Gamaliel Bailey and Antislavery Union

By Stanley Harrold | Go to book overview

chapter fourteen
The Decline of The National Era

In the fall of 1858 Bailey appealed to the influential friends of the National Era for help. The Era, he said, was the "pioneer press of Liberty on Slave Soil." It had established "the right of free discussion in Washington." It was the spokesman for "the Anti-Slavery element of the Republican Party." But those who were "under the impression" that he had "grown rich" and that the Era was "established beyond the possibility of failure" were wrong. It had been greatly weakened by the Know-Nothings, by competition from cheap northern weeklies, and by "tenderfooted" Republicans who wanted it to "lose much of its prominence & influence." As "an Editor and Advocate to the cause of freedom for twenty-two years," he would work for the cause "until flesh and heart fail," but unless something was done the Era "must go down."1

By the time Bailey had made this appeal, it was common knowledge that the Era was not what it had been several years earlier, and his hard-won financial independence had already crumbled. This situation contrasted with conditions during his first six years in Washington when the financial prospects of his paper had appeared excellent. Several factors accounted for the change, and to some extent Bailey himself was responsible. During the early years of the decade he had ignored Lewis Tappan's sound advice to invest the profits from the Era in negotiable state stocks, which could be readily converted to cash in an emergency. Like other men of his generation he preferred to speculate in real estate, purchasing several acres in Chicago for approximately $15,000, and twelve five-building lots in Washington for a similar amount. In both cases he supplemented his investment capital with operating funds he needed for the Era, expecting profits from the paper's rapidly in-

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