The months preceding North Carolina’s decision to secede from the Union revealed the powerful, antagonistic and competing forces that were at work to mold public opinion and ultimately take the state down the road to secession.
These influences were often expressed in the state’s newspapers. During this critical period the newspapers could be grouped into two conflicting viewpoints or political philosophies on the issue of secession from the union. Some papers reflected a strong desire to stay in the union and thus avoid secession, but others expressed a forceful desire to secede. These two groups of newspapers accurately reflected the mood of the people of North Carolina at this time and served to mark a political division that was developing in the state. Certainly in the fall of 1860, preceding the presidential election, most North Carolinians were committed to staying in the union. Eventually this would change and North Carolina would become the last southern state to secede.
However, in attempting to understand how public opinion shifted from pro-union to secession during this tumultuous time, it is useful to examine the role of an important institution with considerable influence, namely the press of North Carolina. In particular, to analyze two newspapers that in the beginning were strongly pro-union but would eventually call for North Carolina to secede.
Such an examination also provides an opportunity to use a late 20th-century mass media theory, agenda-setting, and apply it to 19th-century newspapers and perhaps gain a greater understanding of the relationship between newspapers and their readers and ultimately public opinion in the antebellum time period.
Newspaper accounts in the weeks preceding John Brown's hanging in December of 1859 reflected -- in both Northern and Southern reports -- an increasing state of panic among the people of Harper's Ferry and Charlestown who feared abolitionists were plotting to rescue "Old Brown" from the gallows. This research examines how reports of a "moral panic" emerged in newspaper coverage and explores whether such coverage employed a discourse that may be labeled a "hysterical style of the press." The research addresses Northern and Southern editorial reaction to the hysteria gripping Virginia to determine if such a "hysterical" discourse promoted sectionalism or a political agenda.
With the super sizing of the American Civil War to meet runaway demand for new material, the avalanche of literature threatens to overspread common understanding of the conflict. Those at particular risk of being overwhelmed can gain great benefit from simply stepping back and considering the source.
The newspaper offers particular promise in telling a richer story of the Civil War and provide the sort of context that historians have come to prize. Capturing the emotions, passions and motivations of the times, the press serves a significant function in offering varied and alternative perceptions of key events.
A particularly useful demonstration of the promise of the press in this regard is the little-known Kingfield Rebellion in Maine during the summer of 1863. Providing perspectives on resistance to conscription that move beyond that which we have come to commonly understand of the government’s enforcement of the draft through traditional treatments of the New York City riots, the events in Kingfield are valuable guides to greater comprehension of the issues and tensions gripping the farthest reaches of the Union.
Through the political and personal agenda of partisan editors and their portrayal of the mob and its actions in the western mountains of Maine, we learn that rural communities were not so much embroiled in socio-economic issues as in New York and Boston so much as they were overtaken by the ideological and individual arguments of the day. The rancor of those arguments endured for decades and subsequent publishing of retrospectives in journals more than fifty years after the Kingfield Rebellion underscore that while Maine saw nothing resembling the violence of the mob in New York, the issue did leave a profound mark upon its citizens for generations to come.
While the 1830s penny press has been viewed from numerous valuable perspectives, this paper argues that significant aspects of this first mass medium have been overlooked. As a result, the penny press has been characterized as exerting a “democratizing” influence on media – which it did at one level – but it also began a decades-long process towards media concentration and control. Benjamin Day and subsequent publishers established a business model based on reaching a far broader audience than previous newspapers and also developed a marketing concept of “perishability” that encouraged readers to buy a copy each day to replace yesterday’s out-dated version. To enable this huge volume of mass-produced newspapers, Day began an ever-escalating battle to acquire faster and more costly printing presses. The upwardly spiraling costs made it virtually impossible for new competitors to enter the market and made it difficult for many existing newspapers to survive. Thus, the 20th and 21st Century concerns about media oligopolies have their roots in the 19th Century penny press.
In May of 1863, Union Brigadier General Milo Smith Hascall, a resident of Goshen, Indiana, and Indiana 10th District Congressman Joseph Ketchum Edgerton, a resident of Fort Wayne, discussed the merits of Hascall’s General Order No. 9, which warned newspaper editors in Indiana not to write words that might be construed as giving aid to the Confederates or hampering the war effort of the Union military, especially attempts by the federal government to raise troops for what had already been a brutal and bloody war. Their letters were printed in Indiana newspapers and touched on civil liberties, union, sectionalism, secession, states’ rights, democracy, and republicanism. Hascall asserted that he had the right to restrict speech and press because opposition to the war was so widespread in the Hoosier State that its existence created a state of emergency that caused President Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and the military leadership to create a shadow federal government in the state to do what a politically weakened state government could not do. Edgerton, who was pro-union but opposed the war on the grounds that the Republicans were fighting it in a constitutionally invalid way, not only disagreed with Hascall’s diagnosis, he also said the proper civilian authorities – the governor, the state and local courts, and local government and police – were in place to keep the peace. Edgerton, a Democrat and an attorney, appealed to the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, while Hascall, a Republican and himself an attorney before the war, appealed to national security. Thus, Edgerton’s arguments were legalistic in nature, and Hascall’s arguments focused on the state’s power to protect itself from its enemies.
It was a brief moment in the sun for both men. In June of 1863, Hascall was relieved of his command in Indianapolis on orders from Washington after Indiana’s Republican governor, Oliver P. Morton, complained that the brigadier general was unnecessarily agitating Indiana’s Democrats, though Morton’s real motive was to install a friend in Hascall’s position. Hascall would continue to serve the Union as a military officer for another year. For his part, Edgerton would lose his seat in Congress after only one term in office. As a lame duck, he would make a speech against any reconstruction that extended emancipation after the war and failed to allow Southerners to determine their own domestic affairs. He was sort of a domestic isolationist and a gradualist, believing the Southern states had the same rights to self-determination that any of the loyal states had. Edgerton was confident that one day the Southern slaveholders would realize the folly of their economic system and would voluntarily abolish it.
Horace Greeley anticipated a victory for Henry Clay in the 1844 presidential elections, but The New York Tribune’s predictions of a rout fell short after newspapers published letters written by the Whig candidate bringing into question his credibility with abolitionists. The Tribune claimed Clay would win New York by more than 20,000 votes; however, the “Alabama Letters,” which expressed his ambivalence about the admission of Texas, fueled a backlash and cost the Whigs national and state offices.
Greeley could not have anticipated the untimely release of Clay’s letters, but tensions between immigrant and naturalized voters in urban areas compounded troubles on Election Day. The Tribune alleged that abolitionist candidate James G. Birney encouraged illegal voting among would-be Whig supporters, as abolitionists and “Naturalized” voters in New York aligned to protest Clay and cost him key electoral votes. James K. Polk, a dark-horse candidate, was elected president by a narrow margin, which the Whigs attributed to the influence of “Birneyism,” and Millard Fillmore, a favorite of Greeley’s business partner Thurlow Weed, suffered a humiliating defeat, as Democrat Silas Wright won New York’s gubernatorial election.
This study argues that the 1844 elections marked a turning point in both the second party system and the penny press, as subsequent Whig editorial agendas increasingly considered the interests of abolitionists and minority constituencies. The study cites Tribune columns, news stories, and the private correspondences of Greeley and Weed between the Whig convention in May 1844 and the November elections. The findings are significant for press historians because they provide evidence of third-party influence in the antebellum era and the role of newspapers in the response of voters to salient issues. The study also provides a narrative of the Clay campaign from the perspective of a penny press newspaper that was influential in shaping the third party system.
As preliminary research for a larger project about nationalism and the Civil War, images of the U.S. flag in illustrations in Harper’s Weekly Illustrated magazine were studied to identify uses of the flag, relationship to nationhood, and any changes in images over time. Examination of flag images in a month of issues after the onset of war and after the Emancipation Proclamation revealed three basic themes: 1) the flag as national identity, 2) the flag as symbol of loyalty and solidarity; and 3) the flag as symbol of the “rebel” Confederacy.
Slight changes were found in September and October 1862 issues. Most notably, the flag was used to convey negative messages—about the Confederacy—and more battle flags appeared. More Confederate flags appeared, also—which may mean the South had by then developed more distinctive flag designs that were more readily recognizable and copied by illustrators, as the war against the North wore on.
Selected media published during the Civil War were studied for references to government, United States, etc., as indicators of “sentiments of nationalism.” Using those references, research sought to identify 1) notions of national identity [or indicators of nationalism]; 2) use of the U.S. flag in relation those notions of national identity; 3) differences among newspapers of different political stances on the war; and 4) any shifts in conceptions of national identity.
From this preliminary research, findings reveal that notions of national identity seem to have inhered in references to 1) the flag; 2) free government, liberty, and civil liberties; 3) historical documents and events; and 4) (in Northern conceptions) absence of slavery. Only slight differences among newspapers were visible, and a very slight shift in conceptions of national identity may have appeared after a year and a half of war. But too few newspapers were read from a too-short time period to support clear conclusions.