WorldMag.com WORLD Magazine / Central Ideas / Chapter Seven
The Irrepressible Conflict in the Press


CONTENTS

PART ONE:
Rise of the Corruption Story

PART TWO:
Macrostories in Conflict

PART THREE:
Breakthrough of the Oppression Story

The Irrepressible Conflict in the Press
Obstacles to Power
Of Muckrakers and Presidents

APPENDICES

 

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Just as the Greeley-Raymond debates did not have a clear winner, so the social upheaval of the 1840s did not have a clear, short term outcome. Despite good press clippings from the Tribune and some of its allies, the commune movement died during the 1850s. Virtually all of the communes failed and disappeared; the idea of a noble human nature, so attractive in the abstract, showed its weakness in practice. Commune members often neglected their work. "Free love" proved not to be so free, as disputes raged.[1]

Brisbane believed the reason for failure in the 1840s and 1850s was not too much forced community but too little:

Unless associative life is completely organized, so that all the sentiments and faculties of the soul find their normal development and action therein, it cannot stand. In fact, it will be discovered one of these days that, according to a law which governs the spiritual or passional nature of man, there must either be the complex harmony of a perfect organization, with a high order of spiritual activity, or man must remain in his little isolated, individual state.[2]

Socialism in one community was insufficient. Control over much more terrain was necessary, and Brisbane recommended to his adherents that they begin a long march through the institutions of American society "years of patient, careful propagation "so that the result, decades later, would be "complex harmony. "[3] The goal became one of building a strong central government, so that the entire nation could be socialized.

Greeley began his own long march by placing in Tribune editorial positions many of his commune associatesmost notably Charles Dana and George Ripley. They in turn hired others on the left, including Karl Marx as a European correspondent. Greeley himself continued to look for the magic bullet by which the misery descending on needy citizens could be stopped: "full of error and suffering as the world yet is, " he wrote, "we cannot afford to reject any idea which proposes to improve the Moral, Intellectual, or Social condition of mankind. "[4] Paralleling Marx, he argued that "The whole relation of Employer and Laborer is so full of antagonism, inequality and injustice, that we despair of any reform in it but a very thorough and radical one."[5]

Greeley worked with many New York protoMarxists, but did not remain faithful to any particular faction for long.[6] At one time he became a believer in "antirentism, " the idea that charging rent for use of property or land was wrong.[7] That movement never took off, and Greeley moved on to other brief but entangling alliances. His inability to learn from failures was more serious than his absentmindedness, which was so extreme that he detailed an office boy to keep him informed as to whether he had eaten anything that day. (Once fellow journalists at a restaurant distracted Greeley as he was about to eat and substituted an empty plate for the full one that had awaited him; when Greeley's attention returned to his table he looked down at the empty plate, sighed, and rose to leave .)[8]

In his habits of mind if not in his enjoyment of food, Greeley was the prototype of some elite American journalists of recent times. He also created the mold in that he became ever more ardent for social change as his personal life disintegrated. Horace and Mary Greeley believed that children were without sin, so they kept their son Arthur (Pickie), born in 1844, isolated from playmates or other means by which corruption could enter into him. At age 5 Pickie's hair had never been cut, less that constrict his freedom, and he still wore baby clothes, to give him freedom of movement: Pickie was to be a beautiful combination of intellect and nature, equipped with "choice " thoughts and language. But one day the 5-year-old stood up before a commune meeting and starting complaining that his mother was "so particular, particular, particular, particular. " When she reminded him that he had been saved from corruption, he began shrieking at her, "Don't you dare shut me up in a room . . . I want fun. " The Greeleys did not change Pickie's regime, but he died shortly after, during a cholera epidemic.

Commune decline and family silliness, combined with sadness, showed Greeley that utopia was not around the corner. But during the 1850s, as Greeley was looking around for a new cause, one presented itself. He would involve himself deeply during the 1850s in the battle over slavery, and would prod that battle toward a culmination in civil war. The Civil War and its aftermath, with the expansion of federal power that resulted, would change the American republic and the American press system by turning both toward an embrace of centralization as savior and a belief that means are less important than ends.

The war, of course, was a long time coming. It's instructive to go back to William Leggett, who in the 1830s made his position on slavery and its potential abolition very clear. Leggett called slavery "a deplorable evil and a curse " and favored "the speedy and utter annihilation of servitude and chains."[9] Yet, carrying on John Milton's faith in the combat of ideas, Leggett also demanded "the strenuous assertion of the right of free discussion. " He wanted liberation to come through a change in minds and hearts, and not by military arms or even by assertion of national political power: "We disclaim any constitutional right to legislate on the subject. "[10]

Leggett had faith that Americans, both north and south, eventually would answer "no " to a series of rhetorical questions he posed:

Have their ears become so accustomed to the clank of the poor bondman's fetters that it no longer grates upon them as a discordant sound? . . . Can the husband be torn from his wife, and the child from its parent, and sold like cattle at the shambles, and yet free, intelligent men, whose own rights are founded on the declaration of the unalienable freedom and equality of all mankind, stand up in the face of heaven and their fellow men, and assert without a blush that there is no evil in servitude?[11]

Leggett opposed revolutionary violence, but he praised antislavery civil disobedience and noted that, pragmatically, suppression does not work in America for long:

The first great impulse which the abolition cause received in this city was, we are persuaded, the attempt to suppress it by the means of mobs; . . . and we do hope that, in view of the pernicious consequences which have flowed from violent measures hitherto, a course more consistent with the meekness of Christianity, and with the sacred rights of free discussion, will be pursued henceforth.[12]

Leggett died before his faith that free discussion would lead to an antislavery outcome could be severely tried. Some 1,000 miles away, however, another journalist put Leggett's optimism into practice under far more difficult conditions. Elijah Lovejoy, born in Maine in 1802, completed his theological training in 1833 at Princeton Theological Seminary (then a stronghold of Calvinist thought) and moved to St. Louis in 1834. There he was ordained as a minister and began editing a Christian newspaper, the St. Louis Observer. When he saw a slave, Francis J. McIntosh, burned at the stake, he became an abolitionist and began encountering massive opposition.

Lovejoy stayed in St. Louis as long as he could, but when a proslavery mob wrecked his press in July 1836, Lovejoy moved to the free state of Illinois and established the Alton Observer.[13] "Freedom from slavery did not guarantee freedom of the press, however. Three times, Lovejoy saw his printing presses smashed and thrown into the Mississippi River by proslavery men; he did not fight back. Lovejoy became pastor of a Presbyterian church and moderator of the Alton Presbytery, but he also ordered a new press. When it arrived at the Godfrey & Gilman warehouse, Lovejoy and 20 of his armed supporters stood guard over it until it could be installed at the Alton Observer.

A proslavery mob formed on the night of November 7, 1837. Its participants, most of them drunk, began hurling rocks at the warehouse windows. The defenders threw back earthenware pots they had found in the warehouse. Soon, gunshots began coming from both sides. When the mob put up a ladder at the building and one of its members began climbing to the roof with a smoking pot of pitch in order to set fire to the building, Lovejoy and a friend rushed out to overturn the ladder. One mob gunman fired his double barreled shotgun at Lovejoy. Five bullets hit him, and he died.

Lovejoy's associates then laid down their weapons and were allowed to leave; the mob broke the press into pieces and dumped the broken parts into the river. Lovejoy was buried on November 9his 35th birthdayand after the Civil War Alton citizens erected a monument to him. It stands to this day on a hill overlooking the Mississippi, with a plaque introducing Lovejoy as "Minister of the Gospel, Moderator of Alton Presbytery, " and explaining in Lovejoy's own words what befell him: "If the laws of my country fail to protect me I appeal to God, and with Him I cheerfully rest my causeI can die at my post but I cannot desert it."[14]

A few years later and 300 miles to the east, another editor faced similar persecution. Cassius Clay of Lexington, Kentucky, saw slavery as a sevenfold evil: "morally, economically, physically, intellectually, socially, religiously, politically."[15] But he saw the need for long term change that the south could embrace, and advocated emancipation over a generation's time. To that end, in 1845 (at age 35) Clay began publishing the True American, "a paper devoted to gradual and constitutional emancipation."[16] With the words "God and Liberty " as his newspaper's motto, Clay advocated a constitutional convention designed to state "that every female slave, born after a certain day and year, should be free at the age of twentyone ". Clay argued that over time this plan "would gradually, and at last, make our state truly free."[17]

The moderate program began to pick up support, and also furious opposition. Clay soon had the joy of printing letters to the editor such as this one: "C.M. Clay: You are meaner than the autocrats of hell . . . The hemp is ready for your neck. Your life cannot be spared. Plenty thirst for your bloodare determined to have it . . . "[18] But Clay kept at it, arguing that the elimination of slavery would help the south to prosper economically, spiritually, and socially. In one article he commented on a rise of divorce in the south and urged southern women to:

Put away your slaves . . . If you want to drink, go to the pump or to the spring and get it; if to bathe, prepare your own bath, or plunge into the running stream; make your own beds, sweep your own rooms, and wash your own clothes; throw away corsets and nature herself will form your bustles. Then you will have full chests, glossy hair, rosy complexions, smooth velvet skins, muscular, rounded limbs, graceful tournures, elasticity of person, eyes of alternate fire and most melting languor; generous hearts, sweet tempers, good husbands, long lives of honeymoons, and no divorces.[19]

Clay, expecting attempts to destroy his press, made a fort out of his three story red brick newspaper office, and with six loyal friends prepared for siege. Familiar with the story of Lovejoy's death, they lined the outside doors and window shutters of the building with sheet iron to prevent burning. Clay purchased two small brass cannons at Cincinnati, loaded them to the muzzle with bullets, slugs, and nails, and placed them breast high on a table at the entrance. His friends stockpiled muskets and Mexican lances. Those measures forestalled the attack for a time, but Clay came down with typhoid fever and eventually had to give up and watch as his press was packed up by slaveholders and shipped out of town.

That was the last time he was helpless. In 1847 Clay resumed his antislavery writing and speaking, had to fight numerous duels, and survived. (He had a lifetime record of about 107 wins and no losses, compared to Muhammed Ali's 32 and 4 as a pro.)[20] The original Cassius Clay could also talk a good fight. Once, facing a hostile crowd, Clay held up a Bible and said, "To those who respect God's word, I appeal to this book. " Then he held up a copy of the U.S. Constitution and said, "To those who respect our fundamental law, I appeal to this document. " Then he took out two pistols and his Bowie knife and said, "To those who recognize only force . . . "

Clay, although ready to defend himself, believed that nothing good would come from aggression. He demanded free speech in the hope of convincing his neighbors but did not want to war on them. He stressed the power of personal transformation through God's grace, which would lead to societal reformation. "We recommend less haughtiness and indifference on the part of the rich towards the poor, and less invidiousness toward the rich on the part of the poor, " he wrote. "Let true Christianity prevail, and earth will become the foreshadowing of Heaven. "[21] And Clay, unlike Lovejoy, managed to survive many assassination attempts. He was knifed and beaten by clubs; once, gushing blood from a lung wound, he even lost consciousness and dramatically gave as his last words, "I died in the defense of the liberties of the people "but he did not die. He kept speaking out against slavery in the 1840s and helped to form the Republican Party in the 1850s.[22]

By then, the lines were drawn, and it may have been too late for antislavery plans that would not end in violence. Any possibility for a peaceful resolution disappeared when antislavery journalism moved from corruption story grounds of sadly dealing with sinful man, to an oppression story vision of eradicating slavery as the first step toward social revolution and class warfare. The role of the press in making the conflict irrepressible should not be overstatedand yet, if we examine the four alternative ways of fighting slavery that existed at one time, and then see which one was seized on by some leading journalists, that press role does loom large.

There will be some oversimplification in summarizing in a few paragraphs the options that have been dissected in thousands of books over a century, but baldly describing the lay of the land in this fashion might show the editorial choices that were open. The first of the antislavery approaches that editors could call for would be the personal one. Slaveholders could free their slaves, as did Washington and Jefferson on their deaths. Also on the personal level, opponents of slavery could reason with slaveholders, and ministers could preach against it. Editors, for their part, could cover separation of slave families, brutality against slaves, and so on. If all failed, those opposed to slavery could put money alongside their words by buying slaves and then freeing them.

A second alternative was collective but nongovernmental. The first half of the 19th century, as Alexis de Tocqueville observed, was the golden age of associations in America, and antislavery individuals frequently came together in the search for a way out. They formed societies to support colonies for exslaves in Africa or in the west. Some joined to purchase and then free slaves. Some set up schools for slaves. Some wanted to boycott southern economic products, and others wanted to fund southern industries that would not employ slaves. Thoreau hoped to convince many that nonviolent action, such as nonpayment of taxes, could create pressure for change, but he found few supporters.

A third alternative, once tensions had grown to the point of war, could have been Washington's temporary acceptance of secession, followed by a trade embargo that some thought might kill the rebellion. Unlikely as this seems, Greeley embraced the idea in 1851 and stated that the south should secede; he argued that southerners would realize after a couple of independent years that they needed the north's industry, and would then beg for readmission. At that point, Greeley argued, the north would be in a position to make demands, one of which would be the elimination of slavery.[23] Greeley intensified his calls in 1854 as he argued that the north should laugh at

the too susceptible nerves of our too excitable Southern brethren. Instead of bolting the door in alarm, and calling for help to guard it, in case the South should hereafter threaten to walk out of the Union, we would hold it politely open and suggest to the departing the policy of minding his eye and buttoning his coat well under his chin preparatory to facing the rough weather outside . . .[24]

But Greeley, even though he saw materialism as dominant, was too savvy a journalist to argue for long that change would come that easily. And so he arrived at the fourth alternative, violence: the north eradicating slavery by using its superior numbers and industrial capacity to eradicate part of the south. Greeley thought that a little blood would go a long way, for he believed that only a few wealthy southerners, along with a handful of politicians along for the ride, were truly proslavery. Greeley did not travel in the south until after the war, and he employed correspondents who were better preachers against slavery than reporters of actual sentiment. Even in 1860, Greeley's correspondent in Memphis was writing that "an insignificant clique " favored secession, but "the masses are heart and soul for the union, " so the north should not be concerned with "threats, or predictions of disunion. "[25]

In the early 1840s Greeley's commune enthusiasm led the Tribune into expectation of utopia around the corner; Greeley's hopes for rapid social progress during the late 1850s again led him to provide considerable space for unreliable accounts that supported his dreams. For example, a letter from Alabama argued that people in that state were "divided into two classesthe rich and the poor, " and that the poor would readily unite with northern workers to "create a new system of Truth, Equality, Justice. "[26] Karl Marx, peering across the Atlantic with a dialectic telescope, helped to convince Greeley's assistant Charles Dana that slavery had weakened the south so much that it would be unable to mount a war effort; the north could push hard without losing much blood.[27]

With social revolution so near and slavery the only large obstacle, Greeley became a proponent of terrorist means to gain antislavery objectives. As one historian noted concerning Tribune correspondents in Kansas during the mid1850s, "the crew Greeley assembled went forth with hatred in their hearts . . . . "[28] The Tribune's coverage of the battle between northerners and southerners in Kansas was predictably propagandistic, with northerners always depicted as peace loving citizens brought to conflict by southern terror. The Tribune wanted fighters and weapons shipped to Kansas immediately, to preserve the peace.[29] Correspondent James Redpath wrote that because there would be no peace as long as slavery existed, he would "fight and kill for the sake of peace."[30]

Greeley's response to the events of May 24, 1856, indicates his hardline position. That night in Kansas, John Brown and seven other men invaded the homes of several farming familiesthe Doyles, the Wilkinsons, and the Harrises. These families had done no one any harm. They did not own slaves. They were simply from the south. They were also trusting: When William Doyle opened his door in response to a request for directions, John Brown's men grabbed him and took him 200 yards from the cabin. John Brown then placed a revolver against Doyle's forehead and pulled the trigger, killing him instantly. Doyle's 22-year-old son William was then stabbed in the face, slashed over the head, and shot in the side. His 20-year-old son Drury had his fingers and arms cut off and his head cut open; then he was stabbed in the chest. A third son, 14-year-old John, also would have been executed, but the mother, Mahala Doyle, clutched him and screamed, "Not him; Oh God, not him." John Brown let him live.[31]

Brown and his followers-four of them were Brown's sons-then moved on to the Wilkinson home, took the man away from his wife and small children, and cut his throat. They then went to the Harris cabin, occupied that night not only by James Harris and his family but by three other men who had stopped by; one had come to buy a cow. The door was unlocked, because the region until then had been safe. Harris and two of the men turned out to be northerners and were allowed to live; the southerner was murdered by the river with sabers. One blow severed his left hand, raised in self-defense; others split open his skull, and he fell into the river. The murderers washed their swords and walked away as the cold water carried away part of the dead man's brain.

The goal of the massacre was terrorism, pure and simple: Kill those who sided with a hated system, focus attention on what became known as "bleeding Kansas, " and raise tensions so high that warfare capable of destroying the hated system would become more likely. Terrorists need press publicity, preferably somewhat sympatheticand John Brown and associates got it. The Tribune called Brown's terrorism a self-defense strike needed to disrupt the southern horde of Kansas settlers.[32] Greeley advocated shipment of more arms to Kansas and dispatched a military expert to advise John Brown.[33]

Greeley used events in Kansas to further Republican candidate John Fremont's hopes in the election of 1856; historian Jeter Isely has concluded that "Reading Greeley's journal at this late date gives the impression that his staff had no concern for accuracy with regard to Kansas of 1856. "[34] Reporter W. A. Phillips sent frequent articles, and the Tribune itself sponsored mass meetings of protest and the establishment within each northern city of "Kansas committees " to send aid. The Tribune publicized books, pamphlets, and plays on Kansas, and even serialized a novel telling of how Kansas southerners were "ruffians, halftipsy, with hair unkempt and beards like cottoncards, squirting tobacco juice in every direction, and interlarding their conversation with oaths and curses " aimed at defenseless folk. One of the poor sufferers was the heroine, gentle Alice, who took to her sickbed in fright and remained sorrowful until she had a vision of Fremont's election and Kansas' freedom, at which "the thin lips of Alice quivered tremulously. It was her last smile on earth."[35]

Greeley went at it again following John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. During the month following the raid the Tribune ran 26 columns and 15 editorials on Brown.[36] The Tribune correspondent was consistently proBrown and antisouthern; he generalized about the south, "Everything shows how far this region is behind the age."[37] But he was also sarcastic about particular southerners, such as prosecutor Charles Harding, whose "face is a vindictive as well as a degraded one, " and who "has a way of expressing profound contempt by ejecting saliva aloft, and catching it on his chin, which he practices with great success.[38]

Greeley displayed extreme arrogance during this crisis, and knew exactly what he was doing: In a letter to his associate editor, James S. Pike, Greeley wrote that he was in the "position of the rich old fellow, who, having built a church entirely out of his own means, addressed his townsmen thus: `I've built you a meetinghouse,/ And bought you a bell;/ Now go to meeting/ Or go to hell!' "[39] Isely commented, "Greeley believed that John Brown's raid . . . would bring thousands into his church. The Tribune featured Brown as a saint sprung from the Book of Revelation to herald the coming of universal freedom."[40]

The Tribune had feisty competition. Bennett's New York Herald had long made fun of Greeley's support for "all the isms and ultras of the day, " including "Fourierism, atheism, community of property socialismevery species of wild and extravagant thought and doctrine. "[41] Abolitionism, Bennett wrote, merely was the latest cause of "the clique of enthusiasts, fanatics, Fourierists, and infidels of all descriptions who are engaged in [the Tribune's] activities. "[42] Bennett called John Brown "a notorious Kansas shriekerone whose hands had more than once been dipped in human blood."[43] Bennett also called Greeley a member of "an antislavery oligarchy " that was attempting to establish a new "inquisition."[44]

The Herald, however, had little influence on those who saw American chattel slavery (correctly, I believe) as a central moral problem, and not just an economic one. More influential among some of those who founded the Republican Party was the newspaper built by Greeley's debating adversary of 1846 and 1847, Henry Raymond. That newspaper, begun in 1851 and known as The New York Times, opposed slavery fervently, but not without an eye to the difficulty of altering an imbedded institution. Raymond, unlike Greeley, did not see antislavery agitation as a step toward class warfare, and did not sanguinely look to blood as the answer to social problems; therefore, he was not taken in by those who said that the outbreak of civil war would lead to a southern social revolution that could then spread north. Times reporting from Kansas and Harper's Ferry bemoaned the provocations and appealed for calm.

The most fascinating New York newspaper in the months directly preceding the civil war was probably the New York World, a daily newspaper begun in 1860 in an attempt to revive Christian journalism. After Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, the World proposed that antislavery newspapers

forbear to indulge in that acerbity of tone which, while it has never done any good, has occasioned much of the unfortunate asperity which exists among our Southern brethren. Let the exultation of approaching victory be tempered with manly generosity, and the whole tone, bearing and language of the party be of a character to confirm [hopes for] a moderate, a conciliatory, a conservative, a truly national and constitutional administration.[45]

There can still be peace, the World insisted, "if the press and orators of all patties will drop the vituperative style in which they are wont to indulge, and practice a reasonable courtesy and magnanimity. "

World news coverage stressed accuracy at a time when propaganda seemed more and more ascendant. "The news from Kansas is uncertain and contradictory, " the World noted in November, 1860:

Nothing illustrates the evils of excessive partisanship more than the impossibility of getting trustworthy accounts of important events occurring far from the great centers. Here is a matter, of which it is extremely important that all parties should know the truth, yet it is impossible to arrive at the truth. The determination of partisan newspapers, and of their correspondents, to throw all the blame upon the other side, leads to distortion, misrepresentation, and even positive mendacity.[46]

The World, for its part, criticized many northerners for attempting to excommunicate the south, and criticized southern slaveholders for engaging in

the separation of families, the taking of the parent from the child and the child from the parent, ignoring the marriage tie, withholding even that amount of education which would enable the colored man to read God's oracleswhen the South would defend all this as being within the aegis of the quiet of the gospel, the South are doing wrong to the gospel, and perverting it.[47]

The World quoted Matthew 5:9= "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God" and asked Christians of both sides "to humble themselves, and confess before God that they have disparaged our common Lord and Redeemer.[48] It favorably covered proposals for gradual emancipationchildren of slaves would be freedand publicized suggestions to smooth the way by payments from the North: "That would test the northern conscience, and put us right under a reformed constitution."[49]

The tendencies of the World found some support in the South. In Texas, Governor Sam Houston published his last hope:

Providence has ever guarded the people of these United States. He sustained the hope of our struggling fathers until they gained the liberty that we now enjoy. He gave them the wisdom and the prudence through which our government was formed. For eightyfour years that Same Providence has shielded us, amid danger from without and dissention from within. He has encircled us with His protecting Ann and has preserved our liberties intact. Let us in the hour of Prayer, implore Him to shield us still in the time of peril, that we may be preserved a United people . . . "[50]

By 1860, however, such fairmindedness had little chance to be accepted, for the tensions were too great; Houston, for example, was denounced as a "Texas Brutus."[51]

Columns in the World tended to go deeper. One analysis of the divided nation showed how each leading "journalistic firebrand " thought his own views superior to "written constitutions " and decided to "erect his own judgment or his own happiness, into a tribunal. "[52] With extremism rampant, many northern newspapers "vilif[ied] southern states, institutions, and men, " and southerners in turn

reacted to vituperation . . . From studying methods of emancipation, they turned to the consideration of schemes for the perpetuation and extension of the happy patriarchal institution . . . masters, alarmed for the safety of their families, clamored for more stringent laws whereby to circumscribe and oppress the slave.[53]

The Greeleyite revolutionary position had not "ameliorated the condition of the servile masses of the South " and held out no "hope than that of insurrection and bloodshed, " the column argued. It ended with a plea that journalists "stay the streams of section reviling. "[54] Greeley was the chief culprit, according to the World. [55] Southerners who read his work saw him as representing northern hatred of the southin the words of the Raleigh Register, Greeley was "the vilest, the dirtiest, the most mangy hog in the Abolition pen. "[56] Other newspapers moving toward the oppression story including the New York Post, Chicago Tribune, and Hartford Courantfollowed Greeley's lead.[57] And the Tribune itself, becoming during the 1850s America's first seminational newspaper, had no readership in the south, but distributed a weekly edition of 200,000 copies from Maine to Minnesota. That was 10% of free state votes, and often the most articulate 10%; as historian James Ford Rhodes recollected years later, Tribune readers "were of the thorough kind . . . questions were discussed in their family circles and with their neighbors, and, as differences arose, the Tribune, always at hand, was consulted and reread.[58]

How great was the Tribune's influence? According to one presswatcher, "every man, and woman too, of education, culture, and moral feeling " was praising the Tribune; it had a grip on "the affections of all the best people."[59] The Tribune, in short, "was more than a metropolitan journal, it was a sectional oracle. "[60] The Tribune prophesied that America was faced with an either/or decision:

It may be that a new era of religionof Justice and Brotherhood between man and man is commencing; or it may be that this is only a fresh spasm, to be followed by a more palpable moral lifelessness. Which shall it be?[61]

The Tribune may have pushed hundreds of thousands of northerners to push hard for the new era.

The Tribune, of course, was not responsible for the Civil War. Journalism was one compelling force among many, and the Tribune was one newspaper among many. But if the Tribune and its followers had seen the south as a culture and not as the potential arena for class struggle between slave owners and a combined poor White/Black coalition, it seems likely that a wiser course could have been followed. And if the Tribune and other newspapers had not glorified in death a man, John Brown, who represented the deepest fears of the south, many southerners might not have believed that the North would soon be sending other Browns to achieve what he tried to start.[62]

Many southern journalists also were irresponsible. One World column, "THE SOUTHERN FRANKENSTEIN, " criticized those who had urged on forces that were now out of control:

The South has, in plain terms, been dragooned into its present rebellious attitude by the unscrupulous and persistent mendacity of its politicians and journals, abetted by some of those at the North. There are indications that some of the southern `leaders' would be glad, if it were in their power, to allay the storm which they have aided in raising. They begin to discover that the consummation of their plans promises at the best no better thing that absolute hopeless bankruptcy .... The sagacious among these suicidal agitators would, doubtless, be glad to annul the share they have had in bringing about the present deplorable disaster. But it is too late.[63]

By the end of 1860 it was too late. Bandwagon headlines rolled through southern front pages: "Georgia Moving! " "Ten Thousand Cheers for Florida!" "Alabama All Right-Convention Called."[64] Those who wished to wait were called traitors. In the rapture of the moment, even those few newspapers that had counted the costs of war realistically jumped on the bandwagon. In January 1860, the Richmond Dispatch had stated forcefully,

It is impossible to exaggerate the horrors and sufferings which for years would follow a dissolution of the Union .... It would be war from the start, war to the knife and knife to the hilt. The widely extended border between the North and South would be a line of fire and blood. Every accessible bay and inlet of every river would be entered, and, ever and anon, large masses of men hurled upon the capitols and important points of Southern States. But the horrors of ordinary warfare would be far transcended by the barbarities of this cruel strife.[65]

But in January 1861, the Dispatch strongly called for secession, and did not mention the costs.[66]

It was too late. Had the south not replied to fanaticism with rage of its own, another course might have been possible. By 1860, however, the alternative courses were being abandoned, and the oppression story was about to claim its first few hundred thousand victims. A Georgia newspaper reported that "The tone of the Northern press . . . should convince all southern men that the hour for dissolution is come . . . . "[67] The Albany (Georgia) Patriot cited a Greeley report and argued, "We might as well sing Psalms over the dead carcass of a buzzard, as to appeal to the Union for rights and justice. "[68] One month later, the Patriot reported that "Insult upon insult has been heaped upon the South, and we are daily informed that these wrongs and aggressions are to be repeated . . . . For our part we would prefer to strike the blow this very hour than to wait for the morrow. "[69]

It was too late. In a letter to Stephen A. Douglas, Mississippi lawyer S. S. Fairfield complained that the state's newspapers were "generally in the hands of young and inexperienced men. "[70] Fairfield described how Mississippi agendas were set:

When a scheme is put on foot the [Jackson] Mississippian roars and all the little county papers yelp, the cross road and bar room politicians take it up and so it goes, and if any one opposes them they raise the cry of abolitionist and traitor.[71]

A thoughtful North Carolina editor complained, "Madness seems to rule the hour, and fearful forebodings cloud the prospect. "[72] The New York Herald feared a long war and ran a headline, "Blood! Blood! Blood!Who Will Be Responsible? "[73] But the New York Tribune, confident in February 1861, that the radical upheaval to come could eliminate oppression, added to its masthead the words, "NO COMPROMISE!/ NO CONCESSIONS TO TRAITORS! "[74] Soon, the cannons were roaring.

Once war began, the Tribune plunged ahead with plans to celebrate a quick victory, on the materialist theory that the nonindustrialized south could not possibly fight a war. In theory, the northern army could crush its numerically inferior opponents, the northern navy could blockade the Confederate coast, and the "laws of trade" would kill the south.[75] Day after day Greeley ran the same paragraph on the editorial page: "The Nation's War Cry. Forward to Richmond! Forward to Richmond! The Rebel Congress must not be allowed to meet there on the twentieth of July! By that date the place must be held by the National Army!"[76]

Under pressure, the poorly trained Union army advanced and was routed at Manassas. The Herald said it was Greeley's fault. Greeley was in shock: The material superiority of the north had not led to early victory. The south fought on, and many of the radical journalists who had predicted northern victory without bloodshed were angry with President Abraham Lincoln for his early attempts to win the war with as little bloodshed as possible. Journalists during the first year of the war called him a "political coward," "timid and ignorant," "pitiable," "too slow," and "shattered, dazed, utterly foolish."[77] Southern newspapers called their opponent a drunkard, but northern newspapers were often more creative in their labeling of Lincoln as "an awful, woeful ass, " the "craftiest and most dishonest politician that ever disgraced an office in America, " a "half-witted usurper, " a "moleeyed monster with a soul of leather, " "unmentionably diseased, " and the "woodenhead at Washington."[78]

Lincoln put up with it as best he could, and even laughed at Greeley's frequent nastiness: "I do not suppose I have any right to complain, " Lincoln said, for "Uncle Horace . . . is with us at least four days out of seven. "[79] In any event, the war ground on. Occasionally, it was brought home to some northern editors; in July 1863, a mob advanced on the Tribune building yelling "Down with the Tribune. " The mob destroyed the furniture on the first floor and started a fire with the goal of destroying the building, but 100 policemen arrived with orders to "Hit their temples, strike hard, take no prisoners. " Twentytwo men were killed. Many more were seriously wounded.

Hundreds of thousands more died during the civil war, but eventually material did triumph. By 1865, the southern opposition to centralization was demolished, and the road to rapidly increased governmental power was open. The first step was to do away with the defeated opposition leaders; journalists who already had waded in blood reported that "all the interests of humanity demand that Davis, Lee & Company, shall be tried, found guilty, and hanged by the neck until they are dead."[80] The next step was to reconstruct first the south, and then the entire nation, on an economic plan that expropriated large holdings in land, still the primary basis of wealth. Abraham Lincoln did not favor such radical plans, but his assassination removed the enemy of both maddened southerners and ambitious northern radicals. And Andrew Johnson, at first, did not seem likely to present much of a barrier.

Nevertheless, during the quarter century after the Civil War, progress did not come as quickly as Greeleyite journalists had hoped. First, Andrew Johnson and several other conservative political leaders stood in the way; then, a certain realism concerning the limits of federal power sank in for a time. The next chapter examines the obstacles, beginning with Johnson, who saved southern leaders from hanging trees, and in turn saw much of the journalistic wrath turned on himself.


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CHAPTER 7 Irrepressible Conflict in the Press Notes

1. One of the phalanxes Greeley had joined, Red Bank in New Jersey, lasted the longest: 12 years, 1843 to 1855.

2. On Association, p. 213.

3. Ibid., p. 212.

4. New York Tribune, April 10, 1845.

5. See Horace Greeley, Hints Toward Reforms.

6. Greeley did, however, continue to give space to Brisbane; in 1858 the Tribune provided room for Brisbane to promote a massive, 100,000-acre commune. (New York Daily Tribune, July 12, 14, 23, August 18, 20, 27, 1858.)

7. Hale, pp. 135-136. Those Greeley worked closely with included George Henry Evans, an apostle of Tom Paine and editor of the Working Man's Advocate, and Lewis Masquerier, an early socialist.

8. Horace's wife Mary also had her ways. Once, when she had become a supporter of what today would be called the "animal rights" movement, she met writer Margaret Fuller on the street one day, touched Fuller's kid gloves and began to scream, "Skin of a beast, skin of a beast." Mary was wearing silk, and Margaret Fuller had the presence of mind to begin yelling, "Entrails of a worm, entrails of a worm."

9. New York Evening Post, September 7 and 9, 1835; included in Democratick Editorials, pp. 203, 206.

10. Ibid., loc. cit.

11. Ibid., September 9, 1835, and p. 209.

12. Ibid., August 8, 1835, and p. 197.

13. From biographical information distributed by the Greater Alton/Twin Rivers Convention & Visitors' Bureau.

14. Plaque on the Lovejoy monument, Alton, IL, visited by the author.

15. Clay archives, University of Kentucky Library, and quoted in H. Edward Richardson, Cassius Marcellus Clay (Lexington, KY, 1976), p. 34.

16. True American prospectus, February 19, 1845.

17. True American, August 16, 1845.

18. Quoted in Richardson, p. 46.

19. Ibid., p. 47.

20. Mohammed Ali, originally named Cassius Clay, showed a lack of historical sense (and a different theology) by changing monikers because he "didn't want a slave name." Freedom of choice, of course, but the original Cassius Clay freed his own slaves and risked his life many times to help free others.

21. Clay archives, University of Kentucky library.

22. Clay's later years were not particularly distinguished except by a variety of philosophical delusions and rapscallion activities.

23. New York Daily Tribune, October 17, 1851. See also April 12.

24. Ibid.. May 2, 1854.

25. Ibid., July 12, 1860.

26. Ibid., August 22, 1860.

27. Ibid., March 10 and 26, 1856, and June 27, 1859.

28. Isely, p. 131.

29. Daily Tribune from August, 1855 to March, 1856.

30. Isely, op. cit.

31. This account is based on Otto Scott, The Secret Six (New York, 1979), pp. 59.

32. New York Daily Tribune, May 20, June 1, 3, 5, 6, 9, 14, 17, 1856.

33. Ibid., April 5, 8, 1856; October 28, 1859.

34. Isely, p. 177.

35. Lydia Maria Child, "The Kansas Emigrants," New York Daily Tribune, October 23 to November 4, 1856.

36. See Lloyd Chiasson, "A Newspaper Analysis of the John Brown Raid," American Journalism, Spring, 1985, p. 30.

37. New York Daily Tribune, November 9, 1859.

38. Ibid., November 17 and 19, 1859.

39. Quoted in Isely, p. 266.

40. Ibid., p. 266. Greeley wavered in his intellectual stand for violence as real, largescale violence came nearer. In November 1860, he wrote concerning states wishing to secede that "we shall be in favor of letting them go in peace. Then who is to fight? And what for?" (Daily Tribune, November 2.) It is not clear now whether Greeley was playing a dangerous game of "chicken," or whether he truly believed the south would not leave and that, if it did, the north would not pursue. Once the southern states did secede, the Tribune abruptly changed its policy. This might indicate that Greeley was bluffing in his coverage, and that once his bluff was called, he advocated what he all along felt would be necessary. But consistency was not Greeley's strong point, and it may be unnecessary to look for it in this case; Greeley wrote what he wanted when he wanted.

41. New York Herald, March 7, 1850, p. 2. Cited in Gary Whitby, "Economic Elements of Opposition To Abolition and Support of South by Bennett in the New York Herald," Journalism Quarterly, Spring, 1988, p. 83.

42. Ibid.

43. New York Herald, October 20, December 10 and 22, 1859.

44. Ibid., November 26, 1860.

45. New York World, October 12, 1860.

46. Ibid., November 30, 1860.

47. Ibid..

48. Ibid.

49. Ibid.

50. Quoted in Llerena Friend, "Sam Houston," in H. Bailey Carroll et al, Heroes of Texas (Waco, 1966), p. 93.

51. Ibid., p. 92.

52. "Christian Patriotism" by Elbert S. Porter, in the New York World, December 1, 1860.

53. Ibid.

54. Ibid.

55. Even though some northern newspapers were more moderate, the Tribune, with its reach throughout the north and personification in Greeley, always seemed to be seen in the south as the embodiment of an aggressive northern spirit.

56. Raleigh Register, March 1, 1860.

57. See Howard C. Perkins, ed., Northern Editorials on Secession, I, pp. 8892.

58. Atlantic Monthly CIII (May, 1909), p. 654.

59. George Talbot quoted in Isely, p. 54.

60. Ibid., p. 3.

61. New York Daily Tribune, April 7, 1858.

62. C. Vann Woodward, The Burden of Southern History (New York, 1961), pp. 6368.

63. New York World, op. cit.

64. Charleston, Jacksonville, and Jackson newspapers, November 1860, quoted in Reynolds, p. 148.

65. Richmond Dispatch, January 6, 1860.

66. Ibid., January 26, 1861.

67. Augusta Daily Constitutionalist, December 7, 1860.

68. Albany Patriot, February 9, 1860.

69. Ibid., March 8, 1860.

70. May 19, 1860, letter, quoted in Donald E. Reynolds, Editors Make War (Nashville, 1966), p. 36.

71. Ibid., loc. cit.

72. Hillsborough Recorder, December 12, 1860.

73. New York Herald, January 29, 1861.

74. New York Daily Tribune, February 18 to 28, 1861.

75. Ibid., January 23 through 26, 1861.

76. Ibid.. June 26 to July 4, 1861. One New York Greeleywatcher, James W. Nye, saw humor in the situation: "Imagine Greely [sic] booted & Spurred with Epaulets on his Shoulders and with a whetted blade in his hands marching at the head of a column .... The idea of Greely turning warrior, is to ridiculus [sic] to be thought of."

77. Quoted by Thomas Keiser, " `The Illinois Beast': One of Our Greatest Presidents," Wall Street Journal, February 11, 1988. Keiser's column was based on research by David Donald and Thomas Bailey.

78. Ibid.

79. James E. Pollard, The Presidents and the Press (New York, 1941), p. 352.

80. Quoted in George Fort Milton, The Age of Hate: Andrew Johnson and the Radicals (New York, 1930), p. 153. Milton also quotes other vengeful leaders, including Senator Benjamin Wade, who suggested that the north "hang ten or twelve of the worst of those fellows; perhaps, for full measure, I should make it thirteen, just a baker's dozen." (p. 56)