns, and some charitable attempts to provide newspapers for them, they have been and still are left to grope about, seeking light but finding little or none. There are intelligent natives here and throughout this group, who are desirous of knowing what is transpiring throughout the world, and who, finding their own dialect too limited, are striving to learn the English language. Such are willing to pay for a paper adapted to them, cost what it may. And though the experiment may not return to us its cost, yet, if at the end of the year our native list of subscribers is no larger than today, we shall rest satisfied with our efforts in their behalf.

Thus is our little bark launched on the uncertain tide of life. What she is whether a full clipper of the most approved model, in hull, spars, sails and rigging, whether in short she is such a craft as is needed for the trade, or not, 'tis yours, also to help freight her with the produce, the wares and merchandise which you may have to dispose of.

It will be our duty to stand by the helm and ever keep a watchful eye to windward and with the compass and chart of experience to steer her over the shoals and reefs and breakers that may lie in our track. We cannot expect always to sail smoothly under our perpetual trade breeze, with studding-sails fore and aft. There are often squalls and gales slumbering unnoticed on the horizon of the most tranquil sky, while reefs and shoals are to be met in every voyage.