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

November 2-4, 2017

Melony Shemberger, Murray State University, "Editorials of Border States During the Secession Period"

Editorials often are used as anecdotal material to support or add dimension to a scholar's arguments. However, these pieces rarely have been warranted as historical texts to be examined, thus becoming an overlooked signature feature of a 19th century American newspaper. What were editorials like during the secession period, especially among newspapers in the border states that delayed declaring its secession from the Union or chose not to join the Confederacy? What information did these editorials give? This paper reviews selected newspaper editorials published in 1860 and 1861, primarily those in Kentucky and from the other border states of Delaware, Maryland, and Missouri. It is hoped that editorials published during these pivotal years will be regarded as more than mere anecdotes — and recognized more as a newspaper¹s bold voice that deserves to be heard.

Panel: “From the Arctic to the Orient: Adventure Journalism of the Gilded Age”

Sandra Davidson, University of Missouri, and Bill Book, Freelance Writer, “Leading the Way: Sir Richard F. Burton’s Travels in Disguise to Mecca and Other Harrowing Adventures”

Lee Jolliffe, Drake University, “With Easel and Tripod: Envisioning the American West”

James Mueller, University of North Texas, “‘The First Bold Adventure in the Cause of Humanity’: Stanley’s Adventure Journalism in Africa”

Jennifer Moore, University of Minnesota, “‘A Word to the Commercially Wise’: Mark Twain’s Reporting from the Sandwich Islands”

Crompton B. Burton, University of Maine, “The New York Herald’s North Pole Expedition”

Pat McNeely, University of South Carolina, “Eyewitnesses to General William T. Sherman’s Campaign in the Civil War”

General William T. Sherman went to great lengths during the burning of Columbia, South Carolina, to protect his ³particular friend Miss Poyas,² whose family he visited frequently while he was a bachelor stationed at Fort Moultrie between 1842 and 1846.     

The book, letters and documents that Sherman signed and gave to her before, during and after the war along with an eyewitness account of his visits have been privately saved for more than 150 years by the descendants of Mary Catherine Poyas Walker.

Recently released, the documents along with other eyewitness accounts provide significant new insight into Sherman¹s personal life as well as documentation of the atrocities committed by his troops in his military, economic and psychological war on civilians in Georgia and the Carolinas.

The documents and eyewitnesses also finally and convincingly end the 150-year-old controversy about who burned Columbia. Admitting his strategy to destroy towns in his path rather than leaving occupying forces, Sherman told Mary Catherine that he "had not wanted to burn the town, it was such a pretty place,² but ³could leave no part² of his army to keep it. 

Donald L. Shaw, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Thomas C. Terry, Utah State University, “Long Run and Short Flare: Newspapers, Agenda Setting, and the Coming (?) Civil War”

This study looks at the 1820-1860 period through analysis of contemporary newspaper coverage and secondary sources, concluding the press had limited agenda setting impact and that the impending Civil War could not be discerned. As suggested by Kittrell Rushing’s examination of the 1860 presidential election results and 1861 secession election results in 28 East Tennessee counties, newspapers and editors might be merely reacting to what the public was already interested in during times of high tension. In her analysis of William Allen White, historian Jean Folkerts admitted, “[T]he study of audience effect is more difficult than that of publisher intent.” The agenda-setting historical scholar directs her or his research light backwards into history, not as a laser beam or Walter Lippmann’s “searchlight,” but as Pulitzer-Prizewinning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “prism through which the subject filters his own changing self-image.”

Based on a secondary analysis of historical evidence, this study argues that newspapers are invaluable for understanding the events that retrospectively led to the Civil War.  The rich coverage of the 1831 Nat Turner revolt, the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the Mexican War of 1846-1848, the Compromise of 1850, and John Brown’s 1859 raid, among others, enriches the American narrative in ways that can be filled by no other primary source. Historian Lucy Salmon was right in her analysis of the importance of newspapers. These are discrete events that enable historians to link the coverage over time into a lengthy story about sectional tension. Each event is short in duration, with the exception perhaps of the Mexican War, and so each piece of the history picture has to be fitted into the whole puzzle.  Historians can see the war coming, but only in retrospect. In early 1861, few knew succession was coming, although the South had threatened it before, but so had some New England states opposing the War of 1812.

Is there a longer view evident of a coming war buried in the press at a deeper level? Richard Merritt found that colonial newspapers sampled from 1735 through 1775 reflected more words, or symbols, of local community – e.g. “governor” – than symbols of foreign attachment – e.g., “king” – as the colonies drifted from European roots and developed a sense local community, fed by the press and spread by the mails. But was this obviously and immediately evident to Americans in the four decades before the Revolution? The answer to that for the 1820-1860 years, however, is no. A sample of more than 3,000 stories from the newspapers of North, South, and West for the period reflected no clear awareness of the underlying sectional differences that were to erupt so violently over the 1861-1865 years.  There was no self-absorption by Northern or Southern newspapers.  So it seems that newspapers grouped into big analysis at an abstract level reflect slow evolution but not detailed pictures of underlying community.  The coverage reflected more similarities than differences between North and South. 

They provide a richness when historians examine them event by event, story by story, along with other primary sources.  If we seek a longer view, by examining newspaper stories at a higher level of abstraction, it provides a picture of national evolution but not sharp regional differences that would explain the Civil War.  The short and long of it is that newspapers provide a rich resource for the historian, who needs to exercise experience with many sources and intuition about how things work to build a strong narrative about how things happen.  Historians know one important thing, how things came out.  Historians work backward.  The news media of course explain things too, after they happen.  Journalists work backward to explain discrete events day by day.  Historians work backward to explain the connections among events over logical periods of time.  Journalists and historians have a lot in common.  Perhaps that is why so many journalism historians were journalists. So, rather than Goodwin’s prism, historical agenda setting might be a mirror.

Debra van Tuyll, Augusta University, “Press Coverage of the Secession Movement as a Cause of the Civil War”

Until 1865, secession was always a possibility in American political thought. As early as 1798, Americans unflinchingly discussed the political parameters of secession – under which circumstances was it permissible; under which was it not? For example, in the fall of 1798, just a week after the Sedition Act became law and as the Quasi-War bubbled along on the seas, a correspondent who signed his letter Aristides called on western citizens to secede should the United States go to war with France. When secession came up, discussion revolved around whether current circumstances would warrant disunion, not whether it was possible.

After the Nullification Crisis in 1832, the question of secession became more important – central, even – to American public life. Newspapers in both regions debated the question, and most concluded, at least early in the Antebellum period, that disunion was a bad idea. That perspective would begin to change, at least among Southerners, as sectional crises superheated the conflicts between North and South. The 1860 presidential election would, of course, make secession a central question for Southerners as they pondered how to respond should Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln win the presidency. Even going into the final days of the election, most Southern newspapers remained committed unionists. That would change, though, as the rhetoric shifted following the election.

This chapter will briefly examine secession as a political question in American history up to 1860. Its focus, however, will be on the process by which secession fever infected Southern editors in the fall and winter of 1860-1861 and moved the majority of the region’s journalists from devoted unionists to ardent secessionists.

Stuart MacKay, Carleton University, “‘The negro occupies the whole time, and there is no time left for white men’: Slavery, whiteness, and the Union in the St. Louis press during the election of 1860”

This paper examines the political campaigns of Frank Blair, Richard Barret, and Stephen A. Douglas during the 1860 election in St. Louis through the lens of their partisan newspapers. By using the rhetoric of white supremacy and love for the Union and Constitution, and articulating these values through the pages of the Missouri Democrat and the Missouri Republican, all three candidates attempted to promote themselves as the true defenders of free white labor for the St. Louis electorate. In exploring how both these men and their papers expressed their own principles of white supremacy and devotion to the Union in order to connect with the moderate voters of St. Louis during an election that was charged with antislavery and disunionist rhetoric, this paper allows us to understand the role that partisan newspapers played in crafting political campaigns on the eve of the Civil War in a Border South city.

Zachary Arms, Lehigh University, “Manhood without Soldiering: Northern Illustrated Newspapers and Civilian Men in the American Civil War”

Much on the scholarship on northern masculinity in the American Civil War focuses on the image of the soldier, leaving civilian men largely unexamined. This paper seeks to provide an opening look into this aspect of northern Civil War culture by examining a sample set of issues from Harper’s Weekly and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated newspapers, which existed as some of the key newspapers within the Civil War North as cultural commentators to the masses. This paper argues that these papers presented a complicated image of civilian manhood, in which men were not condemned merely for not serving in the war, but for other actions that stripped them of the ability to claim a masculine image. The paper begins by examining the lack of general condemnation of civilian men in the newspapers, and seeks to contextualize it within the ambiguous nature of antebellum northern masculinity. Next, the paper moves to the negative roles civilian men could find themselves in through their actions. The first role discussed is the “armchair general:” the man who was of military age and fit to serve, but only stayed behind the lines and talked of what his plans and strategy would be for the war. The last image discussed is that of the draft dodger, a familiar sight in literature on the northern civilian home front, but this paper illustrates some of the ways in which the masculinity of the draft dodger was put into question. The paper concludes by pointing out the complicated presentation of civilian manhood in the northern press and the continued need for study on this less-studied portion of Civil War history.

Crompton B. Burton, University of Maine, “‘Grant Abroad’: Around the World with the General and the Journalist”

Just which soldier was Ulysses S. Grant? The survivor at Shiloh? The architect of the Vicksburg campaign? The butcher of Cold Harbor? Such questions have been argued for decades prompting at least one New York Times opinion piece to  label Grant “America’s Most Reconsidered General.” Indeed, more than a century after his death there are no signs the reassessment of his reputation as either commander or commander-in-chief  is nearing conclusion. As the recent release of Ronald C. White’s thoughtful biography, American Ulysses, demonstrates, the work goes on unabated if not debated by military historians and presidential scholars alike.

Fundamental to understanding Grant’s legacy, however, is reconsideration of his life after Appomattox and two turbulent terms in the White House. In particular, biographers have unfailingly relied upon press coverage of the General’s valiant race against cancer to complete his memoirs and rescue his family from financial ruin to frame much of his enduring postwar presence.

Valuable as such familiar ground remains, it must be remembered that before there was the dramatic death watch of spring and summer 1885, there was Grant’s stunning world tour of 1877-1879. Often marginalized by scholars as a genuine source of sustained celebrity in its own right and significant factor in accounting for the intensity of feeling accompanying his passing, the purpose of this study is to recognize Grant’s travel and reminiscences in the dispatches of New York Herald correspondent John Russell Young as worthy of reconsideration as well. The sensation that was “Grant Abroad” not only prompted “many back home to take a fresh look at their ex-president,” but accounts for the special connection created in the exchange that does much to explain the visceral grief and mourning at his death that so influences his place in America’s collective memory to this day.

Donald L. Shaw, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Thomas C. Terry, Utah State University, “A Strong Impulse: The Transatlantic Slave Trade through American Newspapers, 1808–1844”

Despite some historians’ often-adamant observations, the American slave trade did not evaporate in 1808 after it was officially banned once constitutionally allowed. Rather, it continued robustly for decades, according to this study’s comprehensive analysis 36 years of American newspaper coverage. The slave trade was stupendously profitable and slavers had a reasonable chance of avoiding warships, mainly British, seeking to suppress the trade. If caught, captains and crews invariably faced negligible penalties, though not inevitably so. Profits were so high that one crew was even willing to burn its own ship to avoid detection. And the construction of slave ships and the trade itself were conducted in plain sight, newspaper accounts demonstrate.

Erika Pribanic-Smith, University of Texas at Arlington, “Disunion or Submission? Southern Editors and the Nullification Crisis, 1830–1832”

A wave of disunion rumblings erupted after the 1828 passage of an act increasing protective duties on foreign imports, which many southerners saw as unconstitutional and unequal in its benefits. Although South Carolina was the only state that officially acted against the “Tariff of Abominations” and its 1832 successor via nullification, newspapers throughout the region debated the best response to national measures that many deemed oppressive. This research explores responses to the nullification question in South Atlantic and Gulf Coast newspapers from 1830—when nullification discussion became prevalent in the region—until the passage of South Carolina’s Nullification Ordinance in 1832.  Except for South Carolina’s nullifiers, responses differed little from state to state. While some editors called for unqualified resistance to what they perceived as gross usurpation of power by the federal government, others sought a moderate, peaceful solution. Some pushed for individual states to act alone while others called for the southern states to work in concert. Those loyal to the U.S. government and alarmed by revolutionary rhetoric urged patience and even submission.  Often, the degree to which a newspaper supported or opposed nullification corresponded with adherence to local political parties. It also depended largely on the extent to which each state felt directly oppressed.

James Scythes, West Chester University, “‘The blood of John Hampden Pleasants shall cry from the ground’: Newspaper Coverage of the Ritchie-Pleasants Duel of 1846”

Duels involving antebellum journalists were quite common. In this era of highly charged partisan politics, editors frequently faced the threat of ritualized violence at one point or another during their careers. The most famous duel - or “the most exciting encounter in the history of American journalism,” as historian John Hope Franklin called it - that took place during the antebellum period involving journalists was the meeting between Thomas Ritchie, Jr., editor of the Richmond Enquirer, and John Hampden Pleasants, the former editor of the Richmond Whig, on February 25, 1846, which led to the death of Pleasants. The events leading up to the duel and the duel itself have been retold and analyzed numerous times by historians. This paper examines the reaction of journalists throughout the country to the meeting between Ritchie and Pleasants. The research demonstrates that newspaper editors, particularly those in the North, quickly condemned the event in their editorials and used strong language to describe the duel. Most journalists denounced the use of violence in the South and offered a sharp criticism of the “code of honor,” and some editors of abolitionist newspapers attempted to use the duel as an opportunity to link dueling in the South to slavery in an attempt to portray the southerners as a backwards and oppressive. Coverage of the duel in southern newspapers was sparse, but a few southern editors were willing to criticize the “code of honor” like their northern counterparts. The meeting between Ritchie and Pleasants, though, may have contributed to the beginning of the end of dueling in the South. The citizens of Richmond were shocked by the death of Pleasants, and their attitudes toward dueling began to change. So, the duel that John Hope Franklin called “the most exciting encounter in the history of American journalism,” may in fact be “the most important encounter” because of the impact it had on shaping peoples’ opinions on dueling.

Mary M. Cronin, New Mexico State University, “An Editorial House Divided: Texas Editors and the Compromise of 1850”

Editorial opinion concerning the Compromise of 1850 reveals that Texas’ publishers were not unified in their political beliefs during the decade that preceded the U. S. Civil War. Although the majority of the state’s journals were Democratic in affiliation, and virtually every publisher supported the South’s economic and social institutions, one-third of all Texans voted for Zachary Taylor and the Whigs during the Presidential election of 1848. Emboldened by support for the Whig Party nationally, as well as in Texas, several new Whig newspapers were established in the Lone Star state prior to 1850. Texas’ Democratic press also was divided in 1850 between Calhoun Democrats and Jackson Democrats, both of whom sought readers’ patronage.

Texans’ concerns about their state’s boundaries, coupled with fears that the Taylor administration might curb slaveholders’ rights, led to fierce editorial debate over the terms of the final Compromise legislation. Several publishers used the debate about the Compromise for their own political ends. Two prominent publishers lobbied for the reopening of the slave trade, while others reaffirmed their support for the U. S. government and the Constitution. A third group of  publishers took the opportunity to bang the drum for secession, while a forth group attempted to stay neutral. The latter group’s neutrality reveals the hollowness of Texas publishers’ claims that they were opinion leaders. In reality, many were followers or mirrors of public opinion. Economic considerations forced several prominent publishers to declare their neutrality in an attempt to appease influential Whig merchants in their communities.

Gregory A. Borchard, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, “Press Responses to Republicans and Romanism in the 1856 Election: ‘Free Men, Free Speech, Free Press, Free Territory, and Frémont’”

This paper profiles John C. Frémont and his bid for the presidency in 1856 as the first Republican candidate for the office using commentary from The New York Tribune and leading Republican newspapers as voices of the newly formed party.  It focuses specifically on the way editors, especially Horace Greeley, addressed claims from the Democratic press about Frémont’s questionable past that included his alleged ties to Catholicism, which at the time would have bought into doubt his legitimacy as a candidate among a portion of the electorate.  The paper explores issues of political and cultural importance in the years leading to the Civil War, revealing ways the press devoted substantial space to Frémont’s personal life in election campaigns that focused on sensitive matters more than on issues of national importance.

David W. Bulla, Augusta University, “‘More than a Skirmish’: Press Coverage of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates”

In the late summer and fall of 1858, perhaps the greatest cultural spectacle of the antebellum period occurred in Illinois, where Democratic incumbent Stephen Douglas debated Republican opponent Abraham Lincoln seven times during their U.S. Senate seat race in that state. Debates during the political season in the small towns of the American prairie were common and offered a form of entertainment for citizens. Yet it was also an opportunity for political opponents to state their views on various issues of the day—in this case, the major issue was slavery and its extension into the U.S. territories. Douglas would charge Lincoln with not being merely interested in keeping slavery out of the territories, but being an out-and-out abolitionist. Lincoln countered that Douglas did not really love liberty as shown by his indifference to slavery. Lincoln also hammered Douglas on his favorite policy, popular sovereignty. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates drew large crowds around the Prairie State beginning on August 21 in Ottawa and ending on October 15 in Alton. Coverage of the debate was intense, particularly in Illinois. The Chicago Times and Chicago Press and Tribune each sent reporting teams to chronicle every word of every debate. However, the quality of the debating and the issues at stake also brought relatively strong coverage nationally and even internationally. For example, the New York Tribune covered the debates as if they were just as important to New Yorkers as the political races in their own state. This research paper examines how newspapers both in the United States and in Great Britain covered this most important rhetorical exchange between the veteran Democratic politician Douglas and the upstart and relatively unknown member of the brand-new Republican Party in Lincoln. Of course, two years later, Lincoln would be the candidate for the Republicans and Douglas for the Democrats in the American presidential race, and Lincoln would win the national election and thus participate the secession movement in the South. His election and the Civil War have given the debates even more significance historically as the two men aired their differences for the world in the senate race—something that did not happen in 1860, since in the nineteenth century there were no presidential debates in the run-up to the November election. Finally, the Lincoln-Douglas Debates were not just on-the-ground entertainment for the citizens of Illinois; the debates also were a barometer of American journalism at mid-century, showing the mixture of reporting and interpreting that would be the hallmark of journalism during the Civil War.

Debra van Tuyll, Augusta University, “The Fire-Eating Charleston Mercury: Stoking the Flames of Secession and Civil War”

Of all the ironies that surround the causes of the Civil War, one of the most profound is that a tiny 800-circulation newspaper in Charleston, S.C., had as much to do with bringing about the Civil War as the 30 previous years of sectional crises. Those 30 years of sectional disputes were certainly the flash points for fanning Southerners’ mistrust of the North’s motives regarding the extinguishing of slavery, and they served to stoke secessionist sentiment in the South. Without that little-journalistic-engine-that-could, the Charleston Mercury, however, the fire-eaters would have lacked a propaganda vehicle that could broadcast their radical interpretations of those inflammatory sectional crises. The Mercury was the vehicle, and its owners, Robert Barnwell Rhett, Sr., and Jr., were the master propagandists who wielded the paper’s pages with skill and acumen far beyond what antebellum Southern journalists have been credited with having. This chapter will examine how the fire-eating press in general, and the Charleston Mercury in particular, helped to fan the flames of secession that erupted in Charleston in December 1860.

Brian Neumann, University of Virginia, “Loyalty and Liberty: The Struggle for Union in Upcountry South Carolina, 1828–1835”

Lacy Ford describes the Nullification Crisis as a “tactical dispute over means, not a philosophical dispute over aims,” arguing that Union men and Nullifiers simply disagreed over how best to defend slavery and resist the tariff. This framework, however, minimizes the transcendent power of Union in nineteenth-century America and fails to capture the ideological conflicts at the heart of the Nullification Crisis. It was an ideological struggle over loyalty and liberty, the meaning of Union, and the future of republican government. This paper uses two newspapers—the pro-Union Greenville Mountaineer and pro-Nullification Southern Sentinel—to reconstruct this political and ideological struggle in an upcountry district. These newspapers both described the crisis as a struggle to preserve liberty, but they defined that struggle—and liberty itself—in conflicting ways. 

Nullifiers fought for negative liberty, for freedom from external restraint. They worked to unify the state, insisting that only internal unity could protect citizens’ liberty from federal tyranny. For Nullifiers, a centralizing federal government represented the greatest threat to liberty, and they feared that if Congress could impose a protective tariff it could one day vote to abolish slavery. Union men, however, saw the federal government as the greatest guarantor of white liberty and African-American slavery. They framed their Unionism as a struggle for positive liberty—for the Jacksonian freedom to actively participate in their government. Union men condemned the undemocratic structure of their government and viewed nullification as a conspiracy to trample their rights and freedoms. While Nullifiers fought to unify the state, Union men fought to democratize it. While Nullifiers linked their opposition to the tariff to their defense of slavery, Union men consciously separated the two causes. For Union men, the issue at stake was not African-American slavery but rather white liberty, and the greatest threat to that liberty came not from the federal government but from their own state government.

Joe Mathewson, Northwestern University, “The Dred Scott Tragedy: How the Press was Complicit”

Dred Scott’s ultimately historical though frustrated quest for freedom stretched over 11 years, but press coverage unfortunately did not. Scott and his wife were perversely rejected time and again, in two state court suits and later a federal suit. Judges in Missouri, a slave state, were sensitive to growing tension between slave and free states, so they handed down opinions that were in fact newsworthy, because they were contrary to the law and precedents in Missouri. But these faulty decisions weren’t covered. The press finally took notice when Scott appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1857 the Court handed down the infamous divided decision that sought to legitimize slavery as an American institution. Quite gratuitously, the Court seized on the case to strike down the Missouri Compromise, which banned slavery in the western territories north of Missouri, for the Court in fact dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction, on the ground that Scott was not a citizen and thus had no standing to sue in court. This nuance escaped notice by the press, but newspapers North and South did sense the historical significance of the decision. Northern papers were grim, while the southern press accepted the result as correct. Historians say it contributed to the runup to the Civil War. In hindsight, one wonders whether earlier coverage of Dred Scott’s quest for freedom, and courts’ repeated perversion of the law to deny it, might have sparked North-South discussion that could have contributed to some sort of compromise, much as the end of the slavery trade was written into the Constitution. More timely, is the press these days missing other lawsuits on significant public issues as newsrooms shrink? Probably. Coverage of Dred Scott is not an inspiring example.

Bill Huntzicker, St. Cloud State University, “Race, a Slave, the Court, and the Looming War”

Dianne Bragg, University of Alabama, “Abolitionism, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the End of Compromise”

As the Abolitionist movement began to expand its influence throughout the country, American newspapers recorded how escalation of the anti-slavery argument, heightened by passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, resulted in tragic violence in Kansas. Newspaper articles indicate that the Kansas-Nebraska Act’s passage in 1854 fueled the expansion of antislavery politics more than almost any other antebellum event. Stephen Douglas’s backroom deals to help secure southern support for the Act quickly ignited northern opposition. The decision to allow the Kansas and Nebraska territories to determine their own position on slavery, under the veil of excluding federal oversight, proved to be a fateful one. While dismissing the Missouri Compromise, the Act Affirmed slaveowners’ rights to demand the return of fugitive slaves. Up until this point, the 1846 Wilmot Proviso debates, which would have prohibited slavery from expanding into any territories brought into the Union as a result of the Mexican War, held the distinction of being some of the most rancourous on slavery. The Proviso, though, had ultimately failed, while Douglas’s coalition had managed to turn the Kansas-Nebraska Act into a contentious law, one that deepened divisions and resulted in actual bloodsed. Incidents such as John Brown’s infamous involvement in Bleeding Kansas contributed to the nation’s fixation on the growing political crisis and newspaper coverage increased accordingly. In an examination of how the press reported these events to their readers, this paper references both northern and southern publications with a range of editorial perspectives. Increased support for abolitionism and the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act ignited the debate with a passion that would not abate. Americans were now forced to ponder the future of slavery and the Union.

Phillip A. Lingle, New Mexico State University, “Fanning the Flames: Extremist Rhetoric in the Antebellum Press, and the Road to Secession”

Two events are seen as being watershed moments in the decade before the Civil War; Preston Brooks caning of Charles Sumner in 1856 and John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. This paper will examine how the press, North and South, portrayed these events not as isolated aberrations, but as culminations of series of events. The Northern press portrayed the Brooks incident as part of a string of irrational acts, perpetrated by an inherently violent slave-owning South. They cited earlier incidents of violence, such as the beating of New York newspaperman, Horace Greeley, by Arkansas Congressman Albert Rust earlier that same year. At the same the Southern press portrayed Brown’s actions as part of a history of Northern Abolitionist attempts to incite servile insurrection. As evidence of a growing conspiracy to stir up slave unrest, they pointed at Abolitionist publications like the Liberator, as well as rumors of slave revolts believed to be inspired by the Presidential campaign of the Republican Party’s first candidate, John C. Fremont, in 1856. That these rumors proved to be false, seemed to matter little. The mere possibility of an Abolitionist-inspired servile insurrection triggered brutal suppression and retaliation. The Northern press saw further evidence of Southern violence in the retaliation meted out to quell any rumored slave revolt. The research materials include a variety of antebellum newspapers from both regions of the country, along with Congressional records and contemporary writing. This paper demonstrates that many antebellum editors increasingly crafted a narrative in which the most extreme elements of the opposition represented the majority of that region’s population. These exaggerations helped to fuel the fear that helped pave the road to secession.

David W. Bulla, Augusta University, “Garrison, Bailey, and Douglass: Pushing the Boundaries of Freedom’s Forum”

In the decade and a half before the American Civil War, three journalists took aim at what they considered to be the most serious problem facing the nation: namely, slavery. William Lloyd Garrison in The Liberator, Frederick Douglass in The North Star, Frederick Douglass’ Paper, and Douglass’ Monthly, and Gamaliel Bailey in The National Era made the case for ending slavery, even though it was permitted by the U.S. Constitution. Trying to coax the United States into eradicating slavery the way Mexico had in 1829 and Great Britain had in 1832, these three editors used their advocacy newspapers to persuade the nation to change its ways. Along the way, they ran into the wrath of not only the slaveholders in the South but also conservatives in the North. In the decades leading up to this period, abolitionist editors in the North had seen mob violence destroy their newspapers, and in one case take the life of Elijah P. Lovejoy of Alton, Illinois. Furthermore, legislators in Southern states attempted to enact laws that would make it illegal to criticize slavery. This research paper examines how all three editors—who did not necessarily see eye to eye on how to push toward slavery’s elimination—pushed the parameters of press freedom forward through their active participation in advocacy journalism at a time when the top legal authority—the United States Supreme Court—had yet to make any landmark decisions on the extent of such freedom. The abolitionist movement led the way in expanding the area of freedom in the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century, particularly freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and the right to petition. Both Garrison and Douglass were accomplished orators, and Bailey’s highly successful newspaper in Washington, D.C., consistently defended the right to petition and fought long-standing Congressional gag orders against petitions for abolition that made it illegal to even broach the subject on Capitol Hill. The following paper looks at the text of editorials the three men wrote in the late 1840s and 1850s, including how they defended their right to inveigh against slavery, as well as seeing how each responded to the Mexican War, Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the founding of the Republican Party, and John Brown’s Raid.

Scott Lambert, Millikin University, “Framing the Debate: How Newspapers Influenced the Lincoln/Douglas Debates”

The Lincoln/Douglas debates served as a salient moment in the lead in to the Civil War. The debates established Abraham Lincoln a viable candidate for the Republican Party in the 1860 Presidential Election and clarified the Republican’s platform. The debates have been thoroughly examined by scholars for decades but little has been written about how newspapers covered the debates. This paper examines how a partisan press framed the 1858 debates. It explains the role the local press played in turning the debates into a national issue and how the issues were constructed to fit into specific frames. Concentrating on the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Times, the two Springfield newspapers (The Springfield Register and the Springfield Journal) and local newspapers’ coverage of the debates, the research examines the differences in how newspapers framed the debates according to their political affiliation. This is important research because it fills an existing hole in scholarship in the Lincoln/Douglas debates. Using current theory to examine historical newspapers allows us a fresh look into the past. The qualitative examination is both important and relevant to the literature.

Simon Vodrey, Carleton University, “Fast but Flawed: The Relationship Between the Electric Telegraph & the Press in the American Civil War”

John Durham Peters (1999) maintains that there is a “dualism of ‘communication’— at once bridge and chasm” (p. 5). This line of reasoning could be applied to the electric telegraph and its usage by the press in both the USA and CSA during the American Civil War (1861-1865). The telegraph’s use in that context served as a bridge to the increased amount of up-to-date news found in newspapers as we know them today. However, in this context, the telegraph also functioned as a technological chasm given its two inherent problems (or disruptions) of accessibility and reliability.

While the telegraph has often been characterized as the “Victorian Internet,” such a characterization often misses the fact that the telegraph systems that were used throughout much of the nineteenth century and, more specifically, the systems that the press relied upon to relay news from the battlefields back to the printing offices during the calamitous Civil War, were fragile and anything but flawless.

With that in mind, analysis will be directed towards two ends: First, the problem of accessibility will be dissected by examining the way in which the press’ use of the telegraph to report the Civil War disrupted the content of the typical American newspaper by requiring newspapers to redefine what could be considered “up-to-date” news and also how that disruption was not evenly balanced between the Union and the Confederate press and their correspondents during the war. Second, the reliability — or lack thereof — of the telegraph system that the press was dependent upon during the Civil War will be examined.

L’Union: Union General Benjamin Butler and the Beginnings of the African American Press in the South”

The first African American newspaper in the South started with the fall of the Confederacy’s largest city: New Orleans. Union Major-General Benjamin Butler took command of the city and found many of its newspapers hard to subdue. But his mere presence and the presence of the Union Army gave power to New Orleans’ free people of color. Under perceived Union protection, a group of men of color began the twice-weekly L’Union to oppose slavery and insist on African American equal rights. New Orleans’ free people of color enjoyed financial security but could not vote nor be educated with whites and ride public streetcars. In its first months, L’Union was praised by the Northern press and was financially successful enough to expand to three times a week.

One of Butler’s problems was that he had to protect the Union troops, and he was aided by L’Union’s promoting volunteering for the Union Army by free men of color. Butler didn’t mention L’Union and its publishers in his diary, and he may not have realized that he was promoting a black press in the South. However, it’s more than a coincidence that the first African American newspaper in region started under his watch.

Joe Hayden, University of Memphis, “‘A Hearing in the Press’: Ida B. Wells’ Lecture Tour of 1893-1894

When anti-lynching crusader and civil rights pioneer Ida B. Wells went to Europe in 1893 and 1894, she was not just widening her campaign and expanding her audience. She was breathing life into the effort itself, using British publicity to force American journalists to pay attention. In the process, she articulated a theory of press criticism, one which underscored the importance of objectivity and accurate reporting, and advanced the cause of professionalization. Doing so tested the limits of both racial and gender roles in the public sphere, earning Wells a rare and risky notoriety.

Panel: "Presidents and the Press: Compromise, Symbols, Pulpits and Honeymoons"

Katrina Quinn, Slippery Rock University, “Franklin Pierce and the Failure of Compromise: The Press and Public Opinion, 1852–1854”

Stepping into the White House at a time of escalating sectional strife, Franklin Pierce had been selected as candidate for president on the 49th ballot of the 1852 Democratic National Convention. Genial and unpretentious, he was considered to be a compromise nominee who could appease the quickly diverging factions of the Democratic Party and potentially mitigate the nation’s simmering sectional discord.

Like Pierce’s candidacy, the Kansas-Nebraska Act he signed in 1854 was conceived as a compromise; and like Pierce, the act failed miserably, with the paradoxical effect of cementing sectional divisions and driving the country toward civil war.

Pursuing the notion of “failed compromise,” this research examines press coverage of Franklin Pierce and the Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854. It begins by establishing the edifice of “compromise” by assessing newspaper coverage of compromise-candidate Pierce and the 1852 election. The study then presents the largely hostile newspaper coverage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in both Northern and Southern newspapers, demonstrating that both regions found the act to be disadvantageous and the president to be disloyal.  The research also considers coverage of the president and the legislation in the Washington Daily Union, the administration organ, which throughout maintained a loyalty to the discourse of compromise.

Based on this coverage, this study concludes that far from providing grounds for compromise, the act instead prompted reification of sectional affiliations, launched a formal rhetorical retreat from presidential authority, and accelerated discourses of non-resolution, pushing the nation to the precipice of civil war.

Paulette D. Kilmer, University of Toledo, “The Goose, the Turkey, and the Cock: The Impact of Symbols on the 1852 Election”

Elections, like boxes of cigars or bags of apples, sell better with symbols, and people choose their candidates, much like brands, according to personal preferences. The election of 1852 featured the Democratic and Whig candidates, plus third party contenders from the Free Soil, Liberty, Union, and Southern Rights parties. The number of contenders reflects the schisms in the nation. We often study editorials, official documents, and historical incidents to understand the impact of political events. But the symbols associated with parties and their candidates shape public perceptions of the national government. This essay investigates political cartoons, campaign buttons, products, songs, ads, and other cultural artifacts. These building blocks of reputation dominate elections, like 1852, when character, rather than issues, matters most. 

Joseph Marren, SUNY Buffalo State, “The Pulpit and the Presidents: Rerum Novarum and the Cleveland and Harrison Administrations”

The presidential campaigns between Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison in the 1880s and 1890s were won or lost largely with the support of labor. But organized labor, especially the unskilled labor done by immigrants from parts of Europe that were mostly Catholic, was still seeking legitimacy. American priests, especially Cardinal James Gibbons, lent anything from lukewarm to vital support to the movements such as the Knights of Labor. It wasn’t until 1891, when Pope Leo XIII issued his encyclical Rerum Novarum (On Capital and Labor) that the Catholic Church gave its blessings to organized labor while also warning against socialism. This paper will look at the role newspapers played in the two administrations’ response to labor and to the impact of Rerum Novarum.

Jack Breslin, Iona College, “The Press and the Tyler and Fillmore Administrations: When Did the ‘Honeymoons’ End?”

In considering the relationship between presidents and the press, much consideration has been given to the initial “honeymoon” between an incoming president and the independent press in covering his new administration.    With some notable exceptions, the press usually reserves its criticism for several months until some issue, event or appointment ends the “honeymoon” period.

This initial “truce” is particularly noticeable when a vice president assumes the land’s highest office after the sudden passing – or resignation – of a president.  Often unprepared for assuming such responsibilities, some new chief executives expected the press to support them in the name of patriotic solidarity despite their shortcomings.

Both John Tyler and Millard Fillmore succeeded popular war heroes, namely William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor.   They also held office during the transition from the partisan press and the independent “Penny Press.”   This study examines the transitions of Tyler and Fillmore as reflected in press relations during of the early months of their respective administrations.    In comparing editorial coverage from both selected party newspapers, including official party organs, and the emerging independent press, this study offers insights into the press treatment of Tyler and Fillmore’s transition periods – sympathetic or critical - as their readers grieved for their fallen leaders.

Brian Gabrial, Concordia University, “Irrepressible Words: William Seward, the ‘Irrepressible Conflict’ Speech, and Harper’s Ferry”

Joseph Marren, SUNY Buffalo State, “‘Fire bell in the night’: The Missouri Compromise and its Impact on the Election of 1860

Potential new states meant new-ish problems for the new-ish United States in the antebellum years, especially so in 1819-20. Slavery was never really a “unique institution” since its very existence—and the racism it produced in general and in labor politics—made it a national concern. In 1819 there were 11 free states and 11 slave, which theoretically balanced power in the Senate. But Missouri’s petition to become the 23rd state (as a slave state) threatened the supposed equilibrium between free and slave states. In the political process to admit Missouri, and in the debate that followed, New York Representative James Tallmadge proposed that slavery be prohibited in Missouri. Yet others argued that Congress could not deny a new state the right to decide for itself whether or not to allow slavery because that would mean any new states would have fewer rights than the original 13.

In response to the divide, Henry Clay guided a compromise through Congress: Missouri would be admitted as a slave state and would be balanced by admitting Maine (broken off from Massachusetts) as a free state; and slavery was to be excluded from all new states carved out of the Louisiana Purchase north of the southern boundary of Missouri.

The arguments over the Missouri Compromise in 1819-20 resonated down the years. Future President Andrew Jackson wrote: “The Missouri question so called, has agitated the public mind, and what I sincerely regret and never expected, but what now I see, will be the entering wedge to separate the union.”

Some northerners saw the compromise as a Southern victory because Missouri was admitted to the Union as a slave state. Southerners saw it as a Northern victory, as the Richmond Enquirer editorialized: “Instead of joy, we scarcely ever recollect to have tasted a bitterer cup. We bow to it, though on no occasion with so poor a grace and so bitter a spirit.”

To former President Thomas Jefferson, the Missouri Compromise was a political trick by old enemies in the Federalist Party. In April 1820, he wrote: “This momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed, indeed, for the moment. But this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence.” 

As more states entered the Union there would be more debates and more compromises as positions hardened and people saw the devil in each other. Some historians said that the Compromise was Abraham Lincoln’s touchstone in his fight against the extension of slavery. Indeed, Lincoln’s personal views on slavery were measured against practical realities and in political debates he advocated that slavery be restricted to the Missouri Compromise boundaries.  Other historians later explained that many people believed such limitations would eventually lead to slavery’s extinction. But it would take a war to do that.

Joseph Marren, SUNY Buffalo State, “The Rail-splitter Splits the Nation: Newspapers and Lincoln’s Election in 1860”

“… but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment. But this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence.”
--Thomas Jefferson, in an April 22, 1820, letter to John Holmes on the Missouri Compromise and the question of slavery.

“I do not wish to be misunderstood upon this subject of slavery in this country. I suppose it may long exist, and perhaps the best way for it to come to an end peaceably is for it to exist for a length of time. But I say that the spread and strengthening and perpetuation of it is an entirely different proposition. There we should in every way resist it as a wrong, treating it as a wrong, with the fixed idea that it must and will come to an end.”
--Abraham Lincoln in a March 1, 1859, speech in Chicago

Many scholars in many different ways have said that Lincoln hated slavery on a personal level, but how he could govern a nation that was half slave and half free has been the topic of many more scholarly papers down the years. Covering the election of 1860 gives not only some knowledge of that tumultuous time, but also context to how we now believe the election shaped our nation’s history.

Jefferson, a slave owner, knew that slavery would divide the United States more than mighty rivers, vast plains and majestic mountains ever could. As the decades rolled on from Jefferson’s era to Lincoln’s, that became clearer as political and judicial solutions failed. Newspaper reportage showed it reached a boiling point in the choices in the 1860 presidential election.

But the United States was more than political parties, the people were a mix of native-born and immigrants, of true believers in their religions and skeptics. The religious press in the antebellum era was mostly centered in cities and focused on immigrant views (mostly Irish in the Northeast and German in what is today’s Midwest). Catholic bishops and priests did not speak with one voice on slavery because Catholics watched Protestant denominations divide into regional factions and American bishops wanted to avoid such a split. Those views also counted in the 1860 election.

Erika Thrubis, Wayne State University, The New York Evening Post’s Representation of Exchange Articles Between December 13 and December 31, 1860

In December of 1860, Americans were anxiously turning to newspapers to learn about the state of the Union and the press were turning to each other via their vast exchange network.  One of these papers was the New York Evening Post, a popular Unionist daily paper edited by pro-union Republican, John Bigelow.  The Evening Post generated a significant amount of content via its exchange network, about 38 percent of its secession-related articles originated from 55 papers throughout the Union.  An analysis was conducted of 117 secession-related exchange articles published in 13 editions of the New York Evening Post in the days surrounding South Carolina’s declaration of secession.  The purpose of this research paper is to start filling a knowledge-gap of the understudied newspaper exchange networks, specifically focusing on the New York Evening Post’s representation of Northern, Southern, Border-state, Washington, D.C., and international exchange articles between December 13 and December 31, 1860, using framing as a theoretical lens.  An inductive codebook was used to identify patterns, or codes, found in the exchanges published in the Evening Post.  These codes included: secession sentiment, name calling, violence, slavery, speculation, political talk and military movements and finally, commentary by the Evening Post.  The codes were further analyzed into multiple sub-codes: secession sentiment with nine sub-codes, name-calling with two, violence also with two, slavery with four, speculation with ten, talk of political and military movements with eleven, and commentary with seven.  Each code and sub-code is discussed in detail. 

Michael Fuhlhage, Wayne State University, Limey, Yankee, Rebel, Spy: British Correspondents’ Games of Deception in Secession Winter Charleston

Reporting in Charleston for a Republican-leaning Northern newspaper was risky work during the Secession Winter of 1860-61. Two correspondents, one who worked for both the Philadelphia Press and the New-York Tribune and the other who worked for the New York Evening Post, minimized the danger by virtue of their British citizenship and through a number of countermeasures that have come to be standard tactics of espionage. This paper examines how Thomas Butler Gunn evaded detection while Francis L. Buxton did not through examination of their work for the Northern press. Of particular interest is Gunn’s scathing critique of what he judged to be Gunn’s carelessness, inaccuracy, and misleading depiction of Confederate sentiment. Primary evidence includes their articles from the files of the Press, Tribune, and Evening Post, journalists’ manuscripts, the U.S. Army Provost Marshal Records on Scouts, Spies, Guides, and Detectives and the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.

James Ogden, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park & Moccasin Bend National Archeological District, Civil War Monuments