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Highlights in the History of the American Press

Highlights in the History of the American Press: A Book of Readings

Copyright Date: 1954
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    Highlights in the History of the American Press
    Book Description:

    The articles collected in this volume present a vivid panorama of American journalistic history from its antecedents in the English ballad singers to the press giants of modern times. Since there is probably no single force that has played a greater role in the history of America than its newspapers, the history of journalism tells, in large measure, the story of this country’s political, social, and economic development. Therefore, this book of readings offers much to the students of the American scene, past and present, whether they are general readers or specialists in journalism, history, American studies, or any of the social sciences. The 27 articles included here have been chosen particularly for their readability and authenticity. They are by many different writers and are from a wide variety of periodicals published over the past 100 years. They are arranged according to six historical periods, covering the rise of the English press, the Colonial press, the nationalistic press of Revolutionary times, the popular press of the Jacksonian democracy, the transition press following the Civil War, and the modern era of mass circulation. An introductory essay for each group of articles places the individual studies in historical perspective and examines briefly the journalistic events not covered in detail by the articles themselves. The article authors include such notable names in American letters as Gamaliel Bradford, Will Irwin, William Allen White, John Dos Passos, and Henry F. Pringle. The coherent presentation of this diverse material should help anyone interested in the American newspaper get a better view of its broad scope, its lively color, and its profound influence on the course of history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6245-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-2)

    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 3-5)

      Before any socially significant method of news dissemination had been adopted in England, there were sporadic attempts in Germany, Holland, France, Italy, and portions of the Orient to present news by means of ink and paper. Since, however, it is with English modifications of the early pattern that the history of American journalism is most closely associated, the story of the American newspaper, for all practical purposes, may be said to begin in England.

      The well-nigh universal desire for knowledge of what was happening beyond the boundaries of English villages and shires was very early satisfied in limited degree by...

    • 1 Autolycus’ Pack: The Ballad Journalism of the Sixteenth Century
      (pp. 6-24)

      The girl sitting opposite me in my suburban train of a morning, gravely studying her halfpenny illustrated daily paper, has perhaps not read “The Winter’s Tale”—at least since she left school; and, if she were to read it, would not recognize herself in Mopsa, who “loves a ballad in print, for then we are sure it is true,” nor her favourite paper as the direct descendant and representative of the ballads with which Autolycus’ pack was so richly furnished. Yet this is the egg from which that full-fledged and loud-voiced bird, our modern journalism, has been hatched.

      The first...

    • 2 War Journalism Three Hundred Years Ago
      (pp. 25-37)

      It is interesting to turn from the metropolitan daily of to-day, with its columns of cable dispatches, its reports of special war correspondents, its maps and profusely illustrated weekly supplements, to the small, five- or six-inch news-books that served the needs of the seventeenth century. They were virtually books rather than papers or sheets, for they were cut and printed like the other pamphlets of the day. And how strange the titles now sound, devised, as they were, not simply for identification but for information as well. Acontinuation of certain speciall and remarkable passages informed to both houses of...

    • 3 The Power of the English Press in the Eighteenth Century
      (pp. 38-45)

      In the past generation or two, students have begun habitually to use newspapers as sources for the history of the time in which they were published. The assumption seems to be that the papers were recorders of facts or reflectors of opinion and so yield information, though often of doubtful reliability, concerning the subjects reported in their columns. There is an element of truth in this assumption. But it is doubtful whether newspapers can be used to much advantage as sources of information until they receive more attention as being themselves part of the fabric of society. Newspapers are more...

    • 4 Daniel Defoe
      (pp. 46-52)

      Daniel Defoe came from the class of dissenting small shopkeepers and artisans. He was the son of a Baptist tallow-chandler named Foe who rose in due time to the more respectable occupation of butcher. Daniel Foe was born in the heart of London in the parish of St. Giles, Cripplegate, about the year of the restoration of Charles Second. He grew up during the period of greatest repression of nonconformists, learned to read on the Bible, as a child piously copied out large sections of it in shorthand, when a rumor went around that the High Churchmen were going to...


    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 53-55)

      Importantas were the contributions to American journalism of eighteenth-century colonial editors, the New World counterparts of Daniel Defoe, it is well to remember that for close to half a century before the first newspaper appeared in America a journalism of news and opinion had existed in the form of sporadic news sheets, tracts, and pamphlets. In concluding his “Forerunners of the Newspaper in America” Matthias A. Shaaber says, “it is evident that journalism—the printing and sale of news for the information of the public or for the profit of the publisher or for both reasons—is older in...

    • 5 Forerunners of the Newspaper in America
      (pp. 56-63)

      All our histories of journalism in America begin with Benjamin Harris’s attempt to start a newspaper at Boston in 1690. So far as anybody knows, this was undoubtedly the first attempt to print a newspaper in English on this side of the Atlantic, but it was not necessarily the first attempt to print news. News does not altogether depend upon newspapers, as we are prone to think in these days when we are so plentifully served with them; it springs up everywhere, at all times, under all conditions. Once a settlement had been planted in America, there was plenty of...

    • 6 Colonial Pamphleteers
      (pp. 64-74)

      In the study of the development of public opinion in the United States, particularly with reference to the work of the editorial writer, the early Colonial pamphlet has had relatively little attention. Buried in libraries, sought only by scholars delving into the lore of special periods, this trenchant form of early American editorial expression has enjoyed a dignified obscurity. Yet it has played no small part in the American pre-newspaper era by establishing the precedent of sound, intelligent comment on public affairs by men who were leaders in national and civic life.

      For at least fifty years before Benjamin Harris...

    • 7 Franklin as a Printer
      (pp. 75-82)

      When Franklin wrote his will he began with the words, “I, Benjamin Franklin,printer”Thruout his life he was chiefly interested in the art of printing, and his dearest friends and most intimate companions were members of that craft. He was learned in paper, types and ink. He printed his bagatelles upon his private press at Passy with types cast by his household servants. He was proud of the glossy blackness of his ink, and he furnished Pierres (ImprOrdredu Roi) with the special paper upon which he printed hisManuel d’Epictete en Grec.His most esteemed correspondent in...


    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 83-85)

      Colonialnewspapers took an increasingly important part in the discussion of Anglo-American affairs after 1765, especially discussion of such widely unpopular measures as the Stamp Act. The journalistic literature of protest changed to one of denunciation and challenge as Americans faced the issues involved in the impending separation from England. Samuel Adams, writing for Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette, was particularly effective in espousing the American cause. John Dickinson, Philip Freneau, John Holt, Isaiah Thomas, Eenjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine were among the able writers and printers who performed significant service in uniting colonial Americans in a common cause against...

    • 8 Newspaper Coverage of Lexington and Concord
      (pp. 86-99)

      The commencement of actual hostilities between the English troops who had been quartered in Boston and the American militia who had been arming to defend their rights was a major “news-break” of the eighteenth century. The men of 1775 did not need the perspective of history to realize its importance; they understood at once that by this event they were plunged into “all the horrors of a civil war.” It was big news by any standard, and everyone knew it was big news.

      How, then, did the newspapers of the American colonies cover this great event? Did they all have...

    • 9 Tom Paine’s First Appearance in America
      (pp. 100-111)

      When Tom Paine came to America in 1774, he found the dispute with England the all-absorbing topic. The atmosphere was heavy with the approaching storm. The First Congress was in session in the autumn of that year. On the 17th of September, John Adams felt certain that the other Colonies would support Massachusetts. The Second Congress met in May, 1775. During the winter and spring the quarrel had grown rapidly. Lexington and Concord had become national watchwords; the army was assembled about Boston; Washington was chosen commander-in-chief. Then came Bunker’s Hill, the siege of Boston, the attack upon Quebec. There...

    • 10 William Cobbett and Philadelphia Journalism, 1794-1800
      (pp. 112-134)

      William cobbett’s life in England after 1800 as editor ofCobbett’s Political Registeris reasonably well-known to readers of English history. His more amusing and adventurous activities as a soldier of the 54th regiment of foot in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick from 1784 to 1791 have been interestingly reported by Cobbett himself in various autobiographical passages.¹ But of his life in and near Philadelphia from 1793 to 1800, the record is confusing. It is true enough that Cobbett had much to say about it at a later date, but his memory then was busy with trying to make his...


    • [Part IV Introduction]
      (pp. 135-137)

      Thestream of emigration across the Alleghenies into the new West in the 1790s swelled to a vast tide during the early decades of the nineteenth century. In every community large enough to support it, a newspaper was started. Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois followed one another rapidly in acquiring settled communities and newspapers, and the newspapers, for the most part, voiced the rugged liberalism of pioneer living and thinking, a liberalism which was to characterize the West and to put a frontiersman, Andrew Jackson, in the White House by 1828.

      The election of Jackson indicated the decline of the...

    • 11 Francis P. Blair, Pen-Executive of Andrew Jackson
      (pp. 138-149)

      Send it to Bla-ar!” exclaimed President Andrew Jackson when he and his friends were puzzled with a baffling problem. His decision was as final in such matters as that of a dictator. And so it went to the greatest partisan journalist and defender of Jacksonian democracy, Francis P. Blair, formerly of Frankfort, Kentucky. The problems which confronted Jackson ranged from petty social scandals in and about the capital to those which concerned the existence of the Union. He was confronted with the avowed Democratic practice which was aptly expressed by the shrewd political tactician, William L. Marcy, who laconically said:...

    • 12 James Gordon Bennett’s Scintillations
      (pp. 150-159)

      James Gordon Bennett, in the spring of 1835, threw out upon the sidewalks of New York a bundle of detonating fire-crackers, which he styled theHerald.Not theNew York Herald,but a herald in a general way, heralding a new era of such remarkable character that the town stood agape in wonder, half-conscious that an unexpected revulsion had begun, and wholly uncertain as to the proper method of regarding the phenomenon. For Bennett’s venture was absolutely phenomenal in every aspect. It was an innovation upon the old-time easygoing methods of American journalism; it was a startling revelation of the...

    • 13 Horace Greeley
      (pp. 160-174)

      Horace Greeley was all his life an intense and passionate worker. From his boyhood in the tens and twenties of the last century, until his death in 1872, it was work, work, work for him, and nothing else. As a child in school and on the farm he worked with his hands and with his brain. As a printer in New York he worked with his brain and with his hands. As editor of theNew Yorkerand theNew York Tribunehe worked with his brain, but still also with his busy fingers, till the fingers were weary and...


    • [Part V Introduction]
      (pp. 175-177)

      By the1870s the immediate issues of the Civil War had been settled, southern reconstruction was beginning to assume the intelligent, humanitarian aspect President Lincoln had desired, and the North and West were well started on a period of dynamic economic expansion. In the years between Appomattox and the turn of the century the developing forces of industrialization and mechanization transformed American society and welded a new nation. Railroads crossed the plains and broke up old frontier lines, millions of immigrants poured into the industrial centers and out onto the fertile acres of the Middle West, urban population mounted at...

    • 14 Samuel Bowles
      (pp. 178-194)

      It seems highly suitable to conclude a series of Union Portraits with a study of one of the great journalists who played so important a part during the war and the years preceding and following. Several of these men have wider reputations than Samuel Bowles, but perhaps hardly any was more singly and intensely identified with his work. Weed and Greeley had an active personal interest in politics. Dana was a valuable public servant as well as an editor. Garrison was something far different from a mere newspaper man. Bennett was confessedly a money-maker. Raymond was, indeed, a thorough journalist;...

    • 15 Godkin of the post
      (pp. 195-210)

      On fridays, during the winter of 1886, the arrival of the noon train at Thomasville, Ga., was an event of importance. This was not due to the presence of noted travellers; it was because the week’s copies of theNationwere on board. Thomasville was a winter resort and among the sojourners were ten or twelve faithful subscribers to the weekly journal of opinion founded by Edwin Lawrence Godkin. The historian James Ford Rhodes was one of them; two decades later he remembered sad occasions when the post was tardy, when theNationdid not arrive until late in the...

    • 16 Kentucky Bourbon: Marse Henry Watterson
      (pp. 211-228)

      He was mellow and aged in the wood of long experience. We shall not see his like again and it is just as well. For Marse Henry Watterson, although he ranted against Wall Street and the extreme reactionaries, was a conservative at heart and he would, I am afraid, have viewed modern America with explosive alarm and disgust.

      A panorama, broad and detailed, passed before his keen eyes. The editor of theLouisville Courier-Journalwas, himself, a figure in many of its scenes. “I have read too much and seen too much,” he wrote when, as old men do, he...

    • 17 Henry W. Grady, Reporter
      (pp. 229-242)

      In the forty-six years that have elapsed since the death of Henry W. Grady, managing editor of theAtlanta Constitutionfrom 1880 to 1889, the facts of his brief but remarkable career have become obscured by a haze of myth and legend. Although thousands of high-school orators still declaim his highly significant speech on “The New South,” too often both declaimers and their hearers think of Grady as a political figure, when in truth one of the secrets of his hold upon the public was his steadfast refusal to run for office. Even those of us who recall that Grady...

    • 18 The Man Who Made the Star
      (pp. 243-262)

      In the beginning, thirty-five years ago when this generation was young, Kansas City sprawled on a half dozen ugly yellow clay hills rising from the west bank of the Missouri River, a “mean city,” if ever there was one. Mud streets, wooden sidewalks covered with wooden awnings over the business thoroughfares that slouched or staggered toward the river; cribbed vice reeking and stinking through all the north part of the town, and the catfish aristocracy of the unreconstructed South sulking on the hills about the town; a dozen railroads pouring thousands of Western immigrants into the Union Station every day...


    • [Part VI Introduction]
      (pp. 263-266)

      Themassing of urban population and the rise of great business corporations brought increased circulation and advertising revenue to newspapers in the period between the Spanish-American War and World War I and gave social and economic stimulus to the heightened tempo of American metropolitan journalism. The growth of newspaper chains and the entrance of the newspaper into the field of corporate finance brought consolidations and mergers, which struck down the less solvent papers and tended to centralize control of the American press in fewer hands. Press associations and rapidly expanding news and feature syndicates helped bring in an era of...

    • 19 Yellow Journalism
      (pp. 267-283)

      The seeds of yellow journalism, so called for want of a better name, sprouted at St. Louis and San Francisco during the eighties; they came to fruition in New York, thrashing-floor for changes in journalism, during the early nineties. In the decade which preceded the full flowering of Hearst and Pulitzer, however, a change in the spirit of newspaper publication had crept in by way of the business —office a change which prepared the ground for this new seed. From a rather humble professional enterprise, the newspaper had become a great “business proposition,” holding infinite possibilities of profit.

      Dana, Medill,...

    • 20 The Portrait of an Editor: Joseph Pulitzer
      (pp. 284-299)
      DON C. SEITZ

      Joseph Pulitzer was tall—six feet two and a half inches in height—but of a presence so commanding as to make his stature seem even greater. His hair was black and his beard a reddish brown. A forehead that well bespoke the intellect behind it shaded a nose of the sort Napoleon admired; his chin was small but powerful and of the nutcracker variety, such as the portrait of Mr. Punch affects. To conceal this he always went bearded after he was thirty. His complexion was as delicate and beautiful as that of a tender child. His hands were...

    • 21 Hearst: A Psychological Note
      (pp. 300-316)

      California that cradled him has received Hearst in the evening of his life, a career has come full-circle, and at San Simeon on the shore of the Pacific the strangest and perhaps the most significant figure of our times holds court in a Cecil de Mille magnificence with movie actors as his courtiers.

      A towering vanity, fed for thirty years on dreams of the White House and the power of a Caesar, rests at last on a veritable movie-set of Moorish palaces, rising above the sea to command his four hundred square miles, and on the flattery of that Hollywood...

    • 22 William Randolph Hearst: A Tentative Appraisal
      (pp. 317-330)

      The distinguished American historian Frederic Logan Paxson, of the Universities of Wisconsin and California, once told a graduate seminar that he willingly would abandon all his other work if William Randolph Hearst only would call him to San Simeon and tell him that the files were open for a legitimate historical study of the Hearst career.

      Professor Paxson never was invited to San Simeon; nor in Hearst's lifetime was any other scholar permitted access to the publisher’s private papers and the records of the Hearst empire. This didn’t stop people from writing about Hearst. But either they wrote briefly after...

    • 23 Edward W. Scripps
      (pp. 331-340)

      Around the year 1876 a tall, gangling youth, born on a farm at Rushville, Ill., stood one evening on the sidewalk of a fashionable residence street in London, England. An awning had been stretched from the entrance of a palace to the curb, and carriages were dashing up, discharging gentlemen in long black cloaks and top hats, with ladies on their arms dressed like flowers of the field.

      “I looked in through the opening doorway and was warmed by the color and gaiety of these people,” said Edward W. Scripps, years later. “They were having a good time and I...

    • 24 The Legacy of Scripps
      (pp. 341-349)

      The history of American Journalism throbs with rich tradition, heartwarming legend, and lofty purpose. Sometimes the glories of the past have been kept glowing; sometimes allowed to languish; sometimes fanned into new life; sometimes dissipated, traduced, and transmuted.

      The spirit of Scripps is one of the richest legacies of the lot. Today theDetroit Newsand the Booth Newspapers in Michigan; the Scripps League of Newspapers in the Northwest; the John P. Scripps papers on the Pacific Coast, and, most importantly, the Scripps-Howard crosscountry chain, with its allied interests, the United Press and three feature syndicates, all stem from the...

    • 25 Mr. Munsey
      (pp. 350-361)

      I find difficulty in writing about Mr. Munsey’s beginnings because it is so hard to think of him as anything but the completed Mr. Munsey. He must have crawled before he toddled, and toddled before he ran; his nose, like the noses of all normal infants, must sometimes have needed wiping; and there must have been aunts who poked jocose fingers into his youthful midriff and called him Ootsie- Tootsums and other absurd names; but the thought of these occurrences merely induces in a modern observer a shuddering sense oflèse majesté.I am not indulging in unseemly levity. Mr....

    • 26 The Man Behind the Times
      (pp. 362-376)

      The sole trouble virtue demands,” said Hume,“is that of just calculation and the steady preference of the greater happiness.” “Success” says Mr. Adolph S. Ochs, the managing owner of theNew York Times,“is simply won by the practice of the ordinary virtues.” Clearly the famous utilitarian and the eminent publisher agree. But while Hume’s naiveté is complex and artful, Mr. Ochs’s is palpably ingenuous. He just naturally believes what Hume was forced to conclude from sheer skepticism. And between skepticism and animal faith the advantage is all with faith.

      Beingex animocertain, Mr. Ochs does not hesitate to...

    • 27 The Colonel’s Century: Time Looks at Robert R. McCormick
      (pp. 377-388)

      Just to reassure himself, City Editor William Donald Maxwell got the fireworks company on the phone. “Tell me,” he pleaded, anxiously chomping a long cigar. “I don’t care if you're spending five thousand bucks or 15 thousand. But are you sure this is going to be the damnedest fireworks showanybodyever saw,anyplace?”

      “Yessir,” came the answer. “Damnedest fireworks showanybody ever saw,anyplace.”

      Don Maxwell knew it had better be. His awesome and exacting employer, Colonel Robert Rutherford McCormick, was sparing neither money, manpower nor gunpowder to make hisChicago Tribune’slooth birthday celebration next week...

  9. INDEX
    (pp. 389-398)