America’s Debt to Propaganda


There is some virtue in recalling the debt of America to propaganda. Far from being a recent affliction, propaganda has been one of the most powerful contributors to the growth of civilization on the North American continent. The propagandist of religion walked beside or a little in advance of the explorer, trader, and occupier of the broad acres of the New World. The natural reluctance of men to pull up stakes and settle overseas was partially overcome by the incessant use of propaganda.

It is true, as we are often reminded by disillusioned observers of the American scene, that the early bearers of European culture to this continent were often recruited from the debtor’s prisons of the Old World, and dispatched to the New World under constraint. Gradually, however, the lure of the West caught the imagination of Europe and sturdy citizens trooped by the millions to these shores. The alluring slogan, “the land of opportunity” is in itself a tribute to the tireless propaganda of the colonizing and shipping interests on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Without the seminal touch of capital investment, the abundant resources of the New World would have remained unused. The task of attracting capital to a fallow continent was undertaken by promoters who made use of every device in the propaganda repertory of their day. All in all, there is no doubt of the efficacy of propaganda in overcoming the hesitation of men to move themselves and to risk their capital in America. This, perhaps, is America’s greatest debt to propaganda.

Harold Lasswell

Reo M. Christenson, and Robert O. McWilliams, Voice of the People: Readings in Public Opinion and Propaganda (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1962), 323.


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