Jeffersonian Publishing Company
A celebrated criminal defense lawyer for much of his career, Watson still was no newcomer to publishing. The intellectual force behind the Populist revolt of the 1890s, Watson launched and edited the successful weekly People's Party Paper in 1891. He was a frequent contributor to the Populist journal Arena and other national periodicals and was the author of several books: The Story of France (1899), Napoleon: A Sketch of His Life, Character, Struggles, and Achievements (1902), and The Life and Times of Thomas Jefferson (1903). In the midst of his failed 1904 presidential campaign, Watson refused repeated offers from William Randolph Hearst to edit the New York American. He instead launched Tom Watson's Magazine in 1905, a monthly literary magazine published from New York. The first issue sold more than 100,000 copies. With articles from such contributing authors as lawyer Clarence Darrow and novelist Theodore Dreiser and with Watson's sensational editorials that abused class rule and runaway capitalism, the magazine was identified with other well-read muckraking and reform journals of its day.
His magazine's early success notwithstanding, Watson was soon at odds with the management practices and unsavory reputation of his business partner, W. D. Mann. In late 1906 Watson moved
In 1910 Watson purchased the copyrights to his books, constructed a modern printing plant within sight of his Thomson home, Hickory Hill, and moved his publications one last time. He named his friend and political ally and the future Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture J. J. Brown as vice president and moved managing editor Alice Lytle to Thomson. The 9,000-square-foot plant employed thirty people and was equipped to print, stitch, and bind Watson's periodicals and books.
Also in 1910 Watson began a deliberate serial crusade against the Catholic hierarchy. While his mistrust of foreign missions and the historic political activities of the Catholic Church had manifested itself earlier in both his periodicals and histories, Watson's campaign of 1910 took on a more vitriolic complexion. His bitter attacks in "the Jeffs" against the abuses of the church and a wealth of purported sexual crimes ran unabated for seven years, attracted an effective Catholic boycott, and eventually, a federal indictment. Watson was arrested on June 3, 1912, for sending through the U.S. mail a Latin quotation considered obscene for the day—a quotation Watson reprinted to illustrate the vile nature of questions asked of female parishioners by their confessors. Watson led his own defense and in 1916, after a quashed indictment and a mistrial, won his own acquittal.
Watson's contentious publications again found the national spotlight in 1914, after Watson bristled
Watson assailed the Journal for judicial tampering (the case was under appeal), took on northern publishers who clamored for a new trial, and began a two-year defense of Georgia's judicial system and demonstration of the guilt of the "libertine Jew." Editorials in his weekly exploded into expansive evidentiary and trial reviews in Watson's Magazine. Georgia governor John M. Slaton commuted Frank's death sentence during his final days in office, outraging many Georgians and prompting Watson to ask his readers "whether Lynch law is not better than no law at all." Two months later Frank was taken from the jail in Milledgeville by a group of prominent Marietta citizens, driven back to Marietta, and hanged. Watson responded to the news through the Jeffersonian: "Now let outsiders attend to their own business, AND LEAVE OURS ALONE." For many, the episode branded Watson as an anti-Semite for the only time in his life.
Through it all, Watson's paper and magazine continued to attack Wilson's policies regarding the Conscription Act and American involvement in World War I and the League of Nations. As it did with the socialist Eugene Debs, the Wilson administration ultimately silenced Watson's printed protests in 1917 by denying his paper and magazine the use of the U.S. mail under the Espionage Act. Unlike other progressive reformers and Debs, Watson narrowly escaped federal prosecution.
Watson would continue his fight against Wilson's internationalism in 1918 in the pages of his newly purchased weekly Columbia Sentinel, but in fact the Jeffersonian Publishing Company was silenced forever. Like Watson, it was foreordained to a short-lived and turbulent career.
William W. Brewton, The Life of Thomas E. Watson (Atlanta: n.p., 1926).
Walter J. Brown, J. J. Brown and Thomas E. Watson: Georgia Politics, 1912-1928 ([Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press], 1989).
C. Vann Woodward , Tom Watson, Agrarian Rebel (New York: Macmillan, 1938).
Tad Brown, Watson-Brown Foundation, Inc.
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.