Academic journal article Civil War History

Civil War Origins of the Southern Republican Press

Academic journal article Civil War History

Civil War Origins of the Southern Republican Press

Article excerpt

The Republican party that emerged during the 1850s was organized in the North and represented Northern interests. Its leaders criticized Southern domination of the federal government and called for legislation ending slavery expansion and developing the Northern free labor economy. Although Southern whites were almost unanimously opposed to this new party, many Republicans believed its program could appeal to nonslaveholders and hoped to expand into the slave states. By 1860 they had created weak organizations in the border states of Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, and Delaware but, except for a small pocket in western Virginia, had not found any support in the other eleven slave states. Indeed, after the Republicans elected Abraham Lincoln president in 1860, these eleven states left the Union.(1)

The civil war that resulted from the secession of these Southern states provided an unusual opportunity for Republicans to expand southward. With the protection of the Union army, Republicans established beachheads in a number of states that they hoped to enlarge after the war. One important measure of their success was the emergence of Republican newspapers behind Union lines in the South. Traditionally, throughout the United States, political parties had forged a close alliance with newspapers. Party leaders depended on editors to transmit party doctrine to their readers, refute the positions of their political opponents, and rally support for their party during elections. In turn, the newspapers received support from the party, which, if it controlled national, state, or local governments, supplied their sheets with patronage.(2) By the time the war ended, Republicans had established the foundations of a party press in the South; at the time of Appomatox at least seven Southern papers identified with the party, and another ten that existed then would eventually join it.

Prior to the Civil War, the only Republican papers to exist in what became the Confederate States of America were in northwestern Virginia. That area which was mountainous and had almost no slaves, had little in common with the rest of the state. John C. Underwood, a transplanted New Yorker and opponent of slavery who had moved to Virginia in the 1840s, organized a fledgling Republican party there in the late 1850s. By 1858, with the assistance of funds donated by Northern Republicans, Underwood and his friends had secured control of the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer and three other smaller papers in western Virginia. In the election of 1860 almost two thousand voters in the region cast ballots for Lincoln.(3)

After the Civil War began, advancing Union armies paved the way for the appearance of additional Republican organizations and newspapers in the South. U.S. military authorities believed that Southern editors had played a major role in whipping up support for secession and for the Confederacy. Their treatment of these editors included jailing them, closing their newspapers and confiscating their presses, or suspending their papers until the editors expunged Rebel sentiments from their columns.(4) Union officers were not content, however, merely to stifle the Rebel press. They also sought to encourage newspapers that would support the Union cause. Before the war was over, a number of Unionist papers appeared in the occupied portions of the Confederate states. U.S. Army units established some of these papers; others were begun by Northern civilians accompanying the armies; while yet a third group was founded by Southern whites who supported the Union. Since the Republican party did not emerge in most Southern states until after the war, it is not always possible to identify these Unionist papers with that party. But wartime Unionists provided the most reliable source of white recruits for the Republican party when it did appear in the South, and Unionist papers provided the basis for the development of a Republican press in the South during and after the war. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.