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

November 7-9, 2019


Thomas C. Terry, Utah State University, and Donald L. Shaw, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “History as Method: Southern Suppression of Agendas through Newspaper Coverage of Garrison, Douglass, Lincoln, Turner, The Liberator, and The North Star, 1830-1865”

Newspapers may not predict the future, but they have great power to set and build agendas. This study looks at the diffusion of agendas and the agenda setting authority of northern and southern newspapers before the Civil War through their coverage of Nat Turner, Abraham Lincoln, William Lloyd Garrison, The Liberator, Frederick Douglass, and The North Star. It charts the dispersal of their influence – and lack of diffusion – through the spread of references to them in newspapers across the country. The connection between media issues and public awareness is strong and deeply researched. The most significant and inescapable conclusion that arises from an examination of the results of this study is that there was widespread and intentional suppression of coverage by editors in the South of the individuals and newspapers examined. The Mason-Dixon Line was an almost impenetrable Dixie barrier. Post-1830, not only were newspapers largely barren of anything approaching debate on slavery, the mails and trains were scourged of materials that presented opposing views. Southern editors were employing their agenda setting power to create – or so the data strongly suggests – a unified and cohesive agenda that brooked no contradictions or interruptions by alternative viewpoints about slavery.


Michael Fuhlhage, Wayne State University, “Yankee Reporters and Southern Secrets: The Legibility of Secessionism in the American Press, 1860-61”

Histories of communication and journalism in the American Civil War commonly begin with the Confederate assault on Fort Sumter in April 1861 and focus on news routines and products. Much less often do they focus on the way readers used and acted on news. Agitation to build the movement was an open secret throughout the South and apparent to anyone who read a newspaper for months leading up to the presidential election of 1860. Michael Fuhlhage’s new book Yankee Reporters and Southern Secrets shows how Southern newspapers spread disunionist sentiment, chronicled the formation of militias, and carried signs of secessionism’s spread from a fringe ideology into a popular movement. Accordingly, this project shows that in a time before the existence of federal intelligence agencies, Unionists relied on news reports to detect secessionist treachery and guide their response to it. Northern reporters and editors provided an intelligence subsidy to Unionist officials who used journalist-gathered information to contain the damage caused by traitors in the government and Southerners who aimed to create their own slavery-based nation. Just as John Torpey argued that passports made people legible to the state, newspapers enabled the Federal government to see social movements—in this case, secessionism—and counter risks via a distributed, ad hoc surveillance network. This study contributes to understanding of the early history of open-source intelligence and private subsidies of government surveillance projects that have upended notions of privacy that include the mass signal intelligence projects revealed by Edward Snowden during the War on Terror.


Richard Junger, Western Michigan University, “‘I Shall Go Crazy my brains are in a fever the world looks hard’: Moral Insanity and the Civil War Press, with Special Attention Paid to the Case of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman”

Mental illness has been a social and medical problem since before the dawn of recorded history, but the American Civil War presented unusual challenges in recognizing and treating the disease, including in the mass news media. Categorized as "moral insanity" by doctors of the day, mental illness among soldiers created or intensified by the war added to the more common cases among the general population and taxed existing systems, especially asylums. There are a few references to mental illness in the writings of the soldiers themselves, most not reported in the newspapers. However, civilian mental illness was more commonly reported but without names due to Victorian sensibilities and a fear of libel. Perhaps the most notable exceptions in the newspaper, after politicians, were Union generals. While some were called "crazy," the newspaper's preferred word for moral insanity, no general appears to have been attacked more than Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman. In late 1861, Sherman predicted disaster for the Union due to a massive portending Confederate attack on the critical border state of Kentucky, a battle that never materialized. After his invectives were widely published in the press, he was transferred and given a 20-day leave by the army. He found protection in early 1862 serving under Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, but allegations continued in the press throughout the war. They resurfaced more seriously at the time of the capture of Atlanta in September 1864 and culminated with Robert E. Lee's surrender in early April 1865. At that time an apocryphal about the combined shortcomings of Sherman and Grant began appearing in the press and popular culture involving Sherman's insanity and Grant's alcoholism. While the anecdote itself was most likely fabricated, it revealed that perhaps the press' only fallback position on reporting about insanity among prominent people was to make a joke about it.


James E. Mueller, University of North Texas, “General Rutherford B. Hayes and the Civil War Press: Learning to Fight for Recognition”

Rutherford B. Hayes, according to biographer Ari Hoogenboom, used the bully pulpit in his presidency long before Theodore Roosevelt coined the term. Hayes took office after the disputed 1876 election that was only resolved through a special Congressional commission. The vote was close that no one will ever know for sure who really won. Upon taking office, Hayes faced a Democratic House, and his own party was split and offered him little support in the Senate.  Aware of his weak position, Hayes used the press to rally the public to his agenda and to bypass obstructionist party bosses and politicians.

Before the Civil War, Hayes had served as city attorney for Cincinnati, so he was used to dealing with the local press. But his service in the Northern army, where he eventually reached the rank of brigadier general, gave him experience with the national press. Hayes closely followed the coverage of his regiment and the impact of the press on military policy. He was a news source himself on occasion and worked to make sure his unit got credit for its accomplishments. 

This paper will analyze coverage of Hayes in the Civil War press and his comments about the press in his letters and diary. The paper will try to shed light on how the future president’s experience with the national press influenced his postwar political career.


Michael L. Feely, Independent Scholar, “Battling the Ku Klux Klan: Newspaper Editor J.B. Carpenter and the Rutherford (N.C.) Star 1866-1875”

Jonathan Beatty “Bate” Carpenter (1836-1926) was an opinionated, flamboyant and colorful resident of Rutherford County in western North Carolina.  A native of the county, he served in the Confederate army, worked as a journalist and newspaper editor, and was a member of the North Carolina General Assembly. After a fiery career in Reconstruction politics, Carpenter became a Methodist minister in 1875.  His life intersected with persons such as U.S General Daniel Sickles, and Ku Klux Klan leader Plato Durham (who the writer Thomas Dixon of neighboring Cleveland County, NC used as the prototype for his book "The Klansman" which became the basis of the movie "The Birth of a Nation").  

This paper concentrates on the period of time from 1866-1875, when Carpenter was the part-owner and editor of several newspapers in Rutherfordton, most notably the “Rutherford Star”. In the midst of the post-war politics of western North Carolina, the Star and its editor took a decisive pro-Reconstruction stand. The newspaper(and Carpenter’s biting editorials) were bitterly opposed by the former Confederates and the newly-formed Ku Klux Klan in both North Carolina and neighboring upstate South Carolina. The Klan and their allies attacked both Carpenter and the newspaper, and destroyed the Star offices in 1871.  Carpenter’s subsequent testimony of Klan abuses before a U.S. Congressional investigation helped bring in Federal troops to Rutherford County and neighboring areas by Federal forces in 1872.  

The Star and J.B. Carpenter played an important and controversial role in shaping the Reconstruction era in western North Carolina.


Jack Breslin, Iona College, “American Press Coverage of Sociologist Herbert Spencer During His 1882 Visit to America”

Herbert Spencer, the English philosopher and social scientist of evolution, enjoyed remarkable popularity in post-bellum America.  This paper describes the newspaper coverage of Spencer’s 1882 visit to America in an attempt to discern what views of Spencer’s were conveyed to readers which shaped how they perceived him. Through content analysis of relevant news stories, feature stories, dispatches and editorials in nine selected major newspapers, this study of press coverage of Spencer’s visit offers an insight into this country’s acceptance or rejection of his intellectual contribution.


Lee Jolliffe, Drake University, “Abolitionist Letters from the Missouri Penitentiary: Driven to Wield Freedom of Expression Though Deprived of Paper and Pen”

Reverend George Thompson's crime was this: fishing from a skiff on the Mississippi River, with the intention of ferrying fugitive slaves to Quincy, Illinois. Instead of being joined by the runaway slaves he expected, Thompson found himself at the wrong end of a pair of shotguns, and soon, he and two collaborating friends were sentenced to 12-year stints in the Missouri Penitentiary at Jefferson City.

Here begins a saga of years of hard labor, but also courage in his convictions. Rev. Thompson managed to convert many prisoners, convince his jailers to allow trades to be taught and practiced, and keep a detailed journal, which, lacking paper, he wrote on his bed-boards. With jailers burning every scrap of paper except his Bible (which he relied on for spiritual sustenance), Thompson nonetheless wrote regular letters from prison that were published in religious and abolitionist newspapers across the North. He even "gave" a speech to a New England anti-slavery meeting. How? Ingenuity and a drive for freedom of expression. He wrote on playing cards, which he dropped into visitor's top hats, among other strategies.

This article revisits Rev. Thompson's life as an imprisoned abolitionist, examining his jail-house articles and public response, and his post-prison book-length works.


Scott Stephan, Ball State University, “Building Secession’s Vocabulary along the Border: The Role of the Methodist Press in Polarizing the Slavery Debate, 1844-1861”

In 1844, when the Methodist Church split into northern and southern wings, church leaders agreed to a peaceful split, with an equitable distribution of funds from the denomination’s lucrative publishing endeavors. But the devil was in the details. This paper explores those details from the perspective of John McFerrin, the editor of the major Methodist newspaper in Nashville, Tennessee, in his conflict with Charles Elliott, the editor of the Methodist newspaper in Cincinnati, Ohio. What had begun as a clash of prominent clergymen in the pages of their papers quickly spilled out along the border to include locales from western Virginia to western Missouri as congregations voted on whether they wished to align with the northern or southern wing of the denomination. As the stakes rose, so too did their rhetoric. Charges isolated to incivility or inaccuracy between the two editors expanded to include broad brush allegations of rigged elections, broken promises, and competing claims to Methodist ideals and history. McFerrin, who had celebrated the unique ways in which his religious newspaper’s timely coverage of engaging topics held out the best hope to spread the gospel among secular southerners in the 1840s, came to use the Methodist press to defend all corners of the South against any encroachment from northerners by the late 1850s. Caught in the middle, many in the border South who had hoped to follow the “doctrine of spirituality,” which aimed to separate politics from religion, found little room left for compromise. More than recounting the reconstruction of pro-slavery apologetics, this piece shows how John McFerrin weaponized his weekly newspaper to target the hearts, minds, and pocketbooks of white southerners.


Kevin McPartland, University of Cincinnati, “The Birthing of a Nation: The Southern Press, Slavery, and Nationalism in the Secession Crisis”

This paper explores Southern editors’ reconceptualization of Southern identity and the beginnings of Confederate nationalism during the Secession Crisis. From November 1860 to April 1861, secessionist and unionist editors frequently fell back on strikingly similar arguments when they took to their columns to advance their cause. These arguments were based on a shared understanding of the South that placed slavery and its the protection at the center of Southern interests and Southern identity. Far from being divided between sectionalists and nationalists, both sides sought to preserve the institution at the expense of the Union, and both unionists and secessionists structured their arguments around protecting the institution. Unionists believed that the institution was safe inside the Union, defended by the Constitution, and that the legacy of the Founding Fathers deserved to be preserved, not destroyed. Secessionists believed the slavery could only be defended outside the Union, and that they could better honor the Constitution and the Founders by recreating a slaveholder’s republic. While these groups clearly saw their place in the Union as fundamentally different, their commitment to slavery was the same. Yet after secession, disunionist editors began to refashion Southern identity from being based on a commitment to slavery to commitment to the Confederacy. Unionists could only regain their Southern identity by seceding and supporting the Confederacy, which most did after Fort Sumter. Despite the bitter debates of the crisis, editors on both sides of the issue found unity because they shared a belief in a Southern identity and a Southern slaveholder’s nation. These editors transformed an antebellum ideology into a wartime reality, and Confederate nationalism built upon the foundation they laid.


James Scythes, West Chester University, “The First Martyr of the Confederacy: Newspaper Coverage of the Death of James W. Jackson and the Creation of the Confederacy’s First Hero”


Crompton B. Burton, University of Maine, “‘Third Manassas’: The Court-Martial of Fitz John Porter and the Press”

With the exception of Gettysburg, no other battle of the American Civil War has invited as much analysis and contemporary interest as Second Bull Run. Historians have long recognized the campaign for establishing the reputation of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and wrecking the careers of Union commanders John Pope and Fitz John Porter.

 Modern commentators have likewise seized upon the story of twice hallowed ground while most recently land developers and preservationists have engaged in what New York Times essayist William Safire once called “Third Manassas,” a series of skirmishes over malls and theme park projects threatening to obliterate the battlefield memorial. Alas, Safire and his fellow journalists have miscounted. “Third Manassas” did not suddenly spring from Washington’s urban sprawl, but opened instead as Pope’s ill-fated Army of Virginia fled the field igniting rounds of  “jealous backbiting” and political posturing destined to continue for more than three decades

Charges of incompetence and cowardice produced a court-martial biographers describe as the “trial of the century” known to “practically every American who could read a newspaper” by the year 1878. The purpose of this study is to neither vindicate Pope nor exonerate Porter, but rather look through the sights of “the conflict’s chief weapon,” the printing press, in search of a dimension in the Pope-Porter feud establishing the controversy’s appropriate place in the study of journalism history in nineteenth-century America. There is much to gain from a closer examination of the methods by which the two disgraced officers and their loyal camps of allies relentlessly swapped allegations and accusations while re-visiting lost dynamics of the American press that fueled such personal, yet public disputes.

By resisting the temptation to re-try the Porter court-martial in favor of inspecting the instruments of its delivery to readers over decades and across generations, there emerges a case study worthy of such journalism historians as Hazel Dicken- Garcia and Ted Curtis Smythe. Their comprehensive treatments of the partisan press, sensationalism and celebrity find renewed resonance in re-visiting Pope’s and Porter’s obsessive extension of a news cycle they originally intended to provide some measure of relief but ultimately resulted in the prolonging of their public torment.


Kate Birkbeck, Yale University, “‘All Decent Girls view you with Scorn’: comic valentines and wartime discipline”


Menahem Blondheim, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, “The Jewish Messenger’s Hebrew Lincoln Acrostic: Who Wrote it, When, and Why?”

 Good Friday 1865, “the day of the prodigy and crime” according to Melville’s The Martyr, signaled a deluge of texts that were “indicative of the Passion of the People.” One of them, published on May 25 in the Jewish Messenger, a New York weekly newspaper, was unique in both its language and its form. Its language was Hebrew and its form was the acrostic, a staple of Jewish poetry inspired by Islamic literature of the middle ages. It is apparently the single contemporary Hebrew literary production alluding to Lincoln’s assassination that survived.

In this paper we will try to make sense of this highly complex text, figure out its surprisingly murky origins, and point out its significance as an expression of Jewish-American sensibilities and as newspaper material in the aftermath of the tragic historical event. Beyond that, we will also touch on changing meanings of ethnicity in mid-19th century America.

The ambiguity as to the authorship of the acrostic, notwithstanding the byline “Isaac Goldstein” in the Jewish Messenger, is due to the existence of the manuscript of the acrostic in the hand of a prominent Jewish scholar, leader, and acrostic Hebrew poet of the times: Sabato Morais (1823-1897). The article nevertheless establishes Goldstein as the author, in part on the basis of the acrostic’s strong anti-slavery and unionist stance that doesn’t square with the political positions of Morais, who was a Peace-Democrat. It also dates the writing of the acrostic prior to the assassination, though after the emancipation proclamation. Finally, the article points out the significance of the language and form of the acrostic to the sensibilities of mid-19th Century Jewish Americans.


David H. Weaver, Indiana University, and Donald L. Shaw, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “U.S. Newspaper Content from 1820 to 1860: A Mirror of the Times?”

Journalism historians Frank Luther Mott and Edwin Emery suggest that the West, from the early 1800s until the outbreak of the Civil War, became politically and economically closer to the North than to the South, and the South became politically and economically more distant from the North.

Did newspaper content during this period reflect these political and economic trends?

Data collected on the content of American newspapers from various sections of the country during the 1820 to 1860 period by Professor Donald Shaw of the School of Journalism at the University of North Carolina were analyzed for each of six regions of the country (Lower South, Upper South, Border States, Middle States, New England, and the West) during three separate time periods:  (1) 1820 to 1835, (2) 1836 to 1846, and (3) 1847 to 1860.

The overall results lend some support to the hypothesis that newspaper content in the American South, West, and North reflected the growing similarity of the West and the North during the 1920 to 1860 time period.  Perhaps more striking, though, is the overall similarity of news emphasis between newspapers of various regions of the country, even before the invention of the telegraph and the use of syndicated news services.

Also interesting is the apparent downplaying of high conflict news concerning slavery and abolition, sectional differences, and territories and expansion.  Perhaps newspapers in the 40 years preceding the Civil War did more (intentionally or unintentionally) to promote cooperation rather than conflict through the de-emphasis of such news.


Katrina J. Quinn, Slippery Rock University, “‘We Believers (?) in Groundhog Day’: Irreverent Coverage in the Nineteenth Century Press of a Great American Ritual”

This research examines the Western press as it reported the end of the Civil War and the death of Lincoln. It seeks to determine how the press constituted part of a rhetorical community of journalists and readership—a “community of journalism,” in the words of Debra Reddin van Tuyll. The research shows that despite an abrupt discursive shift from a rhetoric of victory after Appomattox to a rhetoric of requiem following the death of Lincoln, both phases of reporting and editorializing were characterized by similar qualities: an editorial paradigm that sprung from and reflected local histories, alliances and threats; a localized, even intimate engagement with national events; and an immediate interpretation of those events, particularly Lincoln’s death, as epochal. The research also shows that, unlike pro-Union newspapers, the Texas press published ambiguous and contradictory content in the early days after Appomattox and on the topic of Lincoln’s death. But once defeat was acknowledged at the end of May, editorial rhetoric was characterized by a hasty reversal—from staunch resistance to reconciliation.


William E. Huntzicker, Minneapolis, MN, “Newspapers Debate Manifest Destiny”

John L. O’Sullivan’s now classic 1845 essay delineating Manifest Destiny (the God-given right of the United States to overrun the entire North American continent) gave a succinct voice to an ideology that had already underwritten American expansion for generations. Coming in the midst of an ongoing dispute with Great Britain over the Oregon border and on the eve of war with Mexico, the phrase resonated with newspaper editors favoring expansion. Although O’Sullivan boosted his argument with references to advancing technology, especially the telegraph, he did not even mention Native Americans who became the major victims of Manifest Destiny. Not everyone was enthused about the Mexican war or the outright theft of Indian land. Congressional leaders cut off debate on the war resolution because of Whig opposition, and a few papers took strong exception to the war. In “THE LUST OF DOMINION,” a full-page essay in 1846, the Daily National Intelligencerwarned that the theory would “appease national hate” and establish “the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon over the Hispano-Mexican race,” a purpose “repugnant to every just notion of national right and duty; to every idea of religious and political toleration, of civil liberty, and of humanity itself.” Philosopher Henry David Thoreau spent a night in jail for refusing to pay a toll tax that supported slavery and the war, stimulating his essay on civil disobedience.


Carl J. Guarneri, Saint Mary’s College of California, “A ‘Printing House Divided’: Charles Dana, Horace Greeley, and the New York Tribune on Secession and Civil War”

Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune has long been recognized as a potent force in shaping northern public opinion during the sectional crisis and the Civil War. Much less recognized, however, is the fact that the paper’s editorials sometimes offered conflicting analyses and exhortations, reflecting an internal struggle between Greeley’s views and those of his increasingly powerful and independent managing editor, Charles Dana. Drawing upon research from my forthcoming book, Lincoln’s Informer: Charles A. Dana and the Inside Story of the Union War (University Press of Kansas, 2019), this paper examines three key junctures at which Dana’s militant Unionism clashed with Greeley’s pacifist tendencies and his concern for the paper’s finances: the Tribune’s response to the slave South’s secession, its role in the lead-up to the Battle of Bull Run, and its attitude toward Union commander George McClellan. In the first two episodes, Dana eventually moved his boss Greeley toward agreement, or at least acquiescence. The third point of conflict, however, led to Dana’s dismissal from the paper in April 1862. The impact on Greeley was equally momentous, for without the more militant hand and steadier nerves of Dana to steer the Tribune, Greeley’s subsequent editorials vacillated between bellicose exhortations and fretful peace overtures in a way that fatally compromised the Tribune’s influence in Republican Party circles and the Lincoln administration.


Joe Mathewson, Medill School, Northwestern University, “The People, the Press and the Court: How Newspaper Coverage of the Civil Rights Cases of 1883 and Its Aftermath Confirmed for Nearly a Century the Country’s Abnegation of Civil War Loss”

Why did Abraham Lincoln’s humane view of Reconstruction dissolve? It was largely due to his successor, Andrew Johnson, but the Supreme Court and the press also played significant roles. The Court’s 1883 ruling in the Civil Rights Cases was especially critical. It was the Court’s most important ruling on civil rights in the last half of the nineteenth century, broader, at least initially, than the Court’s later “separate-but-equal” holding in Plessy v. Ferguson. Congress had declared in 1875 that hotels, restaurants, railroads and other public transports, and public amusements such as theaters could not discriminate on the basis of race. But the Supreme Court ruled the act unconstitutional. Newspapers North and South published extensive coverage of the historic ruling, but with pervasive acquiescence, thus confirming and extending widespread pub- lic indifference to the apparent result of the bloody Civil War. Subsequently, the press, which needed no Supreme Court case to report the pervasive continuation of racial inequity and dis- crimination, turned away from these uncomfortable aspects of American life. Newspaper stories on racial matters virtually ceased, well into the twentieth century. The press forfeited its opportu- nity to lead. It took the nation nearly nine decades to resurrect the non-discriminatory access to public accommodations promised in 1875 but denied by an historic Supreme Court ruling tacitly accepted by the press.


Jennifer E. Moore, University of Minnesota Duluth, “Reporting from Sea: Captain Nichols and the Ocean Chronicle

A late nineteenth-century ship captain, described by one historian as “part Garrison Keillor, part Will Rogers and part Benjamin Franklin,” produced what is claimed to be the only newspaper published at sea. Between 1878-1891, Captain Edward P. Nichols periodically wrote and printed a newspaper while commanding cargo ships that traveled around the world. Nichols claimed to write merely for his own entertainment and for a small audience of family and friends. But the contents of his newspaper suggests otherwise. Using James Carey's ritual view of communication as a theoretical lens, this research examines Nichol's newspaper as an early example of citizen journalism in the United States. Nichol's writings offers a unique window into the post-Civil War shipping industry -- an industry that experienced significant changes due in part to technology shifts and competition from newer forms of transportation.


Paulette D. Kilmer, University of Toledo, “News as Mythic Struggle Against Evil—Joshua Slocum’s Search for Fair Winds”

Sometimes adventurers and storytellers used newspapers or magazines and other pop culture venues, like magic-lantern shows to build their public image, which helped them sell narratives to the press, give lectures to civic groups, and trade curious for cash or goods. Joshua Slocum, the first man to circumnavigate the globe, felt called to sail in windjammers, and so when the Merchant Marine switched to steamships, he relied on his imagination, voracious reading, outgoing personality, and Yankee ingenuity to overcome the obstacles technology had created for him to live his dream. In the process, Slocum succeeded partly by reminding readers of cherished communal values and reviving in secular arenas sacred myths that humans always seek to make a reality through the choices they make and the actions they take.


Panel: “The Civil War Era Press in the West and Mid-West”


Debra Reddin van Tuyll, Augusta University, “A Statistical Analysis of the Whos and Wheres of the Mid-western and Western News Industry”

The Civil War-era is one of the most studied in American history. In the last twenty years, even the journalism of that period has come under scholarly scrutiny. However, most of those studies have focused on the military aspects of the war (coverage of different battles, relations between the press and particular commanders, etc.) or regional studies that have been limited to the North and the South. The mid-western and western press has been neglected, or relegated to a paragraph that mentions journalism in the Trans-Mississippi and mid-west (outside of the dominant cities such as Chicago and Cincinnati) was secondary to that of the east.

This research aims to correct the oversight of two regional presses that, like that of the North and South, served its readers and advertisers as well as it could given its distance from the centers of war, telegraph and rail lines, and other, more local concerns such as the western Indian wars. In particular, this research has produced a census of newspapers published in western and mid-western states. The area covered spans roughly from Indiana to California. Missouri is excluded due to its excessively conflicted status. Texas is included, for though it was technically a Confederate state, public opinion there was much less polarized, except for a few spots primarily on or near the Gulf Coast.

The findings include an evaluation of the number of newspapers at the beginning of the war and their rate of attrition through the conflict as well as a full demographic analysis of the proprietors listed on mastheads or otherwise identified as editors and publishers. Understanding who was producing the news aids in interpreting why news was presented in a particular manner. This work finds there were far more newspapers in the West, especially, than anticipated, and that editors and proprietors tended to be young, essentially middle-class, and likely to self-identify as either printers or editors. Fewer professional men (doctors and lawyers) seem to have been attracted to working in journalism in the West and Mid-west than in other parts of America, and most were middle-aged or younger.


Mary M. Cronin, New Mexico State University, “Acts of Disloyalty: Legal and Extralegal Restrictions on the Civil War-era Western Press”

Although most western editors were physically distant from the Civil War’s upheaval, strongly-held partisan viewpoints about secession, war, and government policies roiled western communities. In Union-held states and territories, political and military authorities, as well as civilians, were willing to use vaguely-defined charges of treason as a “reflex response” against individuals whose speech or actions failed to demonstrate loyalty to President Abraham Lincoln. Texans uttered similar charges against anyone unwilling to support the Confederacy and its economic institution of slavery. In such a highly-charged partisan atmosphere, citizens and editors across the West frequently called for the suppression and arrest of outspoken critics. Publishers and editors who were perceived as disloyal often faced a variety of punitive consequences for voicing their views, including arrest, suspension of their publications, confiscation of their printing equipment, or prohibitions against using the postal system to distribute their newspapers. Ultimately, more than three dozen editors and publishers discovered that voicing dissenting opinion during wartime had outsized consequences.

Western civilian and military officials, like their eastern counterparts, silenced dissenting viewpoints with little thought toward due process of law. And extra-legal violence (or threats of violence) by mobs suppressed speech and often forced editors to take flight when their offices were ransacked and their printing presses were destroyed. In a region where partisan journals were the norm, some publishers made the pragmatic decision to close their editorial operations, rather than face potential mob anger. Other editors continued to publish but moderated their tone or flipped their political allegiance to avoid an emotional public’s wrath. Not surprisingly, much of the legal and extra-legal press suppression took place in western states where divisive views led to pre-war violence (i.e., Kansas), or in states where substantial pockets of pro-Union or pro-secessionist supporters resided (i.e., Texas, California, and Oregon). 

The outbreak of civil war, therefore, resulted in a parallel battle for civil liberties across the nation, including in the far western states and territories. This struggle tested the boundaries of tolerance by the press, the public, the government, and the military to allow dissenting opinion during a period of national crisis.


David W. Bulla, Augusta University, “Loyalty and Disloyalty: Press Freedom and the Regulation of Dissent in the Midwest Press”

Copperhead editors and Southern sympathizers, on one side, and autocratic generals and mobs (sometimes soldiers, sometimes politically motivated civilians), on the other side, all played their roles in a war over press freedom in the Midwestern states during the American Civil War. Journalists, especially those who supported the peace wing of the Democratic Party, pushed the envelope of what was acceptable to publish—troop locations, rumors about strategy, criticism of both civilian and military leaders, and words that discouraged enlistments and, later in the war, words that encouraged draft evasion, as well as complaints about a loss of civil liberties—in their newspapers and magazines. U. S. military officials were inconsistent about their application of censorship rules and regulations, and President Abraham Lincoln stayed above the fray. The modes of suppression included banning publications from being circulated in the mail; mob violence against newspaper offices; banning of reporters from various military installations or sites of operations, especially at the front; the closing of newspaper offices and suspension of publication; the jailing of journalists; conspiracies to limit advertising, and the intimidation of the press through threats of violence or threats of closing down operations. The following panel presentation/research paper will look at a series of censorious events, along with the relevant news media policies, that affected wartime journalists, including incidents in the following states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. It will examine how the censors operated and how the journalists responded.


Katrina J. Quinn, Slippery Rock University, “The Western Press Reports the End of the War and the Death of Lincoln”  

This research examines the Western press and its reaction to the end of the Civil War, the death of Lincoln, and a return to normalcy to determine how it embodied a rhetorical community of journalists and readership—a “community of journalism,” in the words of Debra Reddin van Tuyll. It considers Western states and territories loyal to the Union, as well as Texas, the sole Confederate state in the sample.

The research shows that despite a dramatic discursive shift from a rhetoric of victory after Appomattox to a rhetoric of requiem following the death of Lincoln, both phases of reporting and editorializing were characterized by similar qualities: an editorial paradigm that sprung from and reflected local histories, alliances and threats; a localized, even intimate engagement with national events; and an immediate interpretation of those events, particularly Lincoln’s death, as epochal. The research also shows that, unlike pro-Union newspapers, the Texas press published ambiguous and contradictory content in the early days after Appomattox and on the topic of Lincoln’s death. But once defeat was acknowledged at the end of April, editorial rhetoric was characterized by a dramatic reversal—from staunch resistance to reconciliation.


Melita M. Garza, Texas Christian University, “How Shall the History of the Recent War be Written?”

State Journal editors in Madison, Wisconsin, posed this plaintive and pointed question in a headline two years after gunfire on the Civil War battlefield ceased. The newspaper was taking aim at a new book, “A Youth’s History of the Great Civil War of the United States, From 1861 to 1865.” The Journal called it “an elaborate defense of the Southern rebellion in the form of a history…written from the stand-point of the Milwaukee News, who hold that secession is a constitutional right of States.” Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox failed to silence the conflict that had played out on midwestern news pages during the war. Editors in the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, and most of Missouri operated presses above the Mason-Dixon Line, but opinions about how to reintegrate the South or integrate former slaves remained fiercely diverse. In rarer cases, newspapers mused about whether northerners would be accepted in the South, with the Janesville Gazette opining that “a man who said he was from Massachusetts would be shot in Texas.” Encompassing the time period from 1865 through 1868, this study examines the Midwest’s mediated struggle to define who might be called American. As such, it is an exploration of the way conflicting news narratives reveal differing conceptions of nation in a region that was arguably the most pivotal to its preservation. The Upper Midwest, in particular, produced the bulk of the food and raw materials, including lead and leather, that powered the Union Army. In short, while no Northern state could find consensus on its news pages before or after the war, the raging debates in the Midwest press are worthy of study for that region’s singular contribution to the cause.


William E. Huntzicker, Minneapolis, MN, “Editors Take Their Battles West”

Calling himself a Confederate bushwacker, Samuel L. Clemens deserted his, possibly fictional, Union militia unit in rebel Missouri and headed west to avoid fighting in the Civil War and to work for his brother in the administration of Nevada Territory. Before the war was over, he was writing for the Territorial Enterprise with the name Mark Twain. Legh Freeman went west as a Union prisoner whose telegraphic skills would have helped the cause had not the war ended about the time he arrived. He founded newspapers just ahead of the Union Pacific railroad as it moved west. Both Twain and Freeman created personas as storytelling devices in their columns. Going to the mountains for his health, Thomas Dimsdale founded the Montana Post and published the first book in the territory defending the vigilantes of which he was probably a member. Editors went west for a variety of reasons, and they fought over vigilantism, Indian wars and the Civil War but nearly all of them boosted their towns on which they depended for subscribers and advertisers.


Michael Fuhlhage, Wayne State University, “Politics, Partisanship, and the Press in the Midwest”

The partisan model of the press was uniquely fitted economically to the smaller populations of the Midwestern states. Their lower circulations and revenues kept them from fielding enterprise reporters during the secession crisis the way that the dailies of New York, Philadelphia, and Boston that enjoyed economies of scale. But they were important conveners of political debate within their communities and acted as regional hubs for information in a growing Northern communication network. By tracking the national debate with facts and opinion provided by the postal exchange system, Unionist newspaper in the Midwest enabled informed discussion within their own communities and provided indications of popular sentiment to their political leaders. Copperhead papers played a similar role for their partisan readers. And when the Civil War finally came, several Midwestern papers distinguished themselves with their reports from the field.


David B. Sachsman, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, “The 19th Century Press and American Popular Culture”

The American newspaper was central to local, state, and national political and economic life throughout the 19th century.  From the beginning of the century until after the Civil War, newspapers were largely partisan and divided North and South, presenting two essentially different views of the future of America, one protective of Southern social and economic values and the other seeking Northern political dominance by changing the balance between slave states and free. Newspapers often covered politics and elections in sensationalistic and even scandalous terms, setting the agenda for the sharp political divisions that would lead to Civil War and continue on to the present day. In addition to their partisan nature, 19th century newspapers told the story of America, entertaining and informing the public. As the nation became increasingly urban and industrial, big city newspapers began developing large audiences by amusing the masses, crusading for the public, and raking the political and social muck in the most sensational ways possible. Throughout the century newspapers defined and illustrated all elements of American society. The 19th century American press was the essential communicator of American popular culture.


Patricia G. McNeely, Columbia, SC, “Andrew Jackson and John C. Calhoun: Press Attacks in the Election of 1828 and the Petticoat Affair”

The election of 1828 was the most vicious in American history. Vitriol from the campaigns of both President John Quincy Adams and General and Senator Andrew Jackson flooded newspapers with attacks that labeled Adams a “pimp for the Russian Czar” and Jackson a “murderer, an adulterer, a traitor, an ignoramus, a fool, a crook-back and a pretender.” Editors created special editions called the Coffin Bills that were filled with “dirt slinging,” (later known as “mudslinging”), and included accusations that Jackson was a cannibal who slept with corpses.

Newspapers also attacked Rachel Jackson, who thought she was divorced from her first husband when she married Jackson but was later convicted by a jury of living in adultery with him. She was deeply saddened by the unrelenting editorial attacks on her character, and when she died of a heart attack soon after Jackson was elected, he blamed the newspapers for her death.

Still grieving over the loss of his beloved wife when he took office, he was quick to take up the cause of his friend, the beautiful and vivacious Margaret “Peggy” O’Neil Timberlake, who had on January 1, 1829, married his best friend, Senator and newly appointed Secretary of War John Eaton.

Because of rumors about her dubious reputation, the ladies of Washington refused to socialize with Peggy, even ignoring Jackson’s pleas and direct orders to make social calls and to invite her to parties. Enraged by their rejection and believing in Peggy’s innocence, Jackson called a Cabinet meeting to officially discuss and defend her character and virtue and to order them to include her in their social lives.

When they still refused after a year and a half of pleading and threatening, Jackson stunned the nation in 1831 when he turned with a vengeance on everyone who had ostracized his beautiful friend and dissolved his official cabinet. Newspapers labeled the debacle the “Petticoat Affair,” and turned Peggy Eaton into a national celebrity through the early part of the 20th century. A movie called “The Gorgeous Hussy,” starring Joan Crawford as Peggy, was released in 1931 and became Crawford’s highest grossing movie.

Since Vice President John C. Calhoun’s wife had been one of the ringleaders in Peggy’s social rebuff, Jackson angrily rejected his South Carolina ally who had been widely regarded as heir apparent to the presidency.

Having lost his political power and chance to be president, Calhoun resigned as vice president to return to the senate in December 1832 to lead the fight against 60 per cent and higher protective tariffs that favored northern manufacturers while destroying the South’s economy and European trade. When South Carolina voted to nullify the tariff in 1833, President Jackson threatened to hang Calhoun and prepared to deploy military forces to South Carolina to continue collecting taxes.

Jackson’s swift and forceful actions not only ended the nullification crisis, but laid the groundwork for President Abraham Lincoln, who, in 1861, would cite Jackson’s actions and enforce a similar Force Bill in his attempts to continue collecting taxes and to prevent South Carolina’s secession in the War Between the States. Like Jackson, Lincoln’s primary goal was to save the Union, and, and like his presidential predecessors, Lincoln was an advocate of the protectionist import tariff.

Widowed again in 1856, 59-year-old Peggy Eaton married a 19-year-old Italian dancing instructor and music teacher who spent all her money before he ran off with her 17-year-old granddaughter. At age 79, Peggy Eaton died penniless at a home for destitute women on November 8, 1879.


Nancy M. Dupont, University of Mississippi, “The 19th Century Story Without a Source: An Enduring Myth of New Orleans”

The Irish in New Orleans formed a culture of their own since the 17th century. They built St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, the Irish Channel neighborhood, and there is large celebration on St. Patrick’s Day every year in New Orleans. There is one tale about the Irish that appears to have no source, although it was featured in newspapers, novels, and folk songs in the 20th century and the 21st century.

The story is about the Irish who built the New Basin Canal, connecting the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain. The chronicle is told that six to thirty thousand Irish workers got sick with Yellow Fever or Cholera, died on the job, and were buried where they fell or on the banks of the canal.  There are no records that support the story.

Historians have pointed out the implausibly of the story. Yet well-respected journalists of the 20th and 21st centuries repeated the tale as if it were true. The story appeared in newspaper beginning the 1950s, a novel was written about it, and two Irish folk songs were written.

It may have been that the story was made up, or that some workers got sick and died but not thousands. It may have been that some workers died on the job and were buried where they fell. It might have been a point of pride for the Irish in New Orleans that they endure hardship and triumphed over it.


Brian Gabrial, Northwestern State University of Louisiana, “‘For whatever troubles are upon us, Democracy is responsible!’: The Natchez Daily Courier during the Secession Winter of 1860”

It is a fallacy that all Southern newspaper editors were pro-secession following Lincoln’s November 1860 election. Editorials in The Natchez Daily Courier favored staying in the Union, and their writer, the Know-Nothing, editor-publisher Whig Giles M. Hillyer, was against, what he called, the “South Carolina School,” arguing on November 7, the day after Lincoln’s win, “The election of one man, conformity to the Constitution, is hardly a cause for secession. To resist on any such pretext, [sic] is rebellion and treason.” To his chagrin, he noted, too, “Abraham Lincoln is elected President of the United States.  As if in sympathy with popular feelings here, the Heavens yesterday were hung in black.”

The Natchez Daily Courier, according to the 1860 census, was only one of five daily Mississippi newspapers in the state, and, during the Secession Winter of 1860, as Mississippi lawmakers debated its fate in the Union, the newspaper ran a series of five editorials, entitled “Have We Exhausted Our Constitutional Remedies.”  These editorials laid out a clear rationale for staying in the union and for getting rid of Abraham Lincoln (legally). This paper pays close attention to those editorials it examines the newspaper’s coverage of the period from Lincoln’s election through January 9, 1861, when Mississippi became the second Southern state to secede from the Union.


Berry Craig, West Kentucky Community and Technical College, “Kentucky’s Rebel Press”

Before Kentuckians donned blue or gray and marched off to bloody battles in the Civil War, Yankee and rebel papers waged a bloodless, though heated, war of words. Try as they might, the rebel editors could not convince the Bluegrass State to abandon the Stars and Stripes for the Stars and Bars.

In 1860-1861, Unionism prevailed, to one degree or another, in every part of the state except Kentucky’s small, westernmost corner. But during the secession crisis, the press was about evenly divided, which made the Confederate cause seem far stronger than it ever was.

Many communities had Union and Confederate papers. The Louisville Journal and Louisville Democratwere staunchly unionist and reflected the strong opposition to secession in Kentucky’s largest city. But the Louisville Courier was the state’s most important rebel paper.

Frankfort, the state capital, had competing Union and Confederate papers. So did Lexington in the heart of the wealthy central Kentucky Bluegrass region.

Like their contemporaries North and South, Kentucky editors and publishers—unionist and disunionist—were unabashedly partisan. They did not let the truth stand in the way of a good story; there was no wall of separation between hard news and editorializing.

Silenced as treasonous by federal authorities when Kentucky abandoned neutrality for outright unionism in September, 1861, the old rebel press rebounded after the war when the state became intensely pro-Southern and anti-Reconstruction. The disgraced Courier became the state’s most popular paper. The Courier bought out the Journal and Democrat and became the Courier-Journal (notice which one got top billing). The C-J is still Kentucky’s main paper, although editorially more liberal than the state.

The case of Kentucky’s rebel press adds fuel to two never-ending debates: Does the press shape or reflect public opinion? What are the proper limits of censorship in a democracy? At the same time, Kentucky’s feuding papers of 1861 seem to mirror the increasing partisanship of the cable news media—and the country—today.


Andrew Haugen, Valley Catholic High School, “Understanding the New York City Draft Riots Through a 19th Century Newspaper Comparison”

When the New York City draft riots occurred in July of 1863, news of this tumultuous uprising was reported in the United States and around the world. The draft riots were a pivotal event during the Civil War that showed conflicts cutting across class and racial lines in the Union’s largest city and was about much more than the social geography of New York. Scholars have analyzed the riots in a variety of ways but newspaper accounts that shaped public perception have been underutilized. That is important because the political allegiances of newspaper editors influenced, if not determined, the way the issue appeared to the public. Democratic newspapers reported that the draft riots were justified by mobs who protested the recently enacted Conscription Act and the policies of the Lincoln government. Republican newspapers countered that the riots and the mob represented a treasonous and lawless horde that rebuked Abraham Lincoln, his policies like the Conscription Act, and the national war effort. The way editors of opposing political stripes reported shows disagreements were more than merely a matter of opinion. They shaped how Americans viewed the stakes of the Civil War. Differences went beyond partisan politics. Geography, national or regional loyalty, and race influenced coverage. Editors of newspapers and other periodicals from New York, Philadelphia, southern newspapers in Richmond, Virginia, and Charleston, South Carolina, the Midwest states of Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, and Indiana, and those pitched to an African American readership interpreted the draft riots according to their and their readers’ worldviews.

A newspaper analysis of the draft riots advances our understanding of the Civil War period and exposes that newspapers and their readers grappled with many of the same issues and viewpoints the United States still wrestles with more than one hundred and fifty years later.


John J. Calhoun, University of Virginia, and Dianne Bragg, University of Alabama, “Falsely Framing the Narrative: Louisiana Newspapers in the Reconstruction Period”


Dustin McLochlin, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums, “The Hayesociated Press: William Henry Smith and the 1876 Presidential Election”


In this era when both sides of the political spectrum employ the term “fake news” to denote unfavorable coverage of their actions, the story of the 1876 election provides another example of how politics and news coverage can become intertwined. This essay provides a historical example of how politics and dissemination of news are intricately connected. It argues that if it were not for the initiative and connections of William Henry Smith, Rutherford B. Hayes would have never have been a political figure. By delving into the private correspondence between these two men and investigating the newspaper coverage of Smith’s publications, it becomes clear that these two created a perfect team of someone who enjoyed pulling the levers of power and a man who wanted to be recognized without looking ambitious. Smith was active in swiftly responding to unfavorable press. He fed his candidate with information before it made mass distribution. He coordinated talking points with the party and Republican nominee. He orchestrated candid commentary from Hayes to increase his appeal. And then he became active in favor currying during the electoral dispute. When the returns showed a tight race in three southern states, Smith became an active member in the team devoted to ensuring the election counted for Hayes. This interaction between an influential newspaper editor and a political actor is a timely story in an era of ubiquitous partisan news outlets.