Newspaper Leaders as Moral Exhortation: Understanding the Rhetoric of Civil Religion in Colonial Australia

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This article argues that the leading article, or leader, of a newspaper played a role in the ‘secular’ society of colonial Australia not unlike that of the sermon in the religious sphere. One of its primary objectives was moral exhortation to encourage Australian colonists to follow a path that would enable the colony to fulfil providence and create an appropriate moral order. Their celebration of the British political order was a form of civil theology that matched the more dogmatic theology to be found in church sermons. This similarity was also assisted by the fact that a significant number of clergy either edited newspapers or wrote for them. This article considers several expressions of this civil theology, and then concentrates on the Rev John West who edited the Sydney Morning Herald and who used his leading articles to castigate his fellow colonists for their failure to live up to the ideals of their British political heritage. He was particularly harsh on the workings of colonial democracy which led him into conflict with another cleric, the Rev John Dunmore Lang.

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