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Partisans of the Southern Press

Partisans of the Southern Press: Editorial Spokesmen of the Nineteenth Century

Carl R. Osthaus
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130jqdx
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  • Book Info
    Partisans of the Southern Press
    Book Description:

    Carl R. Osthaus examines the southern contribution to American Press history, from Thomas Ritchie's mastery of sectional politics and theNew Orleans Picayune's popular voice and use of local color, to the emergence of progressive New South editors Henry Watterson, Francis Dawson, and Henry Grady, who imitated, as far as possible, the New Journalism of the 1880s. Unlike black and reform editors who spoke for minorities and the poor, the South's mainstream editors of the nineteenth century advanced the interests of the elite and helped create the myth of southern unity.

    The southern press diverged from national standards in the years of sectionalism, Civil War, and Reconstruction. Addicted to editorial diatribes rather than to news gathering, these southern editors of the middle period were violent, partisan, and vindictive. They exemplified and defended freedom of the press, but the South's press was free only because southern society was closed.

    This work broadens our understanding of journalism of the South, while making a valuable contribution to southern history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6140-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    This book examines the careers of important and powerful Southern editors. The subjects were chosen because they were significant as individuals and because their work, considered collectively, illuminates key aspects of Southern daily newspaper history in the nineteenth century. Some readers will be disappointed that I have not included their favorite editor or a number of other very able editors outside the mainstream. Typical country editors spoke for communities existing in the backwash of a Richmond or Charleston yet followed in the footsteps of their city cousins. Reform editors, however, represented an alienated community; they embraced protest and a cultural...

  5. 1 The World of the Southern Editor
    (pp. 1-11)

    The history of Southern newspapers before 1900 falls, very roughly, into three chronological periods. Southern journalism was much the same as Northern journalism from the 1790s up to the 1850s. In the second period, when sectional conflict dominated politics and journalism, a number of characteristics came to be especially, if not uniquely, associated with Southern newspapers; it was not that Southern newspapers had changed but rather that Northern papers were revolutionizing the profession while the South carried on in the old tradition. In the last phase of the century, however, the leading Southern papers, those publicizing the so called New...

  6. 2 Between Nationalism and Nullification: The Editorial Career of Thomas Ritchie
    (pp. 12-46)

    “He held the politics of the Old Commonwealth in the hollow of his hand,” declared theNew York Times.¹ To his political friends and opponents he was Old Father Ritchie, Old “Nous Verrons” (after a favorite editorial saying), the Napoleon of the press, or, less charitably, the dictator of Virginia politics.² The subject of such superlatives was Thomas Ritchie, the Democratic editor of theRichmond Enquirerfrom 1804 to 1845, and of theWashington Daily Unionfrom 1845 until 1851. With pardonable exaggeration, one admirer remarked that Ritchie taught Virginians “to think his own thoughts, to speak his own words,...

  7. 3 The Rise of a Metropolitan Giant: The New Orleans Daily Picayune, 1837-1850
    (pp. 47-68)

    TheNew Orleans Picayunedebuted on a rainy day in late January 1837. With seventy-five dollars and a borrowed press, the paper’s two editor-proprietors ran off one thousand copies of the four-page paper, eleven by fourteen inches—about big enough to wrap a loaf of bread.¹ If the tiny paper appeared to be cheaply made, it was also cheaply sold—for one Spanish “picayon” (hence the paper’s name), a silver coin common in New Orleans and worth six and a quarter cents. While thePicayune’s cost far exceeded that of New York City’s new penny press, it was a sensational...

  8. 4 The Triumph of Sectional Journalism: The Charleston Daily Courier and Charleston Mercury on the Eve of Secession
    (pp. 69-94)

    “We doubt not that many persons South as well as North, have formed an idea that the editor of theMercuryis a sort of Capt. Kidd, or Blue Beard, or gigantic Ogre, whose supreme delight consists in treason, stratagem and spoils.”¹ Though theMercurysnickered, this characterization was not very wide of the mark. Both contemporaries and recent historians agree that in 1860 theMercury,edited by Robert Barnwell Rhett, Jr., was the leading secessionist organ and that the family’s head, Rhett, Sr., was the dean of Southern fire-eaters. Widely quoted throughout the North as the voice of Southern...

  9. 5 A Study of Wartime Journalism: John M. Daniel and the Confederacy
    (pp. 95-117)

    Historians trying to rehabilitate the reputation of Confederate President Jefferson Davis argue that while he was struggling to offset the overwhelming power brought to bear on the agrarian South by the industrial North, the South’s newspaper editors cruelly tormented him, negating much of his work, and eroding Southern morale with irresponsible criticism. Historians argue that a longstanding tradition of strident, sadistic editorializing carried over into the war and produced an opposition press that helped destroy Confederate will. Along with the Rhetts of theCharleston Mercury,foremost among the editors who can be accused of such negativism is John Moncure Daniel,...

  10. 6 Resisting Reconstruction: John Forsyth and the Mobile Daily Register
    (pp. 118-148)

    “The editor dies, even as the actor, and leaves no copy,” mused an elderly Henry Watterson. “Editorial reputations have been as ephemeral as the publications which gave them contemporary importance.”¹ Marse Henry’s melancholic observation may well have been prompted not only by the oblivion to which posterity had consigned the lesser lights of the newspaper world but also by the eclipse of the reputation ofMobile Daily Register’s John Forsyth, regarded by contemporaries as the premier Southern editor in the period between John Daniel and Watterson himself. Praised at his death in 1877 by theAtlanta Constitutionas a “leader...

  11. 7 Three Giants of New South Journalism: The Formative Years
    (pp. 149-164)

    The sectionalization of politics and parties and the revolutionary changes sweeping through the Northern metropolitan press during the antebellum era denied the obsessively partisan prewar Southern press a truly national voice. The war devastated the South’s newspapers, and Reconstruction delayed their technical modernization while prolonging their fixation on politics. In content, temper, and style Southern journalism of Reconstruction preached only to the ex-Confederate faithful.

    In the 1880s, however, a few Southern editors transcended these constricting traditions. None received more local and national acclaim than Henry Watterson of theLouisville Courier-Journal,Francis Warrington Dawson of theCharleston News and Courier,and...

  12. 8 Three Giants of the New South: Triumph in the Eighties
    (pp. 165-197)

    For long periods in the 1870s and 1880s Henry Watterson’sLouisville Courier-Journal,Francis Warrington Dawson’sCharleston News and Courier,and Henry Grady’sAtlanta Constitutionwere the only significant morning dailies in their respective cities. No other Southern editor would have as much national influence as Watterson and Grady, at least until the rise of theAtlanta Constitution’s Ralph McGill in the mid-twentieth century. Ideologically Watterson, Dawson, and Grady seemed to be all of a piece, as each accepted, though in varying degrees, the importance of the New South gospel and the New Journalism. Nevertheless each editor had his own journalistic...

  13. 9 Conclusion: Southern Journalism, From Old South to New South
    (pp. 198-213)

    Any historical conclusions from this study of a handful of outstanding editors must of necessity be tentative. Much more research, including investigations of the less well-known dailies, the black press, and back-country papers, as well as dissenting and often transient editors, is necessary before historians can grasp the general history of Southern journalism. The foregoing essays suggest some provisional interpretations and possible directions for further study.

    Political issues and political parties dominated Southern journalism throughout most of the nineteenth century. The parties virtually created the papers, provided much of the readership, awarded profitable public printing contracts and, in the absence...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 214-277)
  15. A Note on Sources
    (pp. 278-285)
  16. Index
    (pp. 286-294)