Niles, who had been publishing a Baltimore newspaper in the early years of the 19th century, began publishing his magazine at the end of 1811. He sought to publish items about current news while also creating a permanent record of important documents.
A typical issue of the Weekly Register would contain news items collected from various regional newspapers, the text of speeches or letters from political figures, and a smattering of feature items about unusual events, foreign travel, or historical events.
Just as Niles was getting his magazine started, tensions between the United States and Britain escalated toward war. And during the eventful summer of 1812, issues of the Weekly Register mailed to subscribers informed a very curious public.
- The Weekly Register, June 27, 1812: After war was declared, President James Madison issued a public proclamation, which Niles printed on the front page of his magazine.
- The Weekly Register, June 27, 1812: Reflecting the diversity of Niles' magazine, a feature on "Roads in Spain" was published in the same issue as Madison's proclamation.
- The Weekly Register, June 27, 1812: An article headlined "Spirit of the Times" detailed military preparations.
- The Weekly Register, June 27, 1812: An article headlined "Upper Canada" openly described American plans to invade Canada. In reality, the invasion of Canada by General Hull would turn out to be a military disaster when Hull surrendered Detroit to British forces weeks later.
- The Weekly Register, July 18, 1812: The front page of the magazine a month into the war reflected a more sober mood: President Madison, after urging by Henry Clay and members of Congress, issued a proclamation calling for a national day of "Humiliation and Prayer."
Hezekiah Niles continued publishing his magazine throughout the War of 1812. During the Battle of Baltimore in September 1814 the magazine missed two issues, as the magazine staff was involved in efforts to defend the city. But Niles made up for it later in the year by publishing extra issues.
In the years following the war the magazine was renamed Nile's Weekly Register, and Hezekiah Niles continued to publish and mail out his magazine every week until his death in 1839. His son and other heirs sold the magazine, which continued publication until 1849.
Many, though unfortunately not all, of the bound volumes of Hezekiah Niles' magazine can be located today at Google Books. The magazines stand out as an amazing record of American life and thought in the early 19th century.
Illustration: President James Madison/Library of Congress
Connect on Facebook: AboutHistory1800s
Follow on Twitter: @History1800s