This week my research took me to several different spots: first, a continuation of last week’s work with John Brown’s raid; second, a New Hampshire newspaper’s perspective on the Dred Scott case; and finally, a journal article that examines the effects of both of these Antebellum events on the newspapers in Baltimore.
As I continued my research on John Brown this week, I honed in on newspaper reports surrounding his execution. The three that I posted under this week’s research are all from Northern publications (New York, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati.) Each, however, had different views on Brown and his supporters. The article from the New York Times echoed their article that I posted last week in which they tried to distance their position (and that of the Republican Party) away from the actions of Brown, which they saw as “dangerous” and “deplorable.” In this article at the time of his execution, they further cemented this position by arguing that the state of Virginia was “in her right” to execute Brown and that the only way to preserve the state of the Union would be to “repress the sympathy which thousands of easy enthusiasts will now be hastening to offer to the memory of [Brown].” Sympathy, that is, that can clearly be seen in an editorial published in Pittsburgh’s Gazette: “Slavery in all the plentitude of its triumph and power is a failure; and old John Brown of Ossawatomie has succeeded—Sampson-like—in dragging down the pillars of Slavery in his fall, and his victory is complete!” Finally, adding to the different perspectives portrayed in these various Northern papers is an editorial published in Cincinnati’s Enquirer, which allied itself most with the prevailing Southern perspective on John Brown. While the New York Times made it clear that they did not wish to condone Brown’s actions, the Enquirer went further, stating in no uncertain terms: “We rejoice that old BROWN has been hung.” Three perspectives, therefore, that highlight how even within the North, the varying political alliances of Northern newspapers (and the varying political readerships that followed each paper’s view of events) shone through.
Backtracking a couple of years from John Brown, my research this week also includes a newspaper article from a New Hampshire paper on the Dred Scott case. When I covered the case a couple of weeks ago, I posted a selection of articles from the Republican-affiliated New York Daily Times. The secondary source that I consulted, however, also made it a point to highlight the position that many Northern Democratic papers took on the case: that is, “northern Democratic newspapers shared the hopes of the Court majority that the decision would end the divisive debates over slavery” (see Ratner and Teeter, posted under Feb. 27). The article posted this week is from such a Northern Democratic newspaper: the New Hampshire Patriot. Their view that this ruling would end the slavery debates came through as they expressed that the nature of a ruling by the Supreme Court, as the “authorized interpreter of the constitution,” should be seen as “the end of the matter, so far as argument and voting and legislation are concerned.” With the ruling made, they argued, “the danger is for the present over; that sectionalism is virtually dead.”
Finally this week I posted some quotes from a new secondary source that presented a case study of Baltimore’s newspaper press during the Antebellum period. This journal article by Nicholas Penniman IV highlighted the importance that both the Dred Scott case and John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry had on pushing the issue of slavery into the newspapers in Baltimore. He noted that early in the period, the papers ran often-conflicting positions on slavery, at times seeming to support it while also trying to distance themselves from it. (This ambivalence seemed to me a likely precursor to the positions that would lead to Maryland being a border state during the war.) As Penniman explains, however, the ruling in the Dred Scott case, and especially the news of Brown’s raid, “brought the issue of slavery to a sudden boil in the Baltimore press.” He also explains how John Brown’s raid led several of the city’s papers to go all-out in covering the event, bringing in new technologies and devoting a lot of space in the papers to cover it. Not only does this exemplify how print media was both growing and adapting in the years leading up to the outbreak of war, but it also seems to point to the ways in which the paper itself served as tool to shape political attitudes, especially given the fact that Penniman also describes how not all papers took a head-on approach to covering Brown’s raid—some were, as he describes, “decidedly low-key,” influencing different readerships in different ways.