Rice explores the different views of authorship in America and the changes these views underwent starting with the Puritans and how the idea of authorship changed over time. Rice first focuses on the effects of Puritanism in New England, especially concerning their tight control of the press, forcing writers who disagreed or went against the Puritans to publish their work abroad. Not only was there an attempt to tightly control what was printed in New England, but faithful Puritans were also encouraged to publicize their personal opinions on matters of the government. Rice argues that the result of the tight censorship of the New England government, and the strong idealism and Puritan political theories that were presented, was that authorship was not individual, but rather representative of the opinions and ideas of a particular group.
The Enlightenment gathered speed and freedom of press became more important globally and Rice focuses on one particular instance in American history that is said to have brought freedom of press to America, the trial of John Peter Zenger. Rice suggests that the Zenger case reveals how people were able to monopolize rhetoric in order to gain their own ends. Therefore, freedom of press and civic criticism actually can present a threat to democracy and participatory politics. As authorship narrows there is more freedom in publishing, but people are also writing for personal gain as well.
Rice moves on to explores the causes and effects of the Federal Copyright Act of 1790. This act sought to protect the work of the author and to allow it to circulate while remaining "his". While many people argued for this right, some, such as Washington Irving, disliked the idea of literary property, which transformed a "public and political activity into one that was private and productive" (7). The rise of the novel is also an important aspect which seems to result from the Copyright Act.
Rice argues that the rise of the novel, beginning with the early seduction novels, rose as a rhetorical effect of the persistence of civic writing. With the rise of the novel, there was also an evasion of claiming authorship of the novels.
Rice claims that the free press established a move from classical republican liberty and the right of the individual to participate in politics to the right of individuals to act out of self-interest and secure property without restraint. In this manner, writing becomes more economic than political. Rice compares himself with Habermas because he follows what he claims to be the gradual replacement of a political understanding of authorship with an economic understanding of authorship in which writing is used for personal interest instead of the interest of a larger group of people.