Symposium on the 19th Century Press, the Civil War, and Free Expression
November 6-8, 2014
Thomas Ware, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, “Fiction Still Fights the Civil War: ‘It Ain’t Over Though It’s Over’”
It should have come as no surprise to students of the modern novel – and of the US Civil War — that one of the best-selling and most honored books published in this country within the last decade has been E.L. Doctorow’s novel about the Civil War — The March – a finalist for the National Book Award for fiction and winner of the prestigious PEN/Faulkner Foundation Award for 2005. As described by one judge, this narrative “Sweeps us up into the sixty-thousand troop force that was General Sherman’s momentous trek through the South, but the trek into our own dusty and blood-filled past, the smoke of gun barrels and burned homes rising through the trees where hope for peace and redemption endures.” Quite a vivid and praising comment: despite the acknowledged beauty and power of its narration and technical skill, the very fact that the book concerns the Civil War – further that it will probably be made into a popular motion picture – opens it to certain kinds of criticism not addressed to other genres of fiction.
John Navin, Coastal Carolina University, “The War in Print: How a Northern and Southern Library Portrayed the Causes, Conduct, and Consequences of the ‘War of Northern Aggression’”
In the turbulent 1850s, facts, falsehoods, and rhetoric disseminated via newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, and books did much to heighten the animosity and intense sectionalism that precipitated the Civil War. Between 1861 and 1865, as “Billy Yank” battled “Johnny Reb,” a wide range of publications informed and misinformed Americans on both sides. Northern editors wrote of the “war between the states”; southerners reported on the “war of northern aggression.” Once the conflict was resolved, scholars, politicians, and former combatants took up the pen and generated volumes of conflicting explanations regarding its causes, conduct, and consequences.
This paper examines the accession records of two libraries – one in South Carolina, the other in Massachusetts – for the years 1850 to 1885. The Charleston Library Society and the Lancaster Town Library housed magazines, pamphlets, and books that reflected not only their readers’ diverse literary interests but also their administrators’ political and ideological leanings. An analysis of their accession records shows that, through selective acquisition, the librarians in these two institutions allowed their collections to heighten sectional animosities during times of crisis. By precluding contradictory views from their shelves, they limited their patrons’ understanding of pressing issues and political developments. After the war, the accession records for these libraries displayed the same tendencies. By propagating biased accounts of the causes, conduct, and consequences of the Civil War, these institutions contributed to the social, political and intellectual rancor that divided the nation for decades to come.
David Bulla, Zayed University, “Coverage of America’s Civil War President in the Times of London and other International Papers”
The Times of London was the preeminent international newspaper in the English-speaking world during the U.S. Civil War. This presentation looks at how this newspaper covered the event, focusing on President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of State William H. Seward, several key battles (including Bull Run and Gettysburg), and the reaction after the fall of Atlanta 150 years ago this September. The Times tended to sympathize with the South, and yet it came to see Lincoln as competent and did not push the British government to take sides. Implicit in the coverage was the attitude of the recalcitrant former colony now discovering the difficulties of democracy. This study relies heavily on analysis of the Times itself.
James Scythes, West Chester University of Pennsylvania, “‘Men Must Be Free!’: The Slavery Debate in Newspapers following Nat Turner’s Revolt and the Beginning of the Abolitionist Movement”
In August of 1831, the bloodiest slave revolt in United States history broke out in Southampton County, Virginia. Over the course of two days, seventy slaves, led by a slave preacher named Nat Turner, murdered fifty-five whites. After the revolt was put down, fear spread throughout the South. Southerners began attacking and murdering blacks and speculated that Northern abolitionists were responsible for inciting this uprising. Exaggerated accounts published in newspapers targeted at both Northern abolitionists and Southern audiences following the revolt, coupled with the murder of a number of blacks in Virginia following the uprising, spurred an accelerated organization of the abolitionist movement by enraging Northerners in a heated critique of the South’s “peculiar institution.” This paper argues that the actions taken by Southerners following Nat Turner’s Revolt are responsible for organizing the abolitionist movement in the United States and giving the movement a leader, as Southerners blamed Northern abolitionists for inciting the slave uprising. This accusation sparked a public debate in Northern and Southern newspapers between proslavery and antislavery editors that elevated the debate over slavery to a national level, eventually driving a wedge between the North and South during the antebellum period. By the end of 1831, the Virginia legislature began debating measures that would prevent another revolt, while Northern abolitionists created the first antislavery organization in the United States. After 1831, the South, and the United States, was never the same.
Hub Burton, Marietta College, “‘A Prodigious Hubbub’: Peace Democrat Newspapers in New England and the Mobs of ’61”
On August 8, 1861, members of the First New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry sacked the offices of the Concord, (NH), Democratic Standard igniting a fortnight of “mobocracy” riot unleashed upon the New England Peace Democrat press. In a span of a little more than two weeks, dissenting editors from Concord, New Hampshire to Bangor, Maine and Haverhill, Massachusetts to Bridgeport, Connecticut were besieged by their Unionist neighbors in “spontaneous outbursts of passion and enthusiasm” and displays of “rampant paranoia” following the battle of First Bull Run. With civil authorities either unwilling or unable to intervene, men such as Marcellus Emery, John Palmer, Ambrose Kimball, and Nathan Morse were left alone to face angry and anxious throngs emboldened to silence opposition journals as “northerners first realized the seriousness of the war.”
Contemporary journalism histories are not lacking in documentation of these assaults upon freedom of expression that first summer of the Civil War, but prove inadequate in answering one very simple question. Whatever happened to these aggrieved opponents of popular opinion? Did they merely cut their losses and disappear? Or, were they men of such conviction and substance that they not only sought a final word, but perhaps a final verdict in court as well?
The purpose of this study is to pick up the story where journalism scholars have traditionally allowed it to end; in the street with wrecked and smoldering press and type signaling the suspension or end of an opposition newspaper. The four New England editors and their moments of truth offer a particularly rich opportunity for further exploration given the chronological, geographical, and ideological similarities in their common experience. In addition, by pursuing their story after the disbursement of the mob, it’s possible to gain not only new and invaluable insights into their level of commitment and subsequent courses of action, but also a deeper understanding of whether the passage of time and introduction of new players into these local dramas in any way contributed to a mitigation of the circumstances that robbed these hometown editors of their livelihood as well as their voice in the national debate in time of crisis.
In the end, these men staked all upon the notion that in time of war, such fundamental principles would be upheld and their minority positions tolerated. Their hopes proved both naïve and unfounded. In addition, long after the nation began its healing process of reconciliation and despite marginal vindication of their claims in various courts of law, the names of Emery, Palmer, Kimball, and Morse remained symbols of a troubled and divisive time in American history and without rehabilitation in the minds and memories of neighbors unwilling to forgive the traitorous transgressions of those who lost so much to the mobs of 1861.
Zachary Peterson, Georgia State University, “‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’: The Pamphlet Debate on President Lincoln’s Suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus, in Context”
During the Civil War, President Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus. His action was very controversial at the time and still today. A public debate emerged, in pamphlet form, during the war, which discussed whether Lincoln could suspend the writ as the President or if it resided only in the Legislative Branch. The pamphlet debate was at times a heated exchange between the two camps. This paper argues that because it was a civil war on American soil that Lincoln was justified in suspending the writ when such suspensions were linked to legitimate war aims such as protecting the capital and ensuring the draft. However, there were other cases beyond legitimate war aims that were not justified.
Lawrence Kreiser Jr., Stillman College, “Newspaper Advertisements and the Business of Slavery”
This paper analyzes Confederate newspaper advertising and the business of slavery. Advertising columns ran in almost every mid-nineteenth-century newspaper, and their contents form a rich primary source to draw conclusions about slavery and perceptions of race. Notices for runaway slaves form a type of popular literature that reveal why white southerners believed their African American laborers were attempting to escape. These notices also provide insight into the resourcefulness of black men, women, and, sometimes, children, in attempting to find freedom. Advertisements for slave auctions were as numerous as those for runaway slaves. The sale notices highlight how slave traders attempted to distinguish their business in a crowded field. Like today when large amounts of money are exchanged in the buying and selling of goods, spin-off businesses emerged from the slave trade. Merchants advertised for “negro clothing” and “servant medicines.”
The newspaper advertisements analyzed in my study contribute to the popular debate on the coming of the Civil War. By a wide margin, most Americans believe states’ rights rather than slavery as the primary reason for the start of the nation’s bloodiest war. The columns of advertisements in Confederate newspapers dealing with slavery, however, reflect the importance of the institution to the coming of the Civil War. My paper on the business of slavery is a part of a book-length project on newspaper advertising during the Civil War that I currently am completing.
Thomas Terry, Utah State University, Logan and Donald Shaw, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “You Can Take Glory with You: George Armstrong Custer in Myth and Newspaper Narrative, Summer 1876”
The wind rasps in the brittle grasses, the cries of warriors of both sides still moaning faintly across the knoll in terror and anger as the last tourists trudge away. The giggles of small children and shouts of parents mingle with the melancholy, imagined cacophony of generations ago. Only the night sounds of the gathering evening remain. Little Bighorn Creek it was to the white soldiers and the country then and ever since. But it was Greasy Grass Creek to the Native Americans. The Battle of Greasy Grass Creek. On one of the seminal events of the late 19th Century and the two protagonists could not even agree on what to call it. In myth and newspaper narrative, it is the Battle of the Little Bighorn, fought in Montana on June 25, 1876. This study takes a historic agenda setting approach to the battle and its coverage during a 42-period bracketing the battle through various terms and their usage in the coverage, such as “Indians,” “Custer,” and “Sitting Bull.” The authors also examine racism in the period, looking at the frequency of such words as “Savages” and “Redskins.” They conclude that, surprisingly, echoes of the Civil War are the most obvious difference in newspaper coverage.
Nicole Livengood, Marietta College, “‘The Good Old Cause’: The Fugitive Slave Law, Revolutionary Rhetoric, and the Boston Daily Commonwealth”
The Boston Daily Commonwealth was founded to serve as the Free Soil Party organ and to mobilize support for the Free Soil Party candidate Charles Sumner . Another, less explicit, purpose was to unify and energize its readers and redeem the Commonwealth from the shame of having slave holders on Boston’s sacred ground. Part of my purpose in this essay is to redeem the Commonwealth, which critics have largely failed to take seriously as a cultural or rhetorically-savvy force.
In this essay, I delineate the Commonwealth’srhetorical strategies by focusing on its response to the capture and legal trials of Shadrach Minkins (1851), Thomas Sims (1851), and Anthony Burns (1854), early Boston test cases of the Fugitive Slave Law. The Commonwealth’streatment of these cases and their reverberations exemplifies the way that the Commonwealth used the “legacy…of the exemplary founders” (Barker 3) to alternately affirm and shame its readers constructing a “grand master narrative,” that appealed to an audience that deeply identified with its Puritan and Revolutionary (Barker 3). The rare inclusion of three engravings in their retrospective of the events surrounding Thomas Sims’ return to slavery powerfully demonstrates the way that Commonwealth utilized the legacy of the American Revolution to generate indignation and move a contemporary generation of “desponding patriots” (“New Daily”) to action. Finally, its treatment of the Sims case, and later, its coverage of Anthony Burns’ return to slavery, also demonstrate an evolution in its philosophy as it became increasingly militant. As such, it reflected the spirit of the times and the coming war, which it greeted with optimism, predicting that the “American people will become ashamed” of slavery and “the wrong will be righted” (“Fourth of July”).
Dianne Bragg, University of Alabama, “1850s Newspaper Coverage of the Abolitionist Agitation and John Brown”
This paper examines how American newspapers covered two events in the 1850s that had a profound impact on the increased influence of the American abolitionist movement during this decade. Although there were many mitigating factors in the country’s regional disputes during the 1850s, such as the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, newspaper coverage indicates that the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and John Brown’s actions played a pivotal role in energizing the abolitionist movement and solidifying the polarized positions on the slavery issue in the North and South. For decades, slavery had long simmered as one of the underlying causes of division in the country, and it was the issue that most often resulted in talk of southern secession. The Kansas-Nebraska Act and John Brown’s violent plots were both tied directly to slavery, and led to violence that set the Union on a path, from which it did not veer, that would eventually lead to war. This study examined newspapers with various circulations from both northern and southern states in order to determine how these events were presented to their respective audiences. Examining this coverage helps make it possible to surmise how readers in the North and South would have understood these events and how the stories that appeared in their local newspapers might have influenced readers’ positions on slavery, secession and even war.
Lynette A. Garrett, American University, Washington, D.C., “The Debate Over Conscription and the Suspension of Habeas Corpus in Confederate Georgia and Virginia”
This article revolves around the public debate which took place over the Confederate policies of conscription and the suspension of habeas corpus during the American Civil War. At the center of this debate was the issue of states’ rights and whether or not the actions of the federal government in the Confederate States of America subverted this principle. The very fact that the evidence from this public debate exists today highlights the fact that freedom of expression was held in high regard by certain members of the Nineteenth Century press. The debate over these issues, which played out in the pages of newspapers like the Richmond Enquirer, the Atlanta Southern Confederacy, and the Savannah Daily Republican was limited to elite members of Confederate society. While the public debate over the Conscription Act did involve dignitaries like Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Georgia Governor Joseph Emerson Brown, it also included average citizens who wanted their opinions on this important issue to be heard. Included in this category of average citizens were Georgia soldiers, who in 1864, felt the need to enter the public debate over conscription and the suspension of habeas corpus through petitions they drafted in the field and then mailed to different newspapers.
Tim Moran, Wayne State University, “‘Carrying the Masses to Excess’: Crafting the Other in Newspaper Framing of the 1863 New York Draft Riots”
The New York City Draft Riots of 1863 were a crisis event of national significance to the Union and an eagerly-anticipated sign to the Confederacy that the unity of the Northern states might be cracking. This significant event allows a look at how an increasingly-advanced press chose to cover an event that strained their abilities, professionalism, and technology to the breaking point. Examination of the coverage finds that New York newspapers were surprisingly sophisticated in their use of framing methods to not only report the news, but to prepare an imagined national audience to receive it in a certain way. Newspapers that backed the national government naturally threw blame on opposition Democrats and Copperhead interests, but overall a form of Other was created to explain the unthinkable violence and mob behavior that devastated the city and challenged order. In the midst of covering this major news event, too, news editors reflectively critiqued the performance of their rivals and defended their own coverage of the Draft Riots story as it developed. The resulting news was rapidly disseminated to the peripheries of the country and across the disputed boundary of combat, where it was consumed by a community that imagined its own involvement based on the consensus frames established by papers of the metropolis. Examining coverage of this event with the work of communication scholars and theorists such as Robert Entman, Shanto Iyengar, and Dietram Scheufele in mind leads to a picture of Nineteenth Century newsmen performing at a nuanced and integrated level during a time of extreme pressure. This seems to point to a much more capable and intentional press than is often imagined.
Kyle Bracken, Florida State University, “We Are Live Rebels Yet: The Army of Northern Virginia, The Lost Cause, and The Confederate Veteran Magazine”
Civil War veterans demonstrated a literary grace that has mesmerized Americans for a hundred and fifty years, mostly through their prolific and poignant wartime letters. After the war however, many of them repurposed their words to influence American memory and advance various interpretations of history. The Confederate Veteran Magazine, a postwar organ of veteran advocacy and communication, welcomed submissions from veterans of the late Confederate armies who cared to share their wartime experiences. Among them, veterans of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia wrote voluminously about their cause, leaders, reminiscences, and postwar activities in order to gain wider recognition for their wartime sacrifices. The Confederate Veteran quickly became the most widely read veterans’ publication, eventually joining forces with the United Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, though it has seen a curiously negligent amount of scholarly attention. This paper offers a thorough critique of Lee’s soldier-writers through their submissions to The Confederate Veteran in order to ascertain what they wrote and why?
The Virginia army’s soldiers predominately offered highly personal images of the war’s raw edges, introducing their readers to theft, harsh conditions, abuse of civilians, and a crude, soldierly sense of humor, in addition to the expected tales of battlefield heroism. Furthermore, they often advocated for the war’s reinterpretation to coincide with the southern-sympathetic tenants of the Lost Cause, and sought further organization and unification in these efforts. They boldly told their readers that they would not allow the victors to monopolize the historical record of the war, and that their service earned them a place alongside their former foes. This study contributes not only to our understanding of Confederate soldiers, but also to their postwar influence as amateur authors in one of the most influential literary vessels of the time.
Timothy Shiell, University of Wisconsin-Stout, “Copperheads and Free Speech in Civil War Era Wisconsin”
This paper examines the accuracy of two major claims about free speech during the Civil War Era as they apply to Wisconsin. First, some scholars have claimed that the Civil War Era was the nadir of free speech in the United States. Second, some maintain there were no sophisticated discussions of free speech at that time. However, there is strong evidence showing both of these claims to be false in the case of Wisconsin, that is, there was little government censorship of Copperhead speech criticizing Lincoln or the war and there were numerous sophisticated discussions of free speech. State and federal officials in Wisconsin enacted no laws suppressing war dissent, made very few political speech arrests, closed no newspapers, or took other direct actions against war dissent; in fact, they took far less suppressive action than state and federal officials during World War I Era Wisconsin. Moreover, many of the discussions of war dissent in Civil War Era Wisconsin employed sophisticated ideas and arguments later adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court and employed by major contemporary free speech scholars such as the war power argument, arguments regarding treason, libel, prior restraint and liberty of conscience, the distinction between the constitution and the government in power, the argument from tolerance, the pressure value argument, the fresh air argument, and more.
Guy Reel, Winthrop University, “Dudes, ‘Unnatural Crimes,’ and a ‘Curious Couple’: The National Police Gazette’s Oblique Coverage of Alternative Gender Roles in the Late Nineteenth Century”
The National Police Gazette, a popular New York City tabloid that reached its heyday in the late nineteenth century, was known for its challenging and changing assumptions about masculinities. Its audience was primarily men and boys, and to titillate its audience the weekly publication often featured women challenging gender assumptions about sports, professional pursuits and even dress. This study looked at two issues a year selected randomly over a 21-year period, 1879-1899, to determine if the Gazette ever offered coverage of or hints at homosexual or bi-sexual lifestyles. It also examined the way the tabloid handled the coverage of Oscar Wilde’s trials, during which he was accused of sodomy. Little has been written about “mainstream” nineteenth century newspapers’ coverage of gay or sexually alternative lifestyles, probably because very little of such coverage was offered. This examination found that occasionally the Gazette might hint at multiple meanings of cross-dressing (usually women dressing as men) or the effeminate characteristics of “dudes,” it rarely covered gay or alternative lifestyles in any direct way—and also carried no descriptions of Wilde’s crimes. While the Gazette covered all sorts of other crimes (chronicling the activities of police and criminals was one of its chief functions), it deemed Wilde’s crimes unfit for publication and made only the barest of hints about alternative sexual lifestyles.
James Ogden, Historian, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park & Moccasin Bend National Archeological District, “Leader, Reporter, Record: A Local Tennessee Press and the Resort to Arms, 1861”
In the interest of “ask big questions in small places,” I’ll look at what I’ve seen as the role of one Tennessee community’s press in that community’s, and, by extension, Tennessee’s, decision to secede and take up arms (or, one might argue, it was take up arms and secede). In essence, for a battlefield historian who tries to understand and relate “why they fought,” what part did that community’s press play in bringing members of that community to the battles that unfolded here in the shadow of Lookout Mountain (and other places too before and after).
Nancy Dupont, University of Mississippi, “Humor and Outrage: The Union Voice in Fallen Vicksburg”
The fall of Vicksburg produced one of the most famous journalism artifacts, still highly prized today: the last edition of the Vicksburg Citizen, printed on the back of wallpaper. Union forces seized the newspaper’s press and printed their own epilogue at the bottom of the sheet. Rather than punishing the newspaper’s editor, the Union allowed him to stay in business. He soon teamed up with a fiery, prone-to-drink ex-Union soldier and began publishing the Vicksburg Daily Herald, an entertaining but uncompromising defender of the Union. Ira Batterton’s themes were the condemnation of Confederate sympathizers, defense of the policies of Abraham Lincoln and an unrelenting call for the closure of Copperhead presses in the North. His writing is a strong example of newspapers of the conquered South but also a picture of a conquered sliver of the Mississippi River delta as it went from Confederate to Union control in 1864.
James Mueller, University of North Texas, “Blood Will Flow Like Water: How the Press Framed the Centralia, Missouri, Massacre and Battle”
This paper examines how the press covered the Centralia, Missouri, Massacre and the Battle of Centralia in 1864. While raiding the town, guerrillas under the leadership of Bloody Bill Anderson killed about 20 unarmed Union soldiers who had the misfortune to be riding a train that pulled into the depot. Later that day, Union soldiers pursued Anderson outside Centralia but were ambushed and almost all of a 150-man detail were killed.
An examination of two Northern newspapers showed they linked Centralia to the regular Confederate army invasion of Missouri that was occurring at the same time, reinforcing attitudes in the North toward a “hard war” policy. One Southern newspaper studied for this paper praised the guerrillas, while the other Southern newspaper largely ignored the battle. A border state newspaper covered the guerrilla fighting in detail and called for the execution of all guerrillas.
David Dowling, University of Iowa, “Newspaper Generals: Greeley, Marx and the Perils of Free Expression in the Wartime Press”
The perils of free expression in the wartime press became immediately apparent at the onset of the Civil War. “Newspaper generals,” as President Abraham Lincoln derisively called them, demanded military action and influenced the conduct of war, facing him with a press corps that regarded its task as not simply informing people, but shaping public opinion. That public opinion, given the unprecedented reach of Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, James Gordon Bennett’s New York Herald, Henry J. Raymond’s New York Times, and William Cullen Bryant’s New York Evening Post, applied tremendous pressure to political leaders. Throughout the war, these editors openly voiced their preferences for military action, counseling and cajoling the president, and calling for strategic maneuvers with alarming specificity. Greeley played a key role in the Union loss of the first battle of Bull Run, an episode highlighting the ongoing tension the press faced during the Civil War between reporting past events and commenting on future courses of action. Karl Marx, serving as foreign correspondent to the Tribune, was ironically one of the few critical voices warning against the use of the press as an instrument of war. His editorials on the hotly debated Trent Affair—a diplomatic crisis in which England nearly declared war on the United States as the Civil War hung in the balance in 1862—condemned what he called “the Tory scribblers for the Palmerston rules” for escalating the crisis. This climate of hostility led to the controversial arrests of key anti-Lincoln contributors and editors of Peace Democratic newspapers, sparking riots and public protest. Lincoln, however, was justified in his suspension of the writ of habeas corpus since the nation was undergoing an insurrection, and weighed in with measured explanations on each incident. The power of the press, and his respect for it, was evident throughout his administration.
Therese Aloia, Florida Atlantic University, “The American Catholic Tribune: Examination of a Newspaper in the Black Catholic Experience”
The focus of this paper examines the political, social and religious issues published in The American Catholic Tribune (ACT), a nineteenth century newspaper during the years of 1887, 1890, 1892 and 1894. While newspapers in this period served many functions, including a forum for discussion and conversation, a review of the scholarship over the years reveals that the Black Catholic experience and the press in America has received limited study. Through examination of the issues, individuals and events, a greater awareness of the larger historical narrative of Black Catholic laity in the late 1800s is possible. The ACT editor, Daniel A. Rudd’s perspective is examined as well because the direction of the newspaper was shaped by his initiative and vision. Ultimately, readers will learn that in the post-reconstruction era, the ACT helped bring a greater awareness of the issues in its time period to readers as well as the unique perspective of trying to solve the racial divide with the Catholic faith.
Jack Breslin, Iona College, “Press Coverage of Grover Cleveland’s 1886 Wedding and Honeymoon”
After surviving the sensational newspaper coverage surrounding his suspected illegitimate child, Grover Cleveland, age 49, wed Frances Folsom, age 21, twenty-eight years his junior, in the White House Blue Room on June 2, 1886, being the only chief executive married there. The initial coverage of their courtship was mild compared to the saturation newspaper reporting of their six-day honeymoon in Deer Park, Maryland. After being shut out of the small White House ceremony, the hungry press followed the couple to the mountain resort, used telescopes to spy on their cabin, and even inspected the first couple’s mail, gifts and meals. While Cleveland and his bride allowed selected reporters some access, he later openly complained about this intrusion, an example of the media’s growing coverage of politicians’ private lives. Some scholars reported that Cleveland penned an angry letter to the editor of a friendly newspaper, the New York Evening Post, but that letter does not appear in that newspaper, nor is the letter contained in his presidential papers.
William E. Huntzicker, St. Cloud State University, “Deadly Funny: Cartoonists and America’s Most Corrupt Election 1876-1877”
The 1876 presidential contest between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel J. Tilden was perhaps the closest in American history. Although Tilden won the popular vote and, depending on how you count, the electoral college vote as well, Hayes became president. The bargain that settled the election in barely enough time to inaugurate the president in March forced the North to withdraw the military enforcement of Reconstruction in the South in exchange for the Republican to become president. As a result of both a long campaign and extended negotiations about the outcome, cartoonists, most notably Thomas Nast, had an extended season of nastiness in attacking the partisans. In that process, Nast perfected his symbols – most notably the donkey and elephant – and his own persona in American politics.
Joe Marren, SUNY-Buffalo State, “The Press and Millard Fillmore”
To understand the administration of Millard Fillmore, the unlucky 13th president of the United States (1850-53), one would have to understand New York state politics and its relationship with the newspapers of the day. And to understand that, one would have to know as much about Machiavellian machinations as perhaps Iago and Richard III combined. In the partisan press of the day the Whigs and the Democrats used the press to sling mud at sinners, praise their respective saints, and champion what each side viewed as the main salvation for a slowly disintegrating Union.
Yet even in Whig Party papers, Fillmore found few friends. Horace Greeley, founder and editor of the Whigish New York Tribune, wrote of Fillmore in 1851: “Fillmore lacks pluck. He wants backbone. He means well, but he is timid, irresolute, uncertain and loves to lean.” History has not been kinder to Fillmore. On a visit to Buffalo in the 1960s, former President Harry Truman dismissed the city’s native son president a “do-nothing president.”
Public opinion of Fillmore hit bottom when he signed into law the controversial Fugitive Slave Act, part of the contentious Compromise of 1850. The press labeled him the “accidental president,” or the “second-hand president” because he was Zachery Taylor’s vice president and assumed the presidency upon Taylor’s death in July 1850 (historians have said that Taylor did not support the compromise). Fillmore’s decision cost him the backing of Northern Whigs and the party, without much enthusiasm, nominated Winfield Scott (on the 53rd ballot) for president in 1852. Scott lost to Democrat Franklin Pierce and the Whig Party passed into history.
Fillmore ran again for president in 1856 on the Know-Nothing ticket. It was a bad decision. He carried only Maryland in the Electoral College and finished third in his home turf of Buffalo and surrounding Erie County. After that Fillmore retired to a life of good works in Buffalo, having a hand in founding several institutions and a university, leading University at Buffalo history Professor Richard Ellis to write of Fillmore in a 1991 Buffalo News article: “While Fillmore may not have been America’s greatest president, he may just have been the greatest Buffalonian.”
Be that as it may, the scope of this paper will be to examine the role of the press in covering Fillmore’s ordinary presidency. To do that, it must also look at New York politics and the intertwinings with politicians/journalists (of a sort) William Seward, Thurlow Weed and Horace Greeley. And to do that, it must also look at the Union in the 1840s and ’50s and Whig politics. And, since Buffalo is on the border with Canada and was Fillmore’s home, the paper will also briefly look at news coverage of the Fugitive Slave Act and the Underground Railroad.
Ford Risley, Penn State University, “Jefferson Davis and the Press”
Confederate President Jefferson Davis enjoyed the support of most of the South’s press during the Civil War. Editors generally backed the administration’s policies and defended the president from critics. They also praised the heroic efforts of soldiers and civilians, decried apathy and disloyalty, emphasized Union problems, and explained the consequences of defeat. However, Davis had some staunch critics in the press. Moreover, some of the president’s moves, notably his suspension of the writ of habeus corpus and his attempt to enlist slaves, were met with strong editorial condemnation by some of his supporters. Davis did not court the press and he did not make himself regularly available to reporters. He also never secured a sympathetic newspaper that could be a consistent mouthpiece for the administration. Some Confederate officials expressed frustration that Davis failed to appreciate the impact the press could have on public opinion.
Jon Bekken, Albright College, “No Rights for the Working Man: Laboring in an Era before the First Amendment had Force”
This chapter examines legal and extra-legal restrictions on the labor movement in the 19th century. Throughout this period, courts held that labor activities such as boycotts and strikes constituted unlawful conspiracies, that authorities had unfettered license to restrict workers’ public meetings and speeches, and even that labor activists could be imprisoned or hanged for writing articles and giving speeches. When juries began acquitting labor activists who raised First Amendment defenses, courts turned to injunctions, bypassing juries and other due process protections.
Outside of the formal legal arena, workers and their organizations faced not only economic coercion, but in many instances armed attacks by private armies, state militias, police and the federal army. Unionists more than once found themselves blacklisted and herded into concentration camps.
Labor organizations responded by lobbying for legal protections, through publicity campaigns aimed at building public support for the right to organize, and through community and workplace mobilizations that challenged these infringements of their rights and sought to constrain the authorities’ ability to exercise them.
Sandra Davidson, University of Missouri, “The Rocky Road to Truth as a Defense: Libel Law Construction in the 19th Century”
Truth as a defense in libel cases gained ascendancy in the 19th century. Early precedents, such as the seditious libel prosecution of printer John Peter Zenger (1735), were daunting: Truth was considered an “aggravating circumstance.” This doctrine supposedly helped quell duels.
In 1804, in journalist Harry Croswell’s seditious libel trial, attorney Alexander Hamilton argued for truth as a defense. New York’s highest court deadlocked. The next year, in another seditious libel case, Pennsylvania adopted Hamilton’s view.
Still, truth took its bludgeoning. In 1825, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, in a criminal libel case involving the Providence Gazette, ruled truth was no defense. In 1827, New York, in a civil libel case involving an Albany newspaper’s criticisms of a lieutenant governor, ruled likewise.
But truth was gaining a foothold. Truth was recognized as a defense in cases involving newspapers in California (1858), Ohio (1860), Illinois (1863), North Carolina (1874), Kansas (1877), Michigan (1881), Louisiana (1882), and Texas (1888). However, in 1881, Massachusetts rejected truth as an absolute defense after a newspaper called a minister cruel for horse-whipping his daughter.
On balance, freedom of expression increased in the 19th century, with the legal pendulum swinging decidedly in favor of truth as a defense.
Lee Jolliffe, Drake University, “Afire! Abolitionists’ Speech and Publishing”
In 1835, President Jackson called on Congress to forbid circulation of "incendiary publications" about slavery. The law passed, and Southern postmasters piled abolitionist tracts in heaps and burned them. Newspaper offices of abolitionists were also set afire, most memorably John Greenleaf Whittier's Pennsylvania Freeman in 1838. Abolitionists were publicly whipped, languished in southern prisons, and were pelted with rotten eggs and even with rocks. People who attended anti-slavery meetings were attacked with clubs and axes. Publisher Elijah Lovejoy was murdered by a gang of pro-slavers, who attacked his press office with a hail of bullets. Kentucky antislavery publisher Cassius Marcellus Clay so feared attack that he deployed two cannons filled with Minie balls and nails in his Lexington newsroom.
In the courts, abolitionist publishers were sued for libel by slaveholders and traders and even the U.S. government. Joshua Giddings, fiery Free-soil U.S. Representative from Ohio's Western Reserve, was censured by the House in 1842 for refusing to comply with their self-imposed gag order against discussion of slavery. Publishers were prosecuted using charges of treason, seditious libel, group libel, and common law, and attempts were even made to extradite northerners to southern states.
In all, the history of abolitionist speech and its press is one of legal suppression and violent extra-legal opposition.
Paulette Kilmer, University of Toledo, “Keeping the Light under the Bushel: Reading as Subversive Activity”
On February 22, 1848, The Ohio Hamilton Telegraph “recommended total abstinence from novel reading and whiskey punch [because] both are equally injurious to the brain.” A year later on June 4, the Madison (Indiana) Daily Banner warned readers to “Beware of Bad Papers” full of corrupt literature and sensational articles that entered homes daily. Moreover, “flash newspapers and cheap stories painted stories of crime in glowing colors…inciting the young to lives of adventure and downright depravity,” according to the May 17, 1884, Bath (Maine) Independent Weekly. In the same year on December 6, The News of Frederick, Maryland, urged the legislature to pass laws to regulate pernicious trashy literature. The Honolulu Hawaiian Gazette on June 16, 1897, blamed the “Angel of Dime Novels” for an assassination attempt in Boston on their ex-queen.
These examples illuminate the suspicion of reading as a school for unhealthy, evil, and criminal behavior. This chapter focuses on cultural origins of censorship rooted in maintaining political, economic, and class power. Social institutions, like the press, the American Library Association, and religions define the fear of printed words in terms of identity and community.
The fear of reading permeated American culture, and nineteenth century suppression of vice societies around the nation persecuted cheap publications mostly because they provided an easy target. However, case law indicates that beyond the gentlemen’s agreements of most publishers, the classic authors, like Walt Whitman and Julian Williams also were censored. Libraries have always banned Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. The roots for protecting society from words date back to English Common Law (1727, Dominus Rex v. Curll). The first American case involving obscenity using the Curll precedent was Commonwealth vs. Holmes in 1828. The Hicklin Law of 1868, established the tendency to encourage bad behavior as the standard, and its big brother, The Comstock Laws of 1873, empowered censors to monitor the mails and destroy anything they considered immoral.
Janice Wood, Auburn University-Montgomery, “The National Defense Association: Organized to Protect Free Speech”
The National Defense Association, founded in 1878, served as America’s first advocacy organization devoted to freedom of speech. Amidst the “golden age of fraternity,” the association emerged from the freethought movement of the late nineteenth century and championed supporters of other reforms as well, such as sex education, free love, women’s rights, and birth control who were prosecuted for obscenity. It laid groundwork for better-known advocacy groups that followed - the Free Speech League and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Based in New York City with chapters in Boston and Chicago, the National Defense Association’s members hoped to “roll back the wave of intolerance, bigotry, and ignorance which threatens to submerge our cherished liberties,” which they identified as the influence of Anthony Comstock and his Society for the Suppression of Vice, according to the group’s constitution. Congress had passed the national obscenity legislation, heavily laced with Victorian morality, trying to improve its public image in light of an influence-peddling scandal while beefing up earlier laws against mailing and importing obscene materials.
Prominent members included E. B. Foote Sr. and Jr., father and son physicians and birth-control advocates, as well as attorneys Thaddeus Wakeman and Edward Chamberlain, and several veterans of social reform movements. The Footes’ magazine, Dr. Foote’s Health Monthly, served as the association’s newsletter, and Wakeman formulated First Amendment arguments against the Comstock laws. The association often worked to defend its own members, many of whom were targeted for their publishing or distributing material considered obscene, providing legal counsel, moral support, and funds for bail. The members and activities of National Defense Association are portrayed in this article within the social, legal, and historical context of the era.
Gregory Borchard, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, “Mediating Lincoln: A Historiography of His Legacy and the Press”
Gregory A. Borchard and David W. Bulla's new book, Lincoln Mediated: The President and the Press through Nineteenth-Century Media, seeks to bring attention to Lincoln’s direct connections to media — not just newspapers alone — and illuminate the ways in which he used the press, photography, and speeches to reach audiences, as well as how audiences at home and abroad perceived him. This presentation provides a historiographic overview of the issues explored by the authors, providing a retrospective on previously published materials about Lincoln, an overview of current scholarly interpretations of him, and a description of how Lincoln Mediated contributes to a pool of existing literature about the president and the nineteenth-century press.
Melony Shemberger, Murray State University, “Voices of a Border State: Editorials of the Civil War Kentucky Press”
This research explores Kentucky’s position as a border state through the lens of newspaper editorials. Aside from specific war news, Civil War newspapers also reported on citizens’ reactions to how the war was shaping the American economy and politics, and opinions about slavery. This is where newspaper editorials shaped a newspaper’s bold voice, perhaps becoming the signature feature of a Kentucky Civil War newspaper. Because of Kentucky’s dividing position of neutrality and looming Confederate invasion, these editorials helped to shed light as to which side was favored. This study reviewed Kentucky newspapers published mostly during 1862. Editorials provided the most insights, although other content also was examined. This primary finding involving editorials is based on an inspection of five Kentucky newspapers – The Daily Commonwealth in Frankfort, The Dollar Weekly Bulletin in Maysville, Louisville Daily Democrat and Louisville Daily Express, both in Louisville, and Weekly Reporter in Henderson. Many of these editorials expressed strong pro-Union support. Editors were aware of the need their papers filled at this critical time, and as the war heightened in the border state, many wrote passionately in support of the Union. Yet, they did so in such a way that their articles educated readers, regardless of whether the audience felt strongly one way or the other.
Niels Eichhorn, Middle Georgia State College, “Austria and the Civil War: Newspaper Opinions connecting Europe and the United States”
The American Civil War has frequently and incorrectly been presented as a solely domestic conflict. However, the war had implication far beyond the borders of the United States. Diplomatically, the Americas and Europe were closely connected as European recognition or intervention could alter the outcome of the war. For the Central European powers, which had only twelve years earlier suffered from political rebellions, success of the Confederacy could bring about new uprisings. As a result, newspapers, merchants, politicians, and family members of migrants paid close attention to the events in the United States. Austrian newspapers covered the conflict in great detail. The writing was influenced by recent events in Europe. As a result, the Austrian papers referred to the Confederacy as the Sonderbund, a term referring to one of the belligerents of the Sonderbundskrieg of 1847 in the Swiss Confederation. The Austrian papers showed clear biases for either side in the war and critically assessed the developments of the conflict. For the Austrian papers, the war was a conflict between aristocracy and democracy, between slavery and liberty, and between unity and separation. The language used by the newspapers at the start and in some cases throughout the war indicated how recent European events influenced the coverage of the conflict in North America. This brief introduction of the Austrian newspaper coverage of the war illustrates the importance of the war beyond the borders of the United States.
Paul Ringel, High Point University, “The Genteel Tradition in Post-Civil War American Children’s Magazines, 1865-1880”
During the decade following the Civil War, nearly every major publishing house in the United States produced a children’s magazine. These periodicals were often well-funded and included contributions from leading American and English writers, but most of them did not survive the decade, and only two of them—The Youth’s Companion and St. Nicholas- were able to sustain large audiences. This paper will explore the challenges that these postwar magazines faced, and will consider what made the two successful magazines different from their contemporaries. In particular, I will examine why the Companion was able to reach one of the largest audiences of any magazine in the nation, and what its success reveals about the genteel white Protestant American families who were the primary customers for the children’s magazine industry. I argue that both the Companion and St. Nicholas were successful because of their willingness to engage young readers as commercial actors rather than just as recipients of the editors’ moral instruction. Additionally, the particular success of the Companion suggests that we need to reconsider children’s magazines, and indeed the concept of gentility itself, as a product less of elites attempting to impose values on an expanding middle class than as a vehicle for those ambitious middling Americans to privilege their own opportunities for social and economic advancement at the expense of their non-white, non-Protestant contemporaries.
David Bulla, Zayed University, “Gandhi’s ‘Green Pamphlet’: Prelude to the Career of an Advocacy Journalist”
In 1896, Mohandas K. Gandhi, an attorney of Indian descent living in South Africa, published a pamphlet cataloging a series of wrongs committed against his fellow countrymen in that colonial African nation. Published in India, “The Green Pamphlet” showed the conditions Indians faced in South Africa—that is, the white European colonists treated the Indians as, at best, second-class citizens. Having personally been the subject of such prejudice, Gandhi decided to print an essay describing the conditions that awaited any Indian who was considering a move to South Africa to work for the European (English and Dutch) colonists. Printing 10,000 copies of “The Green Pamphlet,” Gandhi sent it to newspapers all over India and England, and then traveled across the subcontinent giving speeches about its contents. He also gave interviews to sympathetic Indian editors. The following research paper examines the rhetorical strategy that Gandhi used in writing the pamphlet. Accordingly, the author uses a content analysis, establishing four major rhetorical categories in Gandhi’s writing of “The Green Pamphlet”: (1) examples of mistreatment; (2) symptoms of mistreatment; (3) name-calling used by Europeans colonists against Indians, and (4) metaphorical language. Gandhi’s essay is heavy on examples and symptoms as he tried to deliver a sort of buyer’s-beware portrayal of South Africa. On the other hand, metaphors are used sparingly, precisely because Gandhi wanted to make a straightforward presentation that was simple and clear, not aesthetically sophisticated and literary in orientation. This paper is part of the research for a proposed book titled Peace’s Publisher: Mohandas K. Gandhi, Advocacy Journalist. The author of this research paper traveled to Durban and interviewed Gandhi’s granddaughter, Ela Gandhi, who provided insights into the nature and aim of the pamphlet. The author would like to thank the following for their help in making this research paper possible: Dr. Marilyn Roberts, dean of the College of Communication and Media Sciences at Zayed University; Michael Allen, ZU associate dean and head of the university’s Research Office; Russell and Rochelle Williams, fellow colleagues in CCMS at ZU; David Oldenkamp, reference librarian at ZU; the staff of the Hege Library at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina; M.J. Odendaal, who served as a tour guide for Gandhi sites in the Durban area; Ms. Ela Gandhi, of Durban; Jacob Daddy Noe, a tour guide in Johannesburg and Pretoria; Mohamed El Selhab, director of Satyagraha House in Johannesburg; and Eric Itzkin, a historian and author in Johannesburg.
David Collier, Georgia State University, “How The Cincinnati Red Stockings Went Undefeated In 1869 And Changed A Game Into A Job”
The Cincinnati Red Stockings are the only team in baseball history to record a perfect season. The Red Stockings are the first professional team to play baseball, as well. No other baseball team since has won all of their games, or even comes close. This aberration begs an explanation and it is not as simple as the players being better than everyone else. This team featured great players, but other teams had great players as well. The factor of professionalism was the key to the edge against their opponents. With all their players well financed, all the team members had a focus and drive to do well and therefore changed the game forever. The team was so dominant that paying players and signing contracts was the only way to succeed. Not only did the Red Stockings change the game, they changed the fans. For the first time, masses of people would cheer for the same team and take pride in victory, which raised the popularity of baseball country-wide. The Cincinnati Red Stockings are an essential reason why baseball is America’s Game.
Jeff Rowell, Georgia State University, “Moses Fleetwood Walker and the Establishment of a Color Line in Major League Baseball: 1884-1887”
This paper looks at the newspaper coverage of the lone Major League season of Moses Fleetwood Walker in 1884, the last African-American to play in a Major League game until Jackie Robinson’s debut in 1947, and the newspaper’s coverage of the establishment of a “color line” in professional baseball in 1887. While Walker’s season was plagued by prejudices of his teammates, opponents, and societal rules and perceptions, the reporters covered his season in a factual manner, articles noted that he was “colored” but were not overtly negative and occasionally praised him. This was also typical of how newspapers reported on other black players on white teams in the Minor Leagues.
In September of 1887, several players on the all-white American Association’s St. Louis Browns refused to play an exhibition game against the all-black Cuban Giants that their club’s President had arranged. This prompted the newspapers to state that the “color line” had been drawn. Their coverage of the incident was again factual. Stories stated that all-white teams had played all-black teams before with no reservations, and that the Cuban Giants club was made up of superb players. The incident also prompted papers to reprint, or in many cases print for the first time, the decision of the International League, a minor league, to no longer sign “colored” players due to opposition of the white players in the league. The papers again stated the facts, and were not negative towards the “colored” players, but often praised their play and championed their qualifications to continue to play with and against their white counterparts.