The Cambridge History of American Literature/Book II/Chapter XXI
- 1 Book II, Chapter XXI: Newspapers, 1775–1860.
- 1.1 § 1. Revolutionary Newspapers.
- 1.2 § 2. The Pennsylvania Packet—the first daily Newspaper.
- 1.3 § 3. Development after the War.
- 1.4 § 4. The Farmers’ Museum.
- 1.5 § 5. Reporters Admitted to the Debates in Congress.
- 1.6 § 6. Partisan Bitterness; Administration Organs; The Gazette of the United States; The National Gazette.
- 1.7 § 7. Alien and Sedition Laws.
- 1.8 § 8. Spread of Newspapers.
- 1.9 § 9. The National Intelligencer (1808); The Globe; The United States Telegraph; The National Intelligencer (1841); Political Editors.
- 1.10 § 10. Personal Journalism; Thomas Ritchie; John M. Daniel.
- 1.11 § 11. New York: The Evening Post.
- 1.12 § 12. James Gordon Bennett—The Herald.
- 1.13 § 13. The Sun.
- 1.14 § 14. New York Associated Press.
- 1.15 § 15. Literary Weeklies: The Mirror.
- 1.16 § 16. The Telegraph.
- 1.17 § 17. Growth of Specialized Forms of Journalism; Anti-Slavery; The Liberator.
- 1.18 § 18. The Great Editors.
- 1.19 § 19. Samuel Bowles—The Springfield Republican.
- 1.20 § 20. Horace Greeley—The New York Tribune.
- 1.21 § 21. Henry Jarvis Raymond—The New York Times.
- 2 Notes
Book II, Chapter XXI: Newspapers, 1775–1860.
§ 1. Revolutionary Newspapers.
THE turbulent years between 1775 and 1783 were a time of great trial and disturbance among newspapers. Interruption, suppression, and lack of support so checked their growth that at the close of the war they were in most respects less thriving than at the beginning of it. Although there were forty-three newspapers in the United States when the treaty of peace was signed, as compared with thirty-seven on the date of the battle of Lexington, only a dozen had had continuous existence between the two events, and most of those had experienced delays and difficulties through lack of paper, type, and patronage. Not one newspaper in the principal cities, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, continued publication throughout the war. When the colonial forces were in possession, royalist papers were suppressed, and at times of British occupation Revolutionary papers moved away, or were discontinued, or they became royalist, only to suffer at the next turn of military fortunes. Thus there was an exodus of papers from the cities along the coast to smaller inland places, where alone it was possible for them to continue without interruption. Scarcity of paper was acute; type worn out could not be replaced. The appearance of the newspapers deteriorated, and issues sometimes failed to appear at all. Mail service, never good, was poorer than ever; foreign newspapers, an important source of information, could be obtained but rarely; many of the ablest writers who had filled the columns with dissertations upon colonial rights and government were now otherwise occupied.
News from a distance was less full and regular than before; yet when great events happened reports spread over the country with great rapidity, through messengers in the service of patriotic organizations. The newspapers made use of such assistance, and did service in further spreading the tidings, though they seldom overtook the flying word of mouth. Naturally, reporting was still imperfect. The Salem Gazette printed a full but coloured account of the battle of Lexington, giving details of the burning, pillage, and barbarities charged to the British, and praising the militia who were filled with “higher sentiments of humanity.” The Declaration of Independence was published by Congress, 6 July, 1776, in the Philadelphia Evening Post, from which it was copied by most of the papers; but some of them did not mention it until two weeks later, and even then found room for only a synopsis. When they were permitted to do so they printed fairly full accounts of the proceedings of provincial assemblies and of Congress, which were copied widely, as were all official reports and proclamations. On the whole, however, a relatively small proportion of such material and an inadequate account of the progress of the war is found in the contemporaneous newspapers.
The general spirit of the time found fuller utterance in mottoes, editorials, letters, and poems. In the beginning both editorials and communications urged united resistance to oppression, praised patriotism, and denounced tyranny; as events and public sentiment developed these grew more vigorous, often a little more radical than the populace. Later, the idea of independence took form, and theories of government were discussed. More interesting and valuable as specimens of literature than these discussions were the poems inspired by the stirring events of the time. Long narratives of battles and of heroic deaths were mingled with eulogies of departed heroes. Songs meant to inspire and thrill were not lacking. Humour, pathos, and satire sought to stir the feelings of the public. Much of the poetry of the Revolution is to be found in the columns of dingy newspapers, from the vivid and popular satires and narratives of Freneau to the saddest effusions of the most commonplace schoolmaster.
The newspapers of the Revolution were an effective force working towards the unification of sentiment, the awakening of a consciousness of a common purpose, interest, and destiny among the separate colonies, and of a determination to see the war through to a successful issue. They were more single-minded than the people themselves, and they bore no small share of the burden of arousing and supporting the often discouraged and indifferent public spirit. Many of the papers, however, which were kept alive or brought to life during the war could not adapt themselves to the new conditions of peace.
§ 2. The Pennsylvania Packet—the first daily Newspaper.
Perhaps a dozen of the survivors held their own in the new time, notably the Boston Gazette, which declined rapidly in the following decade, The Connecticut Courant of Hartford, The Providence Gazette, and The Pennsylvania Packet of Philadelphia, to which may be added such representative papers as The Massachusetts Spy, the Boston Independent Chronicle, the New York Journal and Packet, the Newport Mercury, The Maryland Gazette of Annapolis, The Pennsylvania Gazette and The Pennsylvania Journal, both of Philadelphia. Practically all were of four small pages, each of three or four columns, issued weekly. The Pennsylvania Packet, which appeared three times a week, became in 1784 the first daily paper. In the same year the New York Journal was published twice a week, as were several of the papers begun in that year. There was a notable extension to new fields. In Vermont, where the first paper, established in 1781, had soon died, another arose in 1783; in Maine two were started in 1785. In 1786 the first one west of the Alleghanies appeared at Pittsburg, and following the westward tide of immigration The Kentucky Gazette was begun at Lexington in 1787.
Conditions were hardly more favourable to newspapers than during the recent conflict. The sources of news were much the same; the means of communication and the postal system were little improved. Newspapers were not carried in the mails but by favour of the postmen, and the money of one state was of dubious value in another. Consequently circulations were small, rarely reaching a thousand; subscribers were slow in paying; and advertisements were not plentiful. Newspapers remained subject to provincial laws of libel, in accordance with the old common law, and were, as in Massachusetts for a short time in 1785, subject to special state taxes on paper or on advertisements. But public sentiment was growing strongly against all legal restrictions, and in general the papers practised freedom, not to say license, of utterance.
§ 3. Development after the War.
With independence had come the consciousness of a great destiny. The collective spirit aroused by the war, though clouded by conflicting local difficulties, was intense, and the principal interest of the newspapers was to create a nation out of the loose confederation. Business and commerce were their next care; but in an effort to be all things to all men, the small page included a little of whatever might “interest, instruct, or amuse.” Political intelligence occupied first place; news, in the modern sense, was subordinated. A new idea, quite as much as a fire, a murder, or a prodigy, was a matter of news moment. There were always a few items of local interest, usually placed with paragraphs of editorial miscellany. Correspondents, in return for the paper, sent items; private letters, often no doubt written with a view to such use, were a fruitful source of news; but the chief resource was the newspapers which every office received as exchanges, carried in the post free of charge, and the newspapers from abroad.
§ 4. The Farmers’ Museum.
The newspapers continued to compete with the magazine by supplying moral, descriptive, and sentimental essays, poetry, anecdotes, reflections, and articles on trade, education, and conduct. Imitators of the English writers of periodical essays, the beginning of whose activities almost coincided with that of American newspapers, multiplied in numbers, until towards the close of the century it was a poor paper that did not maintain at least one series. The “Lay Preacher” essays of Joseph Dennie gave The Farmers’ Museum of Walpole, New Hampshire, as wide a reputation as that of any paper in its day.
§ 5. Reporters Admitted to the Debates in Congress.
The editor, usually reflecting the sentiment of a group or a faction, began to emerge as a distinct power. He closely followed the drift of events and expressed vigorous opinions. But as yet the principal discussions were contributed not by the editors but by “the master minds of the country.” The growing importance of the newspaper was shown in the discussions preceding the Federal Convention, and notably in the countrywide debate on the adoption of the Constitution, in which the newspaper largely displaced the pamphlet. When Hamilton, Madison, and Jay united to produce the Federalist essays, they chose to publish them in The Independent Journal and The Daily Advertiser, from which they were copied by practically every paper in America long before they were made into a book. When the first Congress assembled 4 March, 1789, the administration felt the need of a paper, and, under the influence of Hamilton, John Fenno issued at New York, 15 April, the first number of The Gazette of the United States, the earliest of a series of administration organs. The seat of government became the journalistic centre of the country, and as long as party politics remained the staple news interest the administration organs and their opponents were the chief sources of news for the papers of the country.
One question of great importance to the press was early raised and settled. Reports of state legislative proceedings had always been permitted in the colonies, though in Massachusetts the reporters had been denied the use of the chaplain’s pulpit as a desk. As soon as the first Congress assembled, the newspapers began to print the proceedings and debates, where-upon, in September, a Mr. Burke moved that representatives of the press should be excluded from the sessions. After a warm debate the resolution was withdrawn, never again to be revived, at a time when the taking of notes in the British Parliament was still forbidden.
§ 6. Partisan Bitterness; Administration Organs; The Gazette of the United States; The National Gazette.
Partisan bitterness increased during the last decade of the century. New England papers were generally Federalist; in Pennsylvania there was a balance; in the West and South the anti-Federalist press predominated. Though the Federalists were vigorously supported by such able papers as Russell’s Columbian Centinel in Boston, Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy, The Connecticut Courant, and, after 1793, Noah Webster’s daily Minerva (soon renamed Commercial Advertiser) in New York, The Gazette of the United States, which in 1790 followed Congress and the capital to Philadelphia, was at the centre of conflict, “a paper of pure Toryism,” as Thomas Jefferson said, “disseminating the doctrines of monarchy, aristocracy, and the exclusion of the people.” To offset the influence of this, Jefferson and Madison induced Philip Freneau, who had been editing The Daily Advertiser in New York, to set up a “half weekly,” to “go through the states and furnish a Whig vehicle of intelligence.” Freneau’s National Gazette, which first appeared 31 October, 1791, soon became the most outspoken critic of the administration of Adams, Hamilton, and Washington, and an ardent advocate of the French Revolution. Fenno and Freneau, in The Gazette of the United States and The National Gazette, at once came to grips, and the campaign of personal and party abuse in partisan news reports, in virulent editorials, in poems and skits of every kind, was echoed from one end of the country to the other.
This decade of violence was nevertheless one of development in both the quality and the power of newspapers. News reporting was extended to new fields of local affairs, and the intense rivalry of all too numerous competitors awoke the beginnings of that rush for the earliest reports which was to become the dominant trait in American journalism. The editor evolved into a new type. As a man of literary skill, or a politician, or a lawyer with a gift for polemical writing, he began to supersede the contributors of essays as the strongest writer on the paper. Much of the best writing, and of the rankest scurrility, be it said, was produced by editors born and trained abroad, like Bache of the Aurora, Cobbett, Cooper, Gales, Cheetham, Callender, Lyon, and Holt. Of the whole number of papers in the country towards the end of the decade, more than one hundred and fifty, at least twenty opposed to the administration were conducted by aliens. The power wielded by these anti-administration editors impressed John Adams, who in 1801 wrote: “If we had been blessed with common sense, we should not have been overthrown by Philip Freneau, Duane, Callender, Cooper, and Lyon, or their great patron and protector. A group of foreign liars encouraged by a few ambitious native gentlemen have discomfited the education, the talents, the virtues, and the prosperity of the country.”
§ 7. Alien and Sedition Laws.
The most obvious example of that Federalist lack of common sense was the passage of the Alien and Sedition laws in 1797 to protect the government and its chief officers from the libels of politicians and editors. The result was a dozen convictions and a storm of outraged public opinion that threw the party from power and gave the radical Republican press renewed confidence and the material benefit of patronage when the anti-Federalists took control of the government. The passing of the Federalist party made a radical change in journalistic supremacy, but for a third of a century the newspapers were to continue primarily party organs; the tone remained strongly partisan, though it gradually gained poise and attained a degree of literary excellence and professional dignity.
§ 8. Spread of Newspapers.
The number and geographical distribution of newspapers grew apace. Whereas in 1800 there were between 150 and 200 all told, by 1810 there were 366, and during the next two decades the increase was at least equally rapid. With astonishing promptness the press followed the sparse population as it trickled westward and down the Ohio or penetrated the more northerly forests. By 1835 papers had spread to the Mississippi River and beyond, from Texas to St. Louis, throughout Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and into Wisconsin. These pioneer papers, poorly written, poorly printed, and partisan often beyond all reason, served a greater than a merely local purpose in sending weekly to the seat of government their hundreds of messages of good and evil report, of politics and trade, of weather and crops, that helped immeasurably to bind the farflung population into a nation. Every congressman wrote regularly to his own local paper; other correspondents were called upon for like service, and in some instances the country editors established extensive and reliable lines of intelligence; but most of them depended on the bundle of exchanges from Washington, Philadelphia, and New York, and reciprocally the city papers made good use of their country exchanges.
Meanwhile the daily newspapers were increasing in number. The first had appeared in Philadelphia and New York in 1784 and 1785; in 1796 one appeared in Boston. By 1810 there were twenty-seven in the country—one in the city of Washington, five in Maryland, seven in New York, nine in Pennsylvania, three in South Carolina, and two in Louisiana. As early as 1835 the Detroit Free Press began its long career.
§ 9. The National Intelligencer (1808); The Globe; The United States Telegraph; The National Intelligencer (1841); Political Editors.
The political and journalistic situation made the administration organ one of the characteristic features of the period. Fenno’s Gazette had served the purpose for Washington and Adams; but the first great example of the type was The National Intelligencer established in October, 1800, by Samuel Harrison Smith, to support the administration of Jefferson and of successive presidents until after Jackson it was thrown into the opposition, and The United States Telegraph, edited by Duff Green, became the official paper. It was replaced at the close of 1830 by a new paper, The Globe, under the editorship of Francis P. Blair, one of the ablest of all ante-bellum political editors, who, with John P. Rives, conducted it until the changing standards and conditions in journalism rendered the administration organ obsolescent. The Globe was displaced in 1841 by another paper called The National Intelligencer, which in turn gave way to The Madisonian. Thomas Ritchie was in 1845 called from his long service on The Richmond Enquirer to found, on the remains of The Globe, the Washington Union, to speak for the Polk administration and to reconcile the factions of democracy. Neither the Union nor its successors, which maintained the semblance of official support until 1860, ever occupied the commanding position held by the Telegraph and The Globe, but for forty years the administration organs had been the leaders when political journalism was dominant. Their influence was shared and increased by such political editors as M. M. Noah and James Watson Webb of the New York Courier and Enquirer, Solomon Southwick of the Albany Register, Edwin Croswell, who edited The Argus and who, supported by Van Buren and others, formed what was known as the “Albany Regency.” The “Regency,” the Richmond “Junta,” which centred in the Enquirer, and the “Kitchen Cabinet” headed by the editor of The Globe, formed one of the most powerful political and journalistic cabals that the country has ever known. Their decline, in the late thirties, was coincident with great changes, both political and journalistic, and though successors arose, their kind was not again so prominent or influential. The newspaper of national scope was passing away, yielding to the influence of the telegraph and the railroad, which robbed the Washington press of its claim to prestige as the chief source of political news. At the same time politics was losing its predominating importance. The public had many other interests, and by a new spirit and type of journalism was being trained to make greater and more various demands upon the journalistic resources of its papers.
§ 10. Personal Journalism; Thomas Ritchie; John M. Daniel.
The administration organ presents but one aspect of a tendency in which political newspapers generally gained in editorial individuality, and both the papers and their editors acquired greater personal and editorial influence. The beginnings of the era of personal journalism, the chief figures in which will be discussed in later paragraphs, were to be found early in the century. Even before Nathan Hale had shown the way to editorial responsibility, Thomas Ritchie, in the Richmond Enquirer in the second decade of the century, had combined with an effective development of the established use of anonymous letters on current questions a system of editorial discussion that soon extended his reputation and the influence of his newspaper far beyond the boundaries of Virginia. Washington Barrow and the Nashville Banner, Amos Kendall and The Argus of Western America, G. W. Kendall and the New Orleans Picayune, John M. Francis and the Troy Times, and Charles Hammond and the Cincinnati Gazette, to mention but a few among many, illustrate the rise of editors to individual power and prominence in the third and later decades. Notable among these political editors was John M. Daniel, who just before 1850 became editor of the Richmond Examiner and soon made it the leading newspaper of the South. Perhaps no better example need be sought of brilliant invective and literary pungency in American journalism just prior to and during the Civil War than in Daniel’s contributions to the Examiner.
§ 11. New York: The Evening Post.
Though it could still be said that “too many of our gazettes are in the hands of persons destitute at once of the urbanity of gentlemen, the information of scholars, and the principles of virtue,” a fact due largely to the intensity of party spirit, the profession was by no means without editors who exhibited all these qualities, and put them into American journalism. William Coleman, for instance, who, encouraged by Hamilton, founded the New York Evening Post in 1801, was a man of high purposes, good training, and noble ideals. The Evening Post, reflecting variously the fine qualities of the editor, exemplified the improvement in tone and illustrated the growing importance of editorial writing, as did a dozen or more papers in the early decades of the century. Indeed the problem most seriously discussed at the earliest state meetings of editors and publishers, held in the thirties, was that of improving the tone of the press. They tried to attain by joint resolution a degree of editorial self-restraint which few individual editors had as yet acquired. Under the influence of Thomas Ritchie, vigorous and unsparing political editor but always a gentleman, who presided at the first meeting of Virginia journalists, the newspaper men in one state after another resolved to “abandon the infamous practice of pampering the vilest of appetites by violating the sanctity of private life, and indulging in gross personalities and indecorous language,” and to “conduct all controversies between themselves with decency, decorum, and moderation.” Ritchie found in the low tone of the newspapers a reason why journalism in America did not occupy as high a place in public regard as it did in England and France. The editorial page was assuming something of its modern form. The editorial signed with a pseudonym gradually passed away, but unsigned editorial comment and leading articles did not become an established feature until after 1814, when Nathan Hale made them a characteristic of the newly established Boston Daily Advertiser. From that time on they grew in importance until in the succeeding period of personal journalism they were the most vital part of the greater papers.
As the magazines were still few and offered poor pay, if any at all, the newspapers became the means of support of innumerable authors, and even in this age of the political press there were as many literary as political editors. In contrast with the situation today, when the magazines are generally conducted by men whose tastes and ideals have been formed in journalism rather than in literature, and assume more and more the characteristics of timeliness, until the middle of the century the newspapers owed their character to men of literary tastes and pursuits. When Bennett the elder referred slurringly to the “poets of the Post” and the Post declared that Bennett was not a journalist, a momentous divergence and change of ideals was indicated.
Changes which came about in the thirties well-nigh revolutionized the newspapers. Within a decade the cheap newspaper was begun; steam presses were introduced; a radical alteration took place in the idea of news values, reporting, and correspondence; freedom from party control was found possible; and important modifications took place in the party press.
§ 12. James Gordon Bennett—The Herald.
Several of these changes are exemplified in the work of James Gordon Bennett (1794–1872), though he originated few of them. In more than ten years of unsuccessful effort as a political journalist he had become familiar with the increasing enterprise in news-gathering that had already distinguished American methods. He despised the journalism of the day—the seriousness of tone, the phlegmatic dignity, the party affiliations, the sense of responsibility. He believed journalists were fools to think that they could best serve their own purposes by serving the politicians. As Washington correspondent for the New York Enquirer, he wrote vivacious, gossipy prattle, full of insignificant and entertaining detail, to which he added keen characterization and deft allusions. Bennett saw a public who would not buy a serious paper at any price, who had a vast and indiscriminate curiosity better satisfied with gossip than discussion, with sensation rather than fact, who could be reached through their appetites and passions.
§ 13. The Sun.
The idea which he did much to develop rested on the success of the one-cent press created by the establishment of the New York Sun in 1833. To pay at such a price these papers must have large circulations, sought among the public that had not been accustomed to buy papers, and gained by printing news of the street, shop, and factory. To reach this public Bennett began the New York Herald, a small paper, fresh, sprightly, terse, and “newsy.”
- “In journalistic débuts of this kind,” he wrote, “many talk of principle—political principle, party principle—as a sort of steel trap to catch the public. We … disdain … all principle, as it is called, all party, all politics. Our only guide shall be good, sound, practical common sense, applicable to the business and bosoms of men engaged in every-day life.”
News was but a commodity, the furnishing of which was a business transaction only, which ignored the social responsibility of the press, “the grave importance of our vocation,” prized of the elder journalists and of the still powerful six-cent papers. The Herald, like the Sun, was at once successful, and was remarkably influential in altering journalistic practices.
§ 14. New York Associated Press.
This idea of news and the newspaper for its own sake, the unprecedented aggressiveness in news-gathering, and the blatant methods by which the cheap papers were popularized aroused the antagonism of the older papers, but created a competition which could not be ignored. Systems of more rapid news-gathering and distribution quickly appeared. Sporadic attempts at co-operation in obtaining news had already been made; in 1848 the Journal of Commerce, Courier and Enquirer, Tribune, Herald, Sun, and Express formed the New York Associated Press to obtain news for the members jointly. Out of this idea grew other local, then state, and finally national associations. European news, which, thanks to steamship service, could now be obtained when but half as old as before, became an important feature. In the forties several papers sent correspondents abroad, and in the next decade this field was highly developed.
§ 15. Literary Weeklies: The Mirror.
The literary departments of newspapers were being stimulated by the rise of literary or semi-literary weeklies. Some of these, such as The Notion in Boston, and The New World and Brother Jonathan in New York, were devoted mainly to the reprinting of English novels and other literary successes. Others, like The New York Mirror, contained sketches of life and manners, society verse, stories, and essays, as well as some news. The Mirror and its kind were a source of much material for newspapers. N. P. Willis’s Pencillings by the Way, for instance, were copied by five hundred newspapers. Another class of weeklies of general circulation contained much literary material combined with a larger proportion of politics and affairs. Such a paper was Greeley’s New Yorker, “devoted mainly to current literature, but giving regularly a digest of all important news,” and maintaining a good editorial page. Neither magazine nor newspaper, these weeklies were something of each. From the former they doubtless took away a good many readers; to the latter they were an incentive to the maintaining of literary departments which in a few papers, like the Tribune, became important.
Newspapers in foreign languages, especially the German, multiplied rapidly about the middle of the century. Some of the ablest journalists of the middle of the century, not only of papers in the German language but also of papers in English, were liberal-minded Germans who sought in America the freedom of speech which was denied them in their native country.
§ 16. The Telegraph.
The telegraph, in 1844 shown to be practical, and put to successful use during the Mexican War, led to numerous far-reaching results in journalism. Telegraphic columns became a leading feature; news associations grew as the wires lengthened; but the greatest effect on the journalism of the country at large was to decentralize the press by rendering the inland papers, in such cities as Chicago, Louisville, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and New Orleans independent of those in Washington and New York. A change made in the postal laws in 1845 favoured the local circulation of newspapers. The country circulation of most of the large Eastern papers was so curtailed that only one or two, like the New York Tribune, were able to maintain through their weekly editions something of their national character; the organs in Washington, even Niles’s Weekly Register, which had been a most useful vehicle for the disseminating of political information, were still further shorn of their usefulness and soon eliminated; and the already vigorous provincial press became numerous and powerful.
§ 17. Growth of Specialized Forms of Journalism; Anti-Slavery; The Liberator.
In a period of wide-spread unrest and change many specialized forms of journalism sprang up—religious, educational, agricultural, and commercial, which there is no space here to discuss. Workingmen were questioning the justice of existing economic systems and raising a new labour problem; the socialistic ideas of Cabet and Fourier were spreading; Unitarianism and Transcendentalism were creating and expressing new spiritual values; temperance, prohibition, and the political status of women were being discussed; abolition was a general irritant and a nightmare to politicians. The subject of controversy most critically related to journalism was abolition. The abolitionist press which began with The Emancipator of 1820, and had its chief representative in William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator, first issued 1 January, 1831, forced the slavery question upon the newspapers, and there ensued a struggle for the freedom of the press more acute than any since that caused by the Alien and Sedition laws. Many abolitionist papers were excluded from the mails; their circulation was forcibly prevented in the South; in Boston, New York, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Alton, and elsewhere, editors were assaulted, offices were attacked and destroyed; rewards were offered in the South for the capture of Greeley and Garrison; in a few instances editors, like Lovejoy at Alton, lost their lives at the hands of mobs.
§ 18. The Great Editors.
Out of the period of restless change in the thirties there emerged a few great editors whose force and ability gave them and their newspapers an influence hitherto unequalled, and made the period between 1840 and 1860 that of personal journalism. These few men not only interpreted and reflected the spirit of the time, but were of great influence in shaping and directing public opinion. Consequently the scope, character, and influence of newspapers was in the period immensely widened and enriched, and rendered relatively free from the worst subjection to political control.
Naturally, the outstanding feature of this personal journalism was the editorial. Rescued from the slough of ponderousness into which it had fallen in its abject and uninspired party service, the editorial was revived, invigorated, and endowed with a vitality that made it the centre about which all other features of the newspaper were grouped. It was individual; however large the staff of writers, the editorials were regarded as the utterance of the editor. “Greeley says” was the customary preface to quotations from the Tribune, and indeed many editorials were signed. James Gordon Bennett, Samuel Bowles (1826–78), Horace Greeley (1811–72), and Henry J. Raymond (1820–69) are the outstanding figures of the period. Of Bennett’s influence something has already been said; especially, he freed his paper from party control. His power was great, but it came from his genius in gathering and presenting news rather than from editorial discussion, for he had no great moral, social or political ideals, and his influence, always lawless and uncertain, can hardly be regarded as characteristic of the period. Of the others named, and many besides, it could be said with approximate truth that their ideal was “a full presentation and a liberal discussion of all questions of public concernment, from an entirely independent position, and a faithful and impartial exhibition of all movements of interest at home and abroad.” As all three were not only upright and independent, but in various measure gifted with the quality of statesmanship at once philosophical and practical, their newspapers were powerful moulders of opinion at a critical period in the history of the nation.
The news field was immeasurably broadened; news style was improved; interviews, newly introduced, lent the ease and freshness of dialogue and direct quotation. There was a notable improvement in the reporting of business, markets, and finance. In a few papers the literary department was conducted by staffs as able as any today. A foreign news service was developed which in intelligence, fidelity, and general excellence reached the highest standard yet attained in American journalism. A favourite feature was the series of letters from the editor or other member of the staff who travelled and wrote of what he heard or saw. Bowles, Olmsted, Greeley, Bayard Taylor, Bennett, and many others thus observed life and conditions at home or abroad; and they wrote so entertainingly and to such purpose that the letters—those of Olmsted and Taylor, for instance—are still sources of entertainment or information.
The growth of these papers meant the development of great staffs of workers that exceeded in numbers anything dreamed of in the preceding period. Although later journalism has far exceeded in this respect the time we are now considering, still the scope, complexity, and excellence of our modern metropolitan journalism in all its aspects were clearly begun between 1840 and 1860.
§ 19. Samuel Bowles—The Springfield Republican.
The highest development in provincial journalism during this period is typified in the Springfield Republican. Established by Samuel Bowles in 1824 as a country weekly, it was converted into a daily in 1844 by his energetic and ambitious son, who bore the same name. From the beginning it was a clean, well written, honest, independent, and conservative paper that reported all of the happenings of its own vicinity, with brief mention of the gist of important events generally. As rapidly as possible its news-gathering was extended until within a few years its columns contained departments of items from every town and hamlet along the Connecticut valley, as well as from Springfield. Bowles believed that the newspaper should be a power in the moral, religious, and literary, as well as the political life of the community, and he tried to make his paper fulfill those functions, not for the world at large but for the people of western Massachusetts. With the aid of J. G. Holland and others who joined the staff the paper attained excellent literary quality and a high moral tone. Probably its success rested most of all upon its political discussions. The excellence of its short, crisp, pithy editorial paragraphs and longer discussions, free from pedantry and heaviness, based always on fundamental ideas and principles, made the Republican widely known and respected. Its opinions soon reached all New England, and after the formation of the Republican party they extended far beyond the limits of any section. But in spite of the extent of its influence, the Republican held steadily to its purpose as a provincial newspaper; it told all the news, gave all sides a fair hearing, preserved its self-respect and independence, frowned on all “isms,” and presented invariably the personal opinions of its editor, whom all its readers knew.
§ 20. Horace Greeley—The New York Tribune.
The New York Tribune under Horace Greeley exhibited the best features of the new and semi-independent personal journalism based upon political beginnings and inspired with an enthusiasm for service that is one of the fine characteristics of the period. In editing the New Yorker Greeley had acquired experience in literary journalism and in political news; his Jeffersonian and Log Cabin, popular campaign papers, had brought him into contact with politicians and extended his acquaintance with the masses. Being with all his independence a staunch party man, he was chosen to manage a party organ when one was needed to support the Whig administration of Harrison, and the prospectus of the New York Tribune appeared 3 April, 1841. Greeley’s ambition was to make the Tribune not only a good party paper, but also the first paper in America, and he succeeded by imparting to it a certain idealistic character with a practical appeal which no other journal possessed. His sound judgment appeared in the unusually able staff which he gathered about him. Almost from the first, the staff which made the Tribune represented a broad catholicity of interests and tastes, in the world of thought as well as in the world of action, and a solid excellence in ability and in organization which were largely the result of the genius of Greeley and over which he was the master spirit. It included Henry J. Raymond, who later became Greeley’s rival on the Times, George M. Snow, George William Curtis, Charles A. Dana, Bayard Taylor, George Ripley, William H. Fry, Margaret Fuller, Edmund Quincy, and Charles T. Congdon. It is easy to understand how with such a group of writers the idea of the literary newspaper, which had been alive from the beginning of the century, should have advanced well-night to its greatest perfection.
The great popular strength of the Tribune doubtless lay in its disinterested sympathy with all the ideals and sentiments which stirred the popular mind in the forties and fifties. “We cannot afford,” Greeley wrote, “to reject unexamined any idea which proposes to improve the moral, intellectual, or social condition of mankind.” He pointed out that the proper course of an editor, in contrast to that of the time-server, was to have “an ear open to the plaints of the wronged and suffering, though they can never repay advocacy, and those who mainly support newspapers will be annoyed and often exposed by it; a heart as sensitive to oppression and degradation in the next street as if they were practiced in Brazil or Japan; a pen as ready to expose and reprove the crimes whereby wealth is amassed and luxury enjoyed in our own country as if they had only been committed by Turks or Pagans in Asia some centuries ago.” In conformity with these principles Greeley lent his support to all proposals for ameliorating the condition of the labouring men by industrial education, by improved methods of farming, or even by such radical means as the socialistic Fourier Association. He strongly advocated the protective tariff because he believed that it was for the advantage of the workingman; and the same sympathy led him to give serious attention to the discussion of women’s rights with special reference to the equal economic status of women. There were besides many lesser causes in which the Tribune displayed its spirit of liberalism, such as temperance reform, capital punishment, the Irish repeals, and the liberation of Hungary.
On the most important question of the time, the abolition of slavery, Greeley’s views were intimately connected with party policy. His antipathy to slavery, based on moral and economic grounds, placed him from the first among the mildly radical reformers. But his views underwent gradual intensification. Acknowledged the most influential Whig editor in 1844, he had by 1850 become the most influential anti-slavery editor—the spokesman not of Whigs merely but of a great class of Northerners who were thoroughly antagonistic to slavery but who had not been satisfied with either the non-political war of Garrison or the one-plank political efforts of the Free Soil party. This influence was greatly increased between 1850 and 1854 by some of the most vigorous and trenchant editorial writing America has ever known. The circulation of the Tribune in 1850 was, all told, a little less than sixty thousand, two-thirds of which was the Weekly. In 1854 the Weekly alone had a circulation of 112,000 copies. But Rhodes has pointed out that even this figure is not the measure of the Tribune’s peculiar influence, “for it was pre-eminently the journal of the rural districts, and one copy did service for many readers. To the people in the Adirondack wilderness it was a political bible, and the well-known scarcity of Democrats there was attributed to it. Yet it was as freely read by the intelligent people living on the Western Reserve of Ohio,” and in Wisconsin and Illinois. The work of Greeley and his associates in these years gave a new strength and a new scope and outlook to American journalism.
§ 21. Henry Jarvis Raymond—The New York Times.
Henry Jarvis Raymond, who began his journalistic career on the Tribune and gained further experience in editing the respectable, old-fashioned, political Courier and Enquirer, perceived that there was an opening for a type of newspaper which should stand midway between Greeley, the moralist and reformer, and Bennett, the cynical, non-moral news-monger. He was able to interest friends in raising the hundred thousand dollars which he thought essential to the success of his enterprise. This sum is significant of the development of American daily journalism, for Greeley had started the Tribune only ten years earlier with a capital of one thousand dollars, and Bennett had founded the Herald with nothing at all. On this sound financial basis, Raymond began the career of the New York Times, 18 September, 1851, and made it a success from the outset. He perfected his news-gathering forces and brought into play his intimate acquaintance with men of affairs to open up the sources of information. Above all he set a new standard for foreign service. The American public never had a more general and intelligent interest in European affairs than in the middle years of the nineteenth century. The leading papers directed their best efforts toward sustaining and improving their foreign service, and Raymond used a brief vacation in Europe to establish for his paper a system of correspondence as trustworthy, if not as inclusive, as that of the Herald or Tribune. If our newspapers today are immeasurably in advance of those of sixty years ago in almost every field of journalism, there is only here and there anything to compare in worth with the foreign correspondence of that time. The men who wrote from the news centres of Europe were persons of wide political knowledge and experience, and social consequence. They had time and ability to do their work thoroughly, carefully, and intelligently, innocent of superficial effort toward sensation, of the practices of inaccurate brevity and irresponsible haste which began with the laying of the Atlantic cable.
The theory of journalism announced by Raymond in the Times marks another advance over the party principles of his predecessors. He thought that a newspaper might assume the rôle now of a party paper, now of an organ of non-partisan, independent thought, and still be regarded by the great body of its readers as steadily guided by principles of sincere public policy. An active ambition for political preferment prevented him from achieving this ideal. Although he professed conservatism only in those cases where conservatism was essential to the public good and radicalism in everything which might require radical treatment and radical reform, the spirit of opposition to the Tribune, as well as his temperamental leanings, carried him definitely to the conservative side. He was by nature inclined to accept the established order and make the best of it. Change, if it came, should come not through radical agitation and revolution, but by cautious and gradual evolution. The world needed brushing, not harrowing. Such ideas, as he applied them to journalism, appealed to moderate men, reflected the opinions of a large and influential class somewhere between the advanced thinkers and theorists and the mass of men more likely to be swayed by passions of approbation or protest than by reason.
It was the tone of the Times that especially distinguished it from its contemporaries. In his first issue Raymond announced his purpose to write in temperate and measured language and to get into a passion as rarely as possible. “There are few things in this world which it is worth while to get angry about; and they are just the things anger will not improve.” In controversy he meant to avoid abusive language. His style was gentle, candid, and decisive, and achieved its purpose by facility, clearness, and moderation rather than by powerful fervor and invective. His editorials were generally cautious, impersonal, and finished in form. With abundant self-respect and courtesy, he avoided, as one of his coadjutors said, vulgar abuse of individuals, unjust criticism, or narrow and personal ideas. He had that degree and kind of intelligence which enabled him to appreciate two principles of modern journalism—the application of social ethics to editorial conduct and the maintenance of a comprehensive spirit. As he used them, these were positive, not negative virtues.
Raymond’s contribution to journalism, then, was not the introduction of revolutionizing innovations in any department of the profession but a general improving and refining of its tone, a balancing of its parts, sensitizing it to discreet and cultivated popular taste. Taking the London Times as his model, he tried to combine in his paper the English standard of trustworthiness, stability, inclusiveness, and exclusiveness, with the energy and news initiative of the best American journalism; to preserve in it an integrity of motive and a decorum of conduct such as he possessed as a gentleman. To his success American journalism is deeply indebted.