Research for February 13

“Newspapers often reinforced readers’ traditional values and attitudes, encouraging them to retain faith in existing institutions and feel secure about the motives and skills of their societal leaders. Conversely, newspapers could tear down what defined and sustained a mid-nineteenth century American community. Then as now, the press did not speak with one voice, and viewpoints and stridency varied.” (p. 19)

“Newspapermen seldom portrayed key actors responsible for events with the fairness of merely reporting their words and deeds. In effect, the newspapermen of the 1850s functioned without rules that might have guided or restrained them and without evident understanding of the desperately high stakes involved as a war of words helped bring on a war of bullets. Their business operated without ethical standards, and the reading public and society in general paid a price for that lack.” (p. 19)

“Editors and publishers who lust after political office may still surface, but not as frequently and prominently as they did during the 1850s… Even if newspapers had not been founded by a political party of supporters of an individual politician, they were often reliant on political subsidies in one form or another, whether the aforementioned printing contracts or patronage jobs for editors, to help ends meet.” (p. 21)

“Newspapers were in positions of power but had precious little sense of responsibility to society, a potentially disastrous combination in a nation where political compromise no longer could contain centrifugal issues and impulses. Publishers and editors, eager entrepreneurs, saw their role as publishing words to attract an audience in order to turn a profit and magnify their voices in support of political and social causes they favored.” (p. 28)

From Fanatics & Fire-Eaters: Newspapers and the Coming of the Civil War


“Gibbes’s lawsuit had its genesis in the political upheavals of the antebellum period, in which parties and the press were intertwined in a symbiotic relationship. The press linked parties to voters and to the government. Newspapers were not just a public forum; they were the locus of American political life, and their relationship to political parties was tightly knit. A party newspaper enforced discipline on members, nominated and campaigned for candidates, and, most importantly, shaped public opinion.” (p. 211)

“The new Know Nothing mayor ousted the Democrat, and, as was his privilege, took the city printing contract from Gibbes and gave it to his own man. Patronage in the form of government printing contracts, government jobs for editors, and sometimes direct cash payments, were common means parties used to secure the loyalty and support of a newspaper in this period.” (p. 211)

“Antebellum South Carolina might seem an odd place for what may well be the first American lawsuit over journalistic access. In the popular mind, the state has typically been conceived of as a place of fire-eating nullifiers and secessionists such as Preston Brooks or John C. Calhoun, a place where the planter elite maintained tight control of the slave society. But the Palmetto State was a far more complicated place than the caricatures make it out to be. That is the paradox of the Old South. Daily exposure to slavery shaped the thinking of Southerners on matters of politics, economics, and society. This constant association with those who had lost all freedom and had no hope of ever regaining created an extreme devotion to independence and individual liberties among—and for—white Southerners, including press freedom. The sole exception was abolitionist literature.” (p. 216)

From “Protecting Press Freedom and Access to Government Information in Antebellum South Carolina”


“Evangelicals created a print-culture both to maintain and defend the purity of their beliefs while at the same time establishing a present voice within the larger secular society. In essence, evangelical print-culture strove to balance the idea of being in the world, yet not being of the world.

This advancement in evangelical printing took place within America that was facing greater and greater discord between the North and the South, and evangelical newspapers were by no means averse to writing about or discussing the nation’s sectional crisis. Two Baptist newspapers, Virginia’s The Religious Herald and North Carolina’s The Biblical Recorder, often published material pertaining to larger societal discussions—particularly slavery. Increasingly, however, attention drifted away from slavery in and of itself to indictments against northern abolitionists as the papers progressed from the 1830s into the 1850s and 1860s. This increased focus upon such a relatively small group of the northerners abstracted southern ideas of northern culture. Through this type of rhetoric, The Religious Herald and The Biblical Recorder created a presence in the South that attempted to defend the purity of the Southern institution of slavery but failed to accurately portray the northern half of the country.” (p. 353-354)

“Both newspapers followed societal trends of dislike, but contributed to the creation of an illusion that abolitionist thought permeated a majority of the northern population.” (p. 355)

“Rather than addressing distinct anti-slavery sentiments, these southern evangelical newspapers conflated differing opinions into a singular northern abolitionist culture.” (p. 360)

“In this way, religious newspapers served as a defense of the purity of southern cultural leanings and practices that cut across denominational lines and beliefs.” (p. 361)

From “Extracting Abolitionist Abstraction: The Sectional Crisis through Virginia and North Carolina Baptist Print-Culture”