Almost from the moment the United States came into being, journalism history has been seen, as a part of its overall growth and development up until the present day (whenever the present day happened to be). As a result, much of the history of the press has been overlooked or discounted because it seemed not to play an important role in getting journalism and its practitioners to the present. This trend has been particularly true for the party press, for most historians have either downplayed the era because it was so out of step with what true journalism is supposed to be like or failed to look at the big picture, concentrating instead on individuals and specific papers.
It is strange that the party press has not been studied in more depth and detail, for primary sources abound and are readily available. Most of the publications from the era still exist, and many either have been republished or are available on microform. Also, there are numerous personal records of editors and other newspapermen scattered throughout the country. Many have been used, but generally only when studying a specific person or publication. Historians have failed to make good use of the wealth of material available on the party press.
Basically, historical writing about journalism has gone through four stages. The historiography of the party press has tended to follow a pattern similar to that of the study of American history in general. The earliest scholars, generally tided Nationalist historians, emphasized the growth of American democracy and the role newspapers played in that process. The next group to appear, the Developmental historians, stressed the growth of the press to its modern-day state of maturity. Next came the Progressive historians, who emphasized the idea of conflict in history and the role of newspapers in such conflicts. Finally, the Cultural historians appeared. Their study of the newspapers and magazines underscored how the press functioned in its environment. For most of these different groups of histori-