In this contested space of eighteenth century communications, claims of authenticity mirrored and reinforced claims of authority on individual and national levels. Geographers, printers, lawyers, and politicians – all actors in the broader project of constructing national sovereignty in the Early American Republic —understood that whoever successfully established intellectual jurisdiction in turn possessed a key tool in the establishment of physical and legal jurisdictions as well. Because of the nationalist messages embedded in geographic works, Evans, Pownall, and Morse each perceived their copyright disputes as an attack on factual, and an in turn, an attack on the legitimacy of their country.
This paper explores how two separate charges of piracy – one in 1776 and the other in 1796 – relied on a principle that factual accuracy was essential both to individual and national reputation. Paralleling and intersecting with developing jurisprudence on seditious libel, that a charge against a person or a government could not be libelous if it was true, I argue that copyright went beyond its role as commercial compensation. Literary property claims functioned as a tool in establishing factual accuracy that in turn provided necessary information for the functioning of the developing federal government.