Symposium on the 19th Century Press, the Civil War, and Free Expression

November 7-9, 2013

Sarah Adler, American University, “Changing Perceptions of Russians in the American Press, 1789-1865”

This article examines the perceptions of Russians within American newspaper articles spanning the late eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries. From 1789 to 1865, newspapers acted as one of the only sources of information for literate Americans wanting to learn about Russia and its people. However, these articles often presented readers with contradictory ideas concerning Russians, their culture, and their government. The ways that the American press treated the topic of the Russian people in this period can be classified into three main categories: negative, positive-exotic, and positive. While negative portrayals continued throughout the whole period—including the American Civil War—the press switched seamlessly between positive-exotic and positive descriptions depending upon international affairs and the diplomatic needs of the United States. Using articles from newspapers around the country, I identify the shifts in how the press presented Russians to American readers throughout various international incidents, noting especially the striking change during the Civil War, when perceptions became more positive than ever. Through my findings, I explain how the nineteenth century American press played a large role in establishing and influencing attitudes towards Russians as either “others” or friends depending on the perceived needs of the nation at each moment.

Gregory A. Borchard, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, “Photography and the President: Abraham Lincoln through the Historiographic Lens”

While biographers have noted that Abraham Lincoln was the first president to use photography to present a favorable public image of his administration, particular photos—both those widely circulated during Lincoln’s presidency and those discovered since—reveal a compelling story of his life, one that neither newspapers nor the president alone could provide. This presentation focuses on the role photography played in developing Lincoln's legacy, describing our subsequently amorphous understandings of events that were depicted in a sample of photos by Mathew Brady and Alexander Garner. As a case study in the complexities of interpreting specific events in Lincoln's life, this presentation also introduces topics on the panel "The Civil War and Free Expression: Press and Presidential Problems of the Civil War Era." It provides a visual demonstration of the general historiographic challenges faced by nineteenth century press historians.

Jack Breslin, Iona College, “Two Forgotten, Frustrated Presidents Seeking Modern Press Secretaries: Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan and the Editors”

With the 21st century’s presidential campaigns obsessed with fund-raising, popularity polls and media appeal, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan would probably never be nominated to the presidency today, much less win the Oval Office.   Their campaigns and administrations suffered from modest money, low popularity, and poor press relations.  Presidential historians rank these two undistinguished one-termers at the bottom of “greatness” rankings. 

In the growing mid-19th Century newspaper industry, waning partisan newspapers still battled, while rising independent newspapers and their editors, particularly from New York City, gained influence.  The relationships of Pierce and Buchanan with independent newspapers and party organs as candidates, and later as presidents, significantly impacted the successes and failures of their one-term administrations.  

That impact can be assessed by studying the press relations of Pierce and Buchanan with influential editors of selected independent newspapers, national newspapers and party organs.  Those relationships resulted in a variety of perspectives in news columns and editorials, which reported and analyzed the performance of their respective administrations.

During his New Hampshire political career, Pierce learned the value of fostering positive relationships with state newspaper editors.    The Democratic “dark horse” candidate survived character assassinations during his 1852 presidential campaign concerning his Mexican War record and being anti-Catholic.   Those attacks did not spoil his landside electoral win over another war hero, the Whig nominee General Winfield Scott.

Pierce’s ineffectual public relations began before the election and continued into his presidency.    With Pierce being secretive in his decisions and sensitive to press criticism, his presidential secretary, Sidney Webster, filtered only positive coverage to his boss.  Meanwhile, not only did the opposition’s newspapers and independent press belittle Pierce, but the Democratic newspapers also grew opposed to a second term.   

Once Pierce’s party deserted him, Buchanan, the American minister to Great Britain and former Secretary of State, won the Democratic nod and defeated the Republican’s first presidential nominee John C. Frémont in 1856.   

Despite Buchanan’s broader political experience, the critical issues that overwhelmed his administration also frustrated his press relations.  Both independent and party newspapers criticized this presidency, even with his efforts to build personal relationships with prominent editors, who were increasingly impacting public opinion.  By the time he left office, Buchanan’s press relations were nonexistent, even with editors who once supported him.

Among the editors considered in this study are James Gordon Bennett (New York Herald), Henry Raymond (New York Times), William Cullen Bryant (New York Evening Post) and Horace Greeley (New York Tribune).

David W. Bulla, Zayed University, “1863 and the Seasons of Press Suppression in the North”

The spring and summer of 1863 were turning points for press suppression in the North during the Civil War. Four key events occurred: 1) Brigadier General Milo Hascall’s suppressed Indiana newspapers; 2) Major General Ambrose Burnside suppressed the Chicago Times; 3) resolutions were made by editors at a professional conference in New York; and 4) Major General John Schofield tried to shutter the Missouri press. This presentation addresses how these events led to a gradual diminishment of restraints on the press in the North. It provides commentary on how these four events fit into Frederick S. Siebert’s hypothesis about official censorship in wartime — that is, how those in power try to contract the freedoms of others.

Crompton Burton, Marietta College, “‘Read, Discuss, Diffuse': Northern Publication Societies and the American Civil War”

For the administration of President Abraham Lincoln, never had prospects of

suppressing the rebellion and restoring the Union seemed as grim as in the winter of 1863. Democratic gains at the polls the previous fall, the slaughter of the Army of the Potomac at Fredericksburg in December, and its ignominious “Mud March” in January combined to render Lincoln’s re-election and aggressive prosecution of the war highly problematic.

One keen political observer sensed opportunity for a bold stroke. August Belmont, head of the Democratic National Committee, believed the moment to bid for control of Northern public opinion was at hand and organized a meeting of like-minded party conservatives in New York City from which sprang The Society for the Diffusion of Political Knowledge; an organization dedicated to distribution of ideological tracts in pamphlet form to influence opinion in favor of the party’s political agenda. The founding of the society raised the curtain on an intense, twenty-month struggle for dominance of discourse and discussion. Driven by members of the Northern intelligentsia, the battle over the minds and hearts of civilians and soldiers alike eventually launched not just the brainchild of Belmont, but no fewer than three other opposing organizations.

Equally committed to political action, but focused instead upon the re-election of Lincoln and prosecution of the Union war effort, these loyal publication societies produced a body of work deserving of renewed contemporary study not just because of their pioneering application of propaganda to the influence of public opinion within the country’s borders in time of crisis, but also for their uniquely American strategies and tactics often lost in surveys of the propaganda organizations created by the United States government  to significant effect in

World War I and World War II.

Moreover, the dramatic times in which these organizations operated, the innovations visited upon the press of the day to disseminate their propaganda content, and the impact upon the outcome of the presidential election of 1864 all suggest that any meaningful review of Civil War propaganda should feature a more robust examination of these temporary associations and the individuals who brought them to life. While historians join in celebrating the role of the citizen soldier in securing military victory for the Union, journalism scholars would do as well to recall the contributions of those citizen propagandists who risked much to steer public opinion in support of their ideological and political aims.

Crompton Burton, Marietta College, “‘Little Hickory,’ A Roorback, and ‘Father’ Ritchie: The Press and the Presidency of James Knox Polk”

Scholarly surveys of the nineteenth century press and its relationship to the presidency of the United States often rely upon well-worn case studies of contentious political campaigns and character studies of the partisan editors whose biting commentary helped shape the eventual outcome of the elections. Bitter contests between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in 1800 and John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson in 1828 justifiably highlight such reviews and in combination with the requisite treatment of the struggles of Abraham Lincoln and his administration to balance censorship and freedom of the press during the American Civil War round out contemporary narratives on the topic.

In the presence of founding fathers and the young republic’s defining crisis, the benefit of extending inquiry to less familiar chief executives such as James Knox Polk and their interactions with the newspapers of their day might seem destined to yield results of little consequence. In fact, the opposite is true and often overlooked, for instance, is the realization that more than a decade before Lincoln and his Cabinet were confronted and often confounded by an industry significantly transformed through the technology of the telegraph and revolutionary reportage of war correspondents, Polk encountered similar challenges without benefit of past practice to guide his reaction and response.

Forced to conduct a closely scrutinized war effort on foreign soil with diplomatic intrigue aplenty on multiple fronts, Polk was also charged with maintaining his party’s voice with the electorate through management of the often inept Democratic organ located within arm’s length in the nation’s capital. And, lest anyone think Polk insulated from sensational mistreatment at the hands of his Whig opponents in his only presidential campaign of 1844, his experience included an encounter that became so vicious and, ultimately, proved so groundless, it remains the working definition of slanderous storytelling designed to gain political advantage.

In sum, Polk emerges as a chief executive well worth placing in any conversation about the nineteenth century press and its uniquely American relationship with the highest office in the land. Whether visiting his dark horse candidacy that so captured the public imagination and that of his ideological competitors or tracking his media strategy in pursuit of a controversial policy of Manifest Destiny, the heir to Jackson’s political legacy takes a legitimate place among the likes of Adams, Jefferson, Jackson, and Lincoln when authoring narratives of the new nation’s first hundred years of papers, presidents and partisanship.

Joseph J. Cook, American Military University, “Thunders of Divine Wrath: Newspaper Reaction to the Death of General Canby”

President Ulysses S. Grant pushed ahead a policy of peace in regard to Indian affairs. Prominent men like Grant’s old friend, General William Tecumseh Sherman, were held in check by the president’s Peace Policy – forced to work for the preservation of tranquility. The lieutenant general of the army, Philip Sheridan, famously said, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian,” but he too was obliged to obey the wishes of his former commanding general and now commander-in-chief. Yet when outcry for action becomes relentless and extreme, and touches the whole population, a president is forced to respond. Grant and his policy were forced onto the defensive when General Edward R.S. Canby was murdered by Modoc Indians – the only United States general officer killed in wars against Native Americans. From New York to Oregon, and among Canby’s former enemies in the South, newspapers assaulted the Peace Policy and demanded immediate extermination of the Modoc – or of all Native Americans. Republican and Democratic newspapers united in a thunderous chorus. President Grant, though, recognizing the need for a response that was proportionate and measured, weathered the storm of press reaction and held on to his conviction in his overall strategy on the issue. He was guided by his own belief in the rightness of the Peace Policy and by the Lieber Code he had operated under as general-in-chief. In a controversial and difficult administration, this was an event in which Grant could take some pride for showing presidential wisdom and fortitude in the face of outrageous media pressure.

Steven Cox, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, “Acorns, Swords, and Shamrocks: Publishers’ Cover Design on Civil War Books, 1862-1900”

Before the American Civil War had ended, American publishers began publishing books about the war, including regimental histories, battle accounts, personal narratives, and biographies of officers and soldiers.  In America, as well as Great Britain and the rest of Europe, books had been issued in cloth covers starting in the 1830s.  Publishers were realizing that people were cherishing their books, displaying them on their tables and shelves, and presenting them to their loved ones and friends as gifts and keepsakes.  Publishers experimented with a variety of cloth colors, cloth grains, and also employed engravers to cut stamps in which to gold-stamp designs and images into the covers, to make them as attractive as possible.  When books about the Civil War began appearing publishers used a variety of images to decorate the books:  Patriotic images, such as flags and medals; soldiers and statues; acorns; harps and shamrocks (for Irish regiments); and weapons such as swords, rifles and cannons.  Later in the 19th century, battle and camp scenes began appearing on book covers in a more graphic illustrated style.

This presentation, which will be a visual display using Powerpoint, will show the images and trends used by publishers as they issued books on the Civil War from 1862-1900, and will include additional book covers not shown in this paper.

Mary Cronin, New Mexico State University, “Davis v. Massachusetts: Public Forums, Expressive Conduct and Regulated Liberty in the Nineteenth Century”

The Rev. William F. Davis challenged the constitutionality of a Boston ordinance that prohibited preaching and oration in that city’s parks before the U. S. Supreme Court in 1897. Two previous appeals the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (in 1886 and 1894) and the subsequent the U. S. Supreme Court challenge often are cited by legal scholars as the foundations for modern public forum analysis. This research argues the Davis case should not be considered in this fashion. Instead, the ruling should be thought of as the case that established the constitutional status of public speaking during the nineteenth-century. Unlike modern interpretations of public forum analysis, which hold that speech and assembly on public property are civil liberties, the Davis ruling did not support giving citizens a right of access to public property for expressive purposes. Furthermore, neither the Massachusetts Court, nor the U. S. Supreme Court decided Davis on First Amendment grounds. Instead, both courts ignored Davis’s arguments that his civil liberties had been curtailed and, instead, ruled narrowly, using property law analysis.

Sandra Davidson, University of Missouri, “An Ugly History: Privileges of Citizenship and the Fourteenth Amendment in the Civil War Era”

Shortly before and after the Civil War, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a trilogy of cases, Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), Bradwell v. Illinois (1873), and Minor v. Happersett (1875), that ruled against the plaintiffs’ pleas for rights and dignity and also ultimately denied them important aspects of freedom of expression.  The high Court ruled against an African-American, Dred Scott; he was not a citizen and thus had no freedom to express his case in court.  The Court also ruled against a woman, Myra Bradwell, who wanted to practice law.  She, too, was denied freedom of expression in the form of advocacy for others in a court of law.  And the Court ruled against another woman, Virginia Minor, who wanted to vote.  She was denied that ultimate freedom of expression in a democracy.

In the Supreme Court’s constricted view of citizenship applied in Dred Scott’s case in 1857, people of color were not deemed citizens. After the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, the Supreme Court expanded its view of citizenship.  But that amendment was not sufficient in the Court’s eyes to give females the right to practice law or to vote.  These three rulings (Scott, Bradwell, and Minor) were not inevitable, based on the Court’s 1803 decision in Marbury v. Madison.  There the Court declared its power of judicial review.  “A law repugnant to the Constitution is void,” the Court said, claiming the power to declare if a law was “repugnant....”  But the Court failed to exercise this power to aid Scott, Bradwell, or Minor, thus restricting their freedom of expression.

Nancy Dupont, University of Mississippi, “This Causeless War: The Transformation of New Orleans Newspapers During Union Occupation”

When New Orleans fell to the Union in 1862, there was a vibrant newspaper market filled with editors supporting both the Confederate and Union causes as well as one, the largest newspaper, which remained neutral during secession and the first year of the war.  But Union General Benjamin Butler put a stop to debate by suppressing some papers, jailing some editors, and allowing his troops to take over one paper altogether.   Butler’s successor, General Nathanial Banks, was somewhat easier on the newspapers, but he did not hesitate to suppress some he believed to be disloyal to the Union.  Both generals allowed the newspapers to editorialize in favor of slavery with writing that was racist and defiant. 

At the time, New Orleans had the largest population of Free People of Color in the United States; many were educated and wealthy.  Under Union occupation, they saw their chance to demand rights for all Black citizens, be they slave or free.  In October 1862, they began the first African-American newspaper in the South, and when it folded, they started another newspaper, which became the first African American daily in the United States.  Though the Union army ignored them, they felt they were somewhat empowered to finally demand rights denied them for so many years.

Brian Gabrial, Concordia University, “Words of Consequence: William Seward’s ‘Irrepressible Conflict’ Speech on the Road to Harper’s Ferry”

On October 25, 1858, in Rochester, New York, William H. Seward told his audience, “It is an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces, and it means that the United States must and will, sooner or later, become either entirely a slaveholding nation, or entirely a free-labor nation.” Similar to Abraham Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech given months before, Seward’s rhetoric identified the inevitable in the slavery battle. Unlike the less widely known Lincoln, Seward was a powerful New York senator whose words resonated in minds North and South well into Lincoln’s presidency. When John Brown led his posse into Harper’s Ferry in 1859, the Richmond Enquirer’s editor quickly reminded readers of Seward’s warning: “The irrepressible conflict was initiated at Harper’s Ferry, and though there, for the time suppressed,” continuing, “yet no man is able to say when or where it will begin again or where it will end.” In New York City, James Gordon Bennett called Seward a “demagogue” for making the speech and stirring up trouble. This presentation explains press reaction to the “Irrepressible Conflict” speech, especially in the South, where many editors clamored for Seward’s arrest after the Harper’s Ferry raid, blaming him for inciting abolitionists such as Brown.

Norma Fay Green, Columbia College, Chicago, “Writing Against the Bias: Integrating the Curriculum with Wells’ Texts & Testament”

This panel presentation provides insight into efforts to integrate the original works—primary source news articles and investigative reports including Southern Horrors, A Red Record and Mob Rule In New Orleans—of often overlooked journalist Ida B. Wells into regular journalism curriculum, as well as to create a free-standing, short-term elective course on her.  Until fairly recently, this courageous pioneer willing to risk her life to speak truth to power was a mere footnote in history. New scholarship indicates she was in the forefront of early U.S. movements for civil rights, women’s suffrage and Progressivism but was often marginalized and misunderstood by black male leaders and white women reformers.  One author argues Wells’ fight against lynching (a terrorism “tool used to regulate behavior and the manner in which public opinion is shaped and lived out in the private sector”) is a viable option to address modern forms of oppression.

Joe Hayden, University of Memphis, “‘Ruling the Roost’: The Occupied Press in Civil War Chattanooga”

A conventional historiographical theme of Civil War journalism is the story of Confederate newspapermen on the run. Less well-known are the itinerant Union editors who moved about for much the same reason—because they were bribed, enticed, scared, or threatened into relocating. James R. Hood was one such journalist. Appointed postmaster by Governor Andrew Johnson once federal troops retook east Tennessee, he began publishing the Chattanooga Daily Gazette in 1864, and for the next two years waved the flag for Union and Lincoln. He advocated the immediate emancipation of slaves, too, although he didn’t immediately take up the cause until more influential politicians began urging it. Hood resisted encroachments on press freedom, on his own in particular, and protested mail inspections of citizens he thought sufficiently loyal. His position in a city occupied by federal troops turned out to be a quasi-military one, and he seemed to view it that way. For Hood, as perhaps for many other editors during the Civil War, politics trumped even journalism.

Lee Jolliffe, Drake University, “Code-Talking About Rape: How 19th-Century Northern Newspaper Unmasked the South's Peculiar Institution”

Northern city newspapers did not write directly about the rape inherent in Southern slavery. But they did write extensively, and more and more over time, about the mixed race families and the flight of African women with their white children from a slavery of rape and concubinage. This paper explores the academic literature on slavery and rape in the antebellum U.S., before taking a closer look at three key contexts for the North’s emerging 1850s coverage of interracial rape in slavery. Those contexts are the racial rape coverage that abounded in post-1830s abolitionist and free black media, the encouragement of race/rape by the Southern press as a money-making strategy, and finally, the word-picture descriptive prose common to the antebellum press. This study then shows, with numerous examples, how reporters used their detailed prose descriptions to capture color variation that revealed the mixed blood of self-emancipated African-Americans, especially after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 created a wave of escape-capture-trial scenarios in the Northern states.

James B. Jones, Tennessee Historical Commission/State Historic Preservation Office, “Heroes and Villians: The Stereotypical Imagery of Loyalty and Secession Set in Civil War East Tennessee; Three Examples from Popular Fiction, 1862-1864”

Literary analysis of popular fiction provides a convincing estimation of social anxieties and interaction that are challenging to obtain in any other manner. When examined in the light of the Civil War, Federal heroes and villains (loyal unionists and secessionist rebels) fall into stereotypes often taken for granted in studies of the Civil War. Ironic tragedy, depictions of moral courage, social cowardice, gender and racial roles are represented in three fictional accounts of life in war-time East Tennessee: the short stories “The Blacksmith of Tennessee;” “Whipping the Wrong Woman;” and the novelette Miss Martha Brownlow: or the Heroine of Tennessee.  It cannot be surprising that all three examples portray Confederates as villains and Unionists as heroes and African Americans as loyal slaves who earn their freedom as the result of assisting their benevolent Unionist masters. These depictions deserve consideration as they expose standpoints on masculinity, politics, slavery, manhood, honor, women and race in Tennessee as viewed through the genre medium of popular Civil War fiction.

Richard Kaplan, Independent Scholar, “Racial Hegemony and Journalism: Charles Chesnutt’s Recounting of the Wilmington Race Riot of 1898”

Wells is remembered for her criticism of Southern race relations. Her potent words, bold deeds, and their consequences revealed, in turn, how American journalism and the Southern press were deeply implicated in this brutal “racial regime,” one in which coercive relations were reinforced by journalism’s narratives. Another late 19th-century critic who sought to expose conditions in the South was African-American novelist Charles Chesnutt. His famous 1901 novel, Marrow of Tradition, fictionalized the 1898 Wilmington, N.C., race riot. Central to the actual riot, as well as Chesnutt’s novel, were the actions of the News and Observer under editor Josephus Daniels. Chesnutt diagnosed the distorted journalism of the News and Observer and how it fit into a broader circuit of publicity and racism that ensured the North would turn a deaf ear to the entreaties of its Black citizens for equal rights. This panel presentation investigates Chesnutt’s depiction of the press’s role in the 1898 riot, as well as his broader critical perspective on the press’s role of journalism in sustaining racial hegemony. Chesnutt’s perspective is compared to the insights offered by Wells’ writings and her experience in trying to expose and change Southern conditions and the terror of lynching.

Paulette D. Kilmer, University of Toledo, “Lucy Webb Hayes—‘Though Dead Speaketh Yet...’”

Lucy Webb Hayes, wife of 19th U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes, embodied the archetypes of the “caregiver” and the “warrior” both in public and private places. Five of her eight children lived to adulthood; however, perhaps, the most surprising expression of these roles occurred in Yankee camps and hospitals.  The gender restrictions of her time frustrated Hayes.  This abolitionist lamented not being allowed to play a meaningful role in the northern army.  In the tumultuous decades following the Civil War, she devoted her energies to helping others through church and Ohio charities.  When she died, eulogists predicted that her good deeds and courageous battle against poverty would echo throughout the ages.

Elliot King, Loyola University, “A Step on the Road to the 14th Amendment: Andrew Johnson’s Veto of the Freedmen’s Bureau Reauthorization and the Civil Rights Bills of 1866”

When Andrew Johnson first assumed the presidency in 1865, the Radical Republicans in Congress were hopeful he would be a strong proponent of their approach to the reconstruction of the South and the terms on which southern states would re-enter the Union. During the war, Johnson had advocated harsh punishment of Southern “traitors,” and in a speech in 1864 in Nashville, he had declared to a crowd of ex-slaves that he would be their Moses and lead them to freedom. Not without controversies during the first year of his administration, Johnson seemed to navigate the political currents coursing through Washington with wide differences splitting Republicans and Democrats in their approaches to reconstruction, citizenship, and voting rights for the freed slaves. Johnson’s initially deft management ended when he vetoed both the reauthorization of the Freedmen’s Bureau (established to promote the welfare of freed Blacks) and the Civil Rights Act, which gave all people born in the United States (except Native Americans) new legal rights and gave the federal government enforcement authority. Those vetoes infuriated the North and the Radical Republicans and proved to be a stepping-stone in the process that would ultimately lead to the passage of the 14th Amendment. Using a new approach in media studies called sociolinguistics, this presentation examines the language used in the public discourse sparked by the veto to identify the ideas that would be used to support and oppose the 14th Amendment.

Leonard Lanier, Museum of the Albemarle, “'He Wrote Me Dead': Southern Newspapers, Violence & the Politics of Memory”

On the night of August 14, 1880, a shotgun blast ended the life of former Confederate general Bryan Grimes.  Grimes’s death and the ensuing trial of his accused killer became a fixture of North Carolina’s political sphere.  State and national newspaper coverage played a major role in both the trial’s outcome and the ways that North Carolinians remembered Grimes and his death. 

The Grimes murder occurred at a time of significant change, not only for North Carolina, but for the state’s newspapers as well.  Prior to the Civil War, the state’s dynamic two-party system spawned a vibrant newspaper culture.  By 1880, as the white Democratic machine grew to dominate the state’s politics, the party also strove to control the state’s newspapers.

Coverage of the Grimes murder played a significant part in the Democratic campaign for press supremacy.  The party’s new organ, the Raleigh News & Observer, made Grimes’s death and the search for his murderer a cause célèbre for white North Carolinians.  When suspicion, and criminal charges, fell on a young white Republican, the paper used the opportunity to target the state’s biracial Republican Party.

In addition to solidifying Democratic control of the press, the Grimes murder also played a major role in resituating the public’s memory of Grimes.  Before his death, Grimes was a lowly regarded minor political figure in eastern North Carolina.  However, by manipulating newspaper coverage, Grimes’s family and friends turned the former general into North Carolina’s preeminent Lost Cause hero. 

My paper, “‘He Wrote Me Dead’: Southern Newspapers, Violence & the Politics of Memory,” examines in greater detail this lost episode in the rise of the modern press in North Carolina.  Using the trial coverage as a case study, my work illustrates the links between newspapers, political violence, and the beginnings of the Lost Cause.

Joseph Marren, Buffalo State College, “In God We Trust: A Historiography of American Civil Religion in the 19th Century Presidency and How the Press Played Its Role”

In some regards, the chief executive of the land is the high priest of the American sense of how justice is mediated and how liberty is defined. It is the only national office up for consideration every four years and, although electors elect the president and not the people, the person who wins the office is the international face and voice of the cherished beliefs of the American people.

This study will look at how the American presidency of the 19th century, through portrayals in the media, fulfilled – or didn’t – that religio-political mindset. Therefore, it is not a research study, per se, but a look at various current scholarly interpretations of presidential personalities and intersections with the operative, dominant Christian beliefs that shape a sense of power and determine the course of domestic and foreign policy.

The role of the press is key because it informs people of the daily happenings and thereby reasserts a sense of communal civil religion. And yet, reporters do not report about religion, but about society. It is that society and its core beliefs that make up the civil religion. And it is the president who speaks for us all in times that range from good to bad and shades in-between.

Why the 19th century? Because it was the era of Manifest Destiny when a country saw itself as something more than a series of former British colonies clinging to the Atlantic seaboard, when it expanded and grew and believed, perhaps hubristically, that it set the agenda for a helisphere. It was the time when notions of freedom were tested and almost torn apart and the notion of what this country is went from “these United States are” to “this United States is.”

So, then, what presidents, certainly Abraham Lincoln. Both Lincoln and CSA President Jeff Davis and a host of others called upon God to help their side during the Civil War. Contrast that with someone like Grover Cleveland who was vilified in many pulpits during the 1884 election and this study looks at the role religion was used and/or abused in press coverage vis-à-vis the presidency. Therefore this isn’t so much about presidents but the presidency, though it looks at some specific presidents and some others in-between Lincoln and Cleveland.

James E. Mueller, University of North Texas, “Swinging and Missing: Andrew Johnson and the Press”

Andrew Johnson’s relationship with the press has largely been defined by the coverage of his disastrous “Swing Around the Circle” — a speaking tour Johnson used to try to persuade people to vote for his favored candidates during the 1866 midterm election. Although the tour started well with Johnson addressing cheering crowds, it quickly deteriorated as he engaged hecklers in raucous debate, ruining his image with many of the reporters who covered his trip. In fact, his inflammatory remarks were considered so undignified that Congress used his speeches as the basis of one of the impeachment charges against him in 1868. Nevertheless, Johnson was a savvy politician who granted frequent interviews and invested in a newspaper in his home state to further his career. James Pollard wrote in his book on the presidents and the press that Johnson was significant because of his use of interviews to try to reach the public through the press. This panel presentation will discuss the pros and cons of Johnson’s press relations, seeking a balanced interpretation of his record.

Abby Mullen, Northeastern University, “When the Pen Gives Way to the Sword: Editorial Violence in the Nineteenth Century”

Violence was a common threat for newspapermen in the nineteenth century. Political and social controversy often boiled over into vandalism and assaults of newspaper editors. But sometimes editors turned the tables and took violent action themselves. Because of the close proximity of many rival newspapers to each other, political controversy could easily become heated. Since the newspapers were so close together, it was relatively easy for editors to engage in physical confrontations. From general rabble-rousing to outright murder, editors took freedom of expression to a physical level.

Since violence was part of many editors’ careers, we have to ask: Why were violence and newspapers linked? This paper offers three possible catalysts for violent behavior. First, newspapers were driven by politics. Politics has always been a touchstone for violent behavior, and newspapers were political almost by definition. Editors could get much-coveted appointments and other benefits from their political parties, or their papers could be crushed under the weight of the opposing party. In either case, political ambition often led to violence. Second, the general stresses of running a newspaper could cause an editor to become violent. It took a very strong-willed person to overcome the adversity of being a newspaper editor. Sometimes the fight just to get the papers to press every week caused conflict in the newspaper community. And third, editors’ sense of honor and respectability caused them to take violent action when affronted. In the nineteenth century, an affront to one’s honor almost always required a physical response, and editors were especially sensitive about their honor. Though not every editor had to deal with all three of these issues, and even some who did never erupted into violence, these reasons provide a partial explanation for why newspaper editing in the nineteenth century was not for the faint of heart.

Scott Peterson, Wright State University, and Jennifer Moore, University of Maine, “Picturing Sports: Finding the ‘Actual’ in Nineteenth Century Illustrated Sporting News”

This is a preliminary study of sporting news in selected issues of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper from 1885 to 1895.  Asking how the illustrated press portrayed sports and sporting events in the last decades of the nineteenth century, the authors analyzed selected images to help determine how the ethos of realism was employed in pictorial representations of sports.  During this period in journalism history, visual journalism was in transition.  Photographic reproduction in newspapers was still being developed and perfected, so illustrating pictorial news content was still widely practiced.  Using Thomas Connery’s “paradigm of actuality” thesis as a theoretical framework, the researchers developed an “actuality” scale to help identify how realism was used to report on both amateur and professional sports in illustrated news reporting.  As technology progressed to allow for photographs to become more frequent in newspapers, did the illustrations become more realistic?  In this preliminary study, the authors attempt to reveal how pictorial news about sports changed over time, noting the technical, social and economic factors that may have contributed to changes in pictorial sports reporting.

Jodi L. Rightler-McDaniels, University of Tennessee, A.B.D., “‘Would Be Negro Leader’ or ‘Pioneer Crusader?’: Anniversary Coverage of Ida B. Wells-Barnett in The New York Times and The Chicago Defender; 1909-2013”

Black feminist thought argues that sexism and racism are inextricably linked. The oppression of Black women is part of a larger societal system that works to protect elitists. As a Black woman who tirelessly fought for the equal treatment of Blacks and women, Ida B. Wells-Barnett embodied this unique intersection of race and gender during a key civil rights period in the United States. This panel presentation explores how public memory of Wells-Barnett was constructed in The New York Times and The Chicago Defender between 1909-2013. One central aim of this discussion is to provide insight into the operation of politics of memory with regard to race and gender relations as manifested in the mainstream press and the Black press.

Paul Ringel, High Point University, “This Is Not Your Place: Children, Citizenship, and the Civil War in the Youth’s Companion”

When the Civil War began, the Youth’s Companion was a magazine struggling to find its niche in the marketplace of children’s publishing. Daniel Sharp Ford, its ambitious young editor, had tried to develop a more directly commercial relationship with his young readers than any previous American children’s magazine, but had encountered resistance from his audience. The war initially caused him to retract from his commercialization efforts, but as the conflict persisted its pervasive reach into children’s lives led to a widespread reconsideration of their roles as citizens of the Union.

Ford’s contribution to this debate was a claim that children should remain only minimally involved in the great collective endeavor that was the northern war effort; instead, the best way that they could contribute to the Union was to remain at home and carefully regulate their individual behavior to ensure that they were conducting themselves according to Christian values. This position placed him at odds with the cultural establishment, which encouraged children to imagine themselves as part of the communal effort and to participate in that effort according to their capabilities. Yet as the war drew children out of their private, protected spheres and more into public life, it exposed them to the economic as well as the political realms of citizenship. This change, as exemplified by the exposure of young readers to new products such as dime novels, broke down many of the barriers that had stymied Ford’s antebellum efforts to develop a commercial relationship with his juvenile audience. In fact, Ford’s link of commerce to individual moral development, which largely had failed during the antebellum era, proved astonishingly popular during the postwar era, when the success of the Companion revealed a lasting legacy of the war for American children: their arrival as economic, rather than political, citizens of the United States.

Amber Roessner, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, “‘Modern Joan of Arc’: Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s Forgotten Role in the Women’s Rights Movement”

Professor Roessner has written about the ways in which nineteenth-century female journalists such as Jane Cunningham Croly, Sarah Hale, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett addressed women’s rights issues. As the chair of the University of Tennessee’s School of Journalism & Electronic Media’s Ida B. Wells-Barnett Initiative, she will contribute to the panel discussion by providing insight into Wells-Barnett’s work and legacy as a women’s rights advocate. In particular, she will share insights from the recent research conducted by herself and her research assistant Jodi L. Rightler-McDaniels. In her own time, Wells-Barnett was portrayed by the mainstream press as a “slender, little woman” “of racial endeavor and accomplishment within the range of femininity.” In truth, however, Wells-Barnett was an extremely savvy advocacy journalist, who used the press as a space to promote her Alpha Suffrage Club as both a site of united womanhood and a site of resistance and empowerment. Nevertheless, Wells-Barnett’s role as a prominent women’s rights advocate was marginalized and misunderstood during her own time, and a cultural amnesia surrounds it still.

David B. Sachsman, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, "The Divided Press"

The American press has been a press divided since its earliest beginnings, divided over the issue of revolution, divided between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and divided North and South. The newspapers that were divided North and South before the Civil War played some role in setting the agenda for that war by providing readers across the nation with a war of words and ideas. During the conflict, newspapers North and South divided again, as dissenters on both sides criticized their national governments and questioned the goals of their nations. Partisan political, social, regional, and philosophical divisions continued into the twentieth century and are still with us today.

Brian Shott, “Imperialism in the Classroom: An Analysis of 'School Begins’”

Before the age of television and movies, political cartoons printed in newspapers and “illustrated magazines” were enormously influential. The late-nineteenth and early twentieth century is considered the golden age of the political cartoon; cartoonists were credited with shaping public opinion and even ending political careers through their barbed sketches. Many turn-of-the-century political cartoons depicted American “expansion” with a globetrotting Uncle Sam or President William McKinley confronting indigenous peoples from Cuba, Hawaii, or the Philippines. This paper will analyze an 1899 political cartoon by Louis Dalrymple that appeared in the popular illustrated magazine Puck, in an attempt to more fully understand the cartoon’s text, images, and symbols. The cartoon, titled “School Begins,” is a trenchant depiction of imperial ideology, its racial constructions, and internal contradictions. Scholarship in the fields of history, American studies, print culture other fields will be drawn upon. “School Begins” is frequently used in undergraduate U.S. history courses as a demonstration of pro-war sentiment and racialized notions of civilization. Has the full complexity of the cartoon been recognized?

Though focused on the turn of the century, the paper fits well with the themes of the conference, including its emphasis on the Civil War and the press. At the start of the Philippine-American war, the Civil War was still very much in Americans’ minds. Anti-imperialists were often depicted as modern-day Copperheads, for example, and text in the cartoon about the Confederate states refusing their “consent to be governed” show tensions between liberal notions of self-government and the exigencies, perceived or real, of statecraft that continue today.

Maryan Soliman, University of Pennsylvania, “Abolishing Wage Slavery in the Gilded Age: The American Labor Movement’s Memory of the Civil War”

As scholars of Civil War memory studies continue to discuss the meanings Americans ascribed to the war, it is worth considering how workers as a group remembered the event. John Swinton’s Paper provides a useful site for exploring the labor movement’s memory of the Civil War. Although twenty years had passed since the close of the war, most issues of the weekly labor newspaper referred to the historic struggle. Published between 1883 and 1887, the New York-based paper existed during the period contemporaries termed “the great uprising of labor.” As long-time journalist John Swinton reported on the events of the day—from the crusade for the eight-hour day to workingmen candidates’ bids for political office—he offered a critique of and alternative to industrial capitalism. The Civil War figured prominently in this analysis. An examination of the Paper’s Civil War discourse reveals the ways in which a segment of the labor movement remembered the war and illuminates the politics of an important set of labor reformers. Attention to how labor reformers remembered the Civil War also contributes to an ongoing debate among historians about the memory of the war in the late nineteenth century. Some historians emphasize the process of sectional reconciliation, in which the meaning of the Civil War in dominant discourse no longer centered on slavery but rather on the valor of soldiers from both sides. Other historians address the limits of sectional reconciliation, arguing that veterans and other Americans as a whole did not relinquish their understandings of the war. John Swinton’s Paper demonstrates that while labor leaders and allied veterans did highlight the issue of slavery, they imbued it with new meaning related to labor’s circumstances in the Gilded Age. Referencing the Civil War helped labor reformers represent themselves as the true champions of the Republic.

Timothy Talbott, Kentucky Historical Society, “Telling Testimony: Slavery Advertisements in Kentucky’s Civil War Newspapers”

This article examines advertisements printed in Kentucky newspapers during the Civil War that pertain to slavery.  The “peculiar institution” was legally practiced in Kentucky later than anywhere else in the United States.  The state’s position as a loyal border slave state exempted it from President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and by refusing to end slavery by state mandate, it required the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution to formally end the institution within the Commonwealth.  By merely being printed, advertisements helped reinforce slavery as an accepted, beneficial, and vital institution to the Bluegrass State.  Published announcements that mentioned various aspects of slavery appeared in the state’s newspapers during the war to help sell everything from the slaves themselves, to patent medicines, to farms, to clothing, and even foodstuffs.  In addition, hundreds of notices were posted by slaveholders in attempt to apprehend their runaway laborers; and by jailers, who captured and held enslaved people attempting to flee their owners.  The Civil War created enough disruption to slavery in Kentucky that statutes were enacted in attempt to stabilize and maintain the institution despite overwhelming evidence that it was dying.  Months after the fighting ended white Kentuckians continued to print notices that sold and rented their human property.  Others boldly warned neighbors not to employ or harbor their slaves.  Advertisements like these appeared up until December 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment was finally ratified by the necessary number of states.  A survey of Kentucky’s Civil War advertisements provides vivid evidence and telling testimony of not only white Kentuckians’ strident commitment to slavery, but African Americans’ equally passionate desire for freedom.

Dwight Teeter and Michael Martinez, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, “The Dead Hand of the Past: McBurney v. Young's 2013 Use of 19th Century Precedents to Downplay Foia Statutes”

Limitation of access to government information in the 19th Century United States was the rule, with some exceptions.  Access to government records, then as in the 21st Century, was—illogically—not tied by the courts to First Amendment freedoms “ . . . of speech, or of the press.”  In the 21st Century, the Supreme Court of the United States’ disdain for the people’s right to know may be seen in its reliance on 19th Century horse-and-buggy era decisions in McBurney v. Young, decided in 2013.

The purpose of this paper is to examine the Court’s 21st Century use of 19th Century court precedents through the lens of the McBurney decision. That decision turned aside a challenge to Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), ruling that Virginia could deny non-residents the use of the Virginia’s open records act.  That restriction, the U.S. Supreme Court held, did not violate the U.S. Constitution’s Privileges and Immunities Clause.  The Court could have stopped there, but in the opinion written for a unanimous Court by Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., issued a gratuitous statement using 19th Century (and older) court decisions to minimize the importance of  current public’s right to know legislation.

Tom Terry, Utah State University, and Donald Shaw, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “A Tremendous and Baleful Aspect: Conscription in the Civil War through the Pages of Federal and Confederate Newspapers in 1863”

For over a century, the American military depended, to greater and lesser degrees, on the manpower provided by conscription. Both Confederate and Union leaders in the Civil War, appalled by the heavy combat losses and desperate to secure victory or stave off defeat, turned to the draft to fill the ranks of their armies. This study looked at how contemporary newspapers, both North and South, explained and reacted to the Union’s Enrollment Act of 1863, technically the second operational draft in American history; the Confederate Congress had passed a similar bill a year earlier. The authors conclude that newspaper editors and reporters at the time misjudged both the promise and the reality of the draft’s importance, though not the controversies and even riots it engendered. The newspapers do provide a fascinating glimpse into the role they played in the quarrels that animated public debate. The vivid and vitriolic language employed by newspapers from both sides also gives a flavor of the anger, passion, and zeal of the times.

Beverly Tomek, University of Houston-Victoria, “Free Speech and the Destruction of Pennsylvania Hall: Using a ‘Legal Lynching’ to Awaken the Public”

As immediate abolitionists came under attack across the northern United States throughout the 1830s, they found creative ways to turn anti-abolition violence into a means of gaining converts for their cause.  In the case of the 1838 mobbing and destruction of Pennsylvania Hall, abolitionists, led by editor and poet John Greenleaf Whittier, used the story of the short life and violent destruction of the hall to show otherwise uninterested northerners that the freedom of slaves was not the only issue.  Beginning the morning after the attack, they reported the incident in newspapers throughout the North in ways that highlighted the fact that free speech itself had been assaulted on that fateful night, just blocks away from the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.  Using press accounts, memoirs, and Whittier’s poetry, this paper will trace abolitionist efforts to awaken the general public to the efforts of the “Slave Power” to silence all opposition to the institution of slavery.  Through the abolition press, Pennsylvania Hall was transformed from a simple building into a lynched martyr whose fate illustrated the fragility of free speech and freedom of expression in a nation that tolerated human bondage.

Debra van Tuyll, Georgia Regents University, “‘Sic Semper Tyrannis’: The Alexandria Gazette Under Union Occupation”

Virginia seceded on May 23, 1861. The following morning, Union troops advanced on Alexandria by sea and by land, capturing the city before mid-morning and rendering it the longest-occupied city anywhere in the South. Its people suffered through hardships associated with enemy occupation, including general lawlessness and repression by Union occupiers. The city’s one remaining newspaper, the Alexandria Gazette, and its owners/editors, Edgar Snowden, Sr., and Edgar Snowden, Jr., suffered along with their neighbors. Through four years of war, the Snowdens endured suspension of their newspaper, loss of their plant to a soldier’s arson, arrest, near banishment, and service as a human shield to protect Union troop trains from raiders by John S. Mosby and his Confederate raider. Despite their suffering at the hands what they perceived to be Unionist tyrants, the paper survived the war and, within a decade of its end, was back on strong footing, thus living out the message emblazoned in its pre-war seal which showed a victorious soldier standing over a vanquished foe and proclaimed, in Latin, “Thus, always to the tyrant.”

Michael Vilardo, “The Lunatic is in the Hall: Press Coverage of Asylums and Early Psychiatric Care, 1865-1870”

This paper hones in on the treatment of  “lunatics” and conditions of insane asylums in the mid to late nineteenth century (1865-1870). It also reviews and scrutinizes early psychiatric care where there were considerably less resources and afforded ability due to how archaic early treatment truly was. The poor infrastructure as well as the shoddy talk therapy provided an atrocious environment for the patients. This paper also delves into state sanctioned inspections of the asylums and presents a wealth of information concerning how mental illness can strike anyone ranging from police officers to farmers to just an other wise healthy young man. Some journalists who covered the topic, such as Limbocker, vied for the the plight of the insane being heard with attention. There was also the racial dimension of treatment where rooms fit for only a few “inmates” contained 15 to 20. There was also the underestimation of lunatics to convene and accomplish something in a democratic fashion. In addition, research on early medication such as opium (tested on frogs) and camphor will be discussed. There was also the matter of caretakers and those who were afflicted being grossly mistreated as a result of the nurse or whomever watched the patient wanting a domineering relationship with the sick.

Amber Welch, Georgia Statue University, “Babies as Breadwinners: Child Labor Prior to Federal Reform in the Industrial North and the Industrializing South, 1890 to 1899”

As the Industrial Revolution in America caused an increase in child labor, a growing tide of social reformers rallied behind the cause to end child labor abuses. By the 1890s, child-labor abuse had become a national problem as post-War industrialization in the North and South attracted rural migrants seeking employment for themselves and their children. The press was a major voice for child labor reformers, and in the 1890s, social reformers increasingly adopted child labor reform as an active platform. Another side effect of an industrializing America was the mass migration of people from rural life to urban spaces. By examining child labor reform press coverage for signs of the mounting anxiety about unfamiliar urban life, this paper will explain why child labor, which occurred everywhere, became localized to the urban space of factories in the rhetoric of reform. Further, this analysis exposes a difference in reform efforts and press coverage from a Northern-Southern perspective, exposing various approaches from which to view the legislative, economic, moral, educational, and parental components of the child labor reform discourse.

Denitsa Yotova-Green, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, “Late Nineteenth Century Visual Media as Social Documentary: Jacob Riis’s Five Points Photography, Magic Lantern Spectacle and the Beginning of Documentary Film”

This paper examines the birth and evolution of the social documentary genre in visual media and suggests that a mixture of ideology, technology, and social awareness are necessary for a successful social reform. Its review of related literature determines that despite the limitations of technology during the nineteenth century, documentaries were produced long before they were part of the genres of photography and film. By focusing on the work of Danish photographer Jacob Riis and tracing the emergence of the film medium through time, this paper demonstrates a strong connection between documentary film and Riis’s social documentary photography and public slide exhibitions. The study demonstrates that Riis’s work should be viewed as one of the chief precursors of the social documentary genre in visual media.