The Gilded Age Press, 1865-1900

By Ted Curtis Smythe | Go to book overview

4

The Growth of an Independent Press, 1873-1882

Ulysses S. Grant successfully negotiated the hidden shoals of scandal during the campaign of 1872 only to have them exposed during the following four years. Promoters of the Union Pacific Railroad watered the stock in order to make unwarranted profits and, at the same time, present members of the president's party, including Vice President Schuyler Colfax and several senators, with stock as gifts. This scandal was the Crédit Mobilier affair. Another scandal, the socalled Whiskey Ring, involved Republicans and government officials and included a newspaper owner in St. Louis. These scandals, the Panic of '73, and a general level of incompetence in the administration of affairs, enabled Democrats to regain control of Congress in the midterm elections. Their control of the committees allowed them to make further revelations. It was in this political climate that the Congress made changes in the spoils system, changes that affected the press.

In 1875, Congress ended the requirement that all of its laws be published in local newspapers. The original reason for publishing the laws had been to inform citizens, but the patronage growing out of the dispersal of funds had quickly become a method by which politicians allocated government money or spoils to party newspapers. In recent years, political certainties had disappeared. Whoever controlled Congress controlled patronage, and control of Congress no longer could be assured. Legislators also were sensitive to the drain on the national treasury. They justified the change by arguing that the people already were informed of the laws through the large number of dailies and the extension of the railway mail service, which distributed newspapers widely and quickly. The nation's laws no longer needed to be published locally. 1

The 1875 act also reflected a modern reality: Fewer newspapers were partisan. During the 1870s, newspapers that identified themselves as party affiliated dropped 29 percent in New York, 42 percent in Ohio, 35 percent in

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