Written by Ralph E. Shaffer

Friday, 8 December 2017

SUBJECT: OP-ED SUBMISSION: "LIBERTY OR DEATH"
FROM: oped@Richmondgazette.com
DATE: March 20, 1775
To: Henry@Burgesses.va.gov
----------------

My Dear Henry:

Pardon my informality with regard to your name, but I am a recent hire here at the Richmond Gazette, having just arrived from New York where I was editorial page editor of The Times, [the New Amsterdam Times] and I am unfamiliar with Virginia's politicians. Thus, when you signed the note that accompanied your op-ed with only "Henry" I wasn't sure if that was your given or family name. Nor did you put a byline just above the title of your piece, which should have your full name and a local address.

But more to the point. Thanks for your submission to The Gazette but we are, reluctantly, unable to use it. Since I have a feeling that you will be submitting other similar commentaries to us, I strongly suggest you read the guidelines for submission. Your article falls short on several accounts.

Were nothing wrong with the content,we could not print it because of its length. I had an office boy count each word in your piece and, while his math shows the faults of so many of our lads who have gone through our public schools, his count of nearly 1100 words jibes with the guess I made when I first opened the email. Henry - and again, I apologize, not knowing if that is your first or last name - our limit is 650 words. On occasion we might make an exception for Washington and Lee, but we expect most contributors, the average William and Mary, to abide by the rule. Granted, the fiery nature of your piece, brimming with passion as it is, might keep the attention of Richmondites through your first 600 words, but most would then move on to Franklin's witty column or the two line jokes we use as filler. So, next time you write, do a word count and keep it at 650. Less is even better.

If you wish to resubmit your piece in that shorter version, here are some suggestions I would offer when you start deleting.

We discourage repetition, and in one way your speech is full of it. "Mr. President, sir"? By my count - and I don't usually take the time to note trivialities like this - but by my actual count you used the phrase "Sir" fifteen times. Just deleting all of those would be a good start toward the 650 goal.

Now, the managing editor explained to me why you repeated "Sir" so many times. I at first thought it was simply a stylish whim, that you found something poetical in that repetition. But my editor says that other Burgesses do that too and that the reason is that the President of the House gets distracted and appears to be inattentive to the speakers. I would not want this repeated, but rumor has it that during the session President Randolph is frequently more interested in the entries at Richmond Downs than he is in what is being said, and he studies the racing form endlessly. A well pronounced "Sir," virtually shouted, is necessary to bring him back to the subject at hand.

But, Henry - and I apologize again - omit all those sirs. Your readers are awake and don't need to be dragged back to the topic in question. In fact, repetition of "Sir" may force them to move on to Franklin more quickly.

However, had your piece been within the length limits I would have sent it back anyway because your content was inflammatory, inciteful one might even say, and surely libelous. The Gazette is a small paper. We do not have a staff of attorneys or even a house lawyer. Governor Dunmore would surely sue us if we dare to print your op-ed. He might even stop our presses. He would surely arrest the author of such a piece.

You have defamed the king, challenged the rule of Parliament, and you ended with a call to arms. Did you really think we could print that? I suggest you remove such lines as "Give me liberty or give me death," for you will surely get the latter if this goes into ink .

There are other lines that I have blue penciled. No need to repeat them here. Just look at your copy, which i am returning as an attachment. Frankly, I have cut the piece down to 650 words for you, but, also frankly, there isn't much left to your opinion once the bombast is removed. Without all the sturm und drang there is nothing to print. And with it, we won't print it.

So, Henry - I do wish I had asked someone just what your name is, but it's late and I'm the only one here and I'm trying to get out tomorrow's edition so your name remains a puzzle. Anyway, Henry, if you insist on leaving the piece as it is, unedited, we can't print it. If you need some satisfaction, why don't you deliver it as a speech to the Convention? But, frankly, it's hot enough that you don't need all those "Sirs" to keep Randolph alert.

Best of luck and I look forward to your future, shorter submissions.

The Op-Ed Editor
Richmond Gazette

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