Noah Webster, America’s First Copyright Lobbyist

New England Journal of History

5 Pages Posted: 29 Jan 2020

See all articles by David D. Davis

David D. Davis

Copyright Clearance Center; Graham School, University of Chicago

Date Written: June 5, 2019


In The Federalist #43, James Madison observed, regarding the patent and copyright clause in the U.S. Constitution, that in it "the public good fully coincides … with the claims of individuals." Noah Webster, creator of “An American Dictionary of the English Language” and the 'Blue-Backed speller’, was an early and important advocate of copyright in the young Republic. He was also a lobbyist in his own interest, i.e. for-profit commercial publishing. In his efforts to bring about copyright reform, he exemplified Madison's dictum, of the coincidence of public and private interest, and so provides us with an early example of how intellectual property laws come to be crafted, and revised, a process which continues to the present day.

Suggested Citation

Davis, David D., Noah Webster, America’s First Copyright Lobbyist (June 5, 2019). New England Journal of History. Available at SSRN:

David D. Davis (Contact Author)

Copyright Clearance Center ( email )

222 Rosewood Dr.
Danvers, MA 01923
United States

Graham School, University of Chicago ( email )

Chicago, IL
United States

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