The power of the American press to influence and even set the political agenda is commonly associated with the rise of such press barons as Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst at the turn of the century. The latter even took credit for instigating the Spanish-American War. Their power, however, had deeper roots in the journalistic culture of the nineteenth century, particularly in the social and political conflicts that climaxed with the Civil War. Until now historians have paid little attention to the role of the press in defining and disseminating the conflicting views of the North and the South in the decades leading up to the Civil War. In The Civil War and the Press historians, political scientists, and scholars of journalism measure the influence of the press, explore its diversity, and profile the prominent editors and publishers of the day.
The book is divided into three sections covering the role of the press in the prewar years, throughout the conflict itself, and during the Reconstruction period. Part 1, "Setting the Agenda for Secession and War," considers the rise of the consumer society and the journalistic readership, the changing nature of editorial standards and practice, the issues of abolitionism, secession, and armed resistence as reflected in Northern and Southern newspapers, the reporting on John Brown's Harper's Ferry raid, and the influence of journalism on the 1860 election results. Part 2, "In Time of War," includes discussions of journalistic images and ideas of womanhood in the context of war, the political orientation of the Jewish press, the rise of illustrated periodicals, and issues of censorship and opposition journalism. The chapters in Part 3, "Reconstructing a Nation," detail the infiltration of the former Confederacy by hundreds of federally subsidized Republican newspapers, editorial reactions to the developing issue of voting rights for freed slaves, and the journalistic mythologization of Jesse James as a resister of Reconstruction laws and conquering Unionists.
In tracing the confluence of journalism and politics from its source, this groundbreaking volume opens a wide variety of perspectives on a crucial period in American history while raising questions that remain pertainent to contemporary tensions between press power and government power. The Civil War and the Press will be essential reading for historians, media studies specialists, political scientists, and readers interested in the Civil War period.
David B. Sachsman holds the George R. West, Jr. Chair of Excellence in Communication and Public Affairs at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where he also serves as director of the annual Symposium on the 19th Century Press, the Civil War, and Free Expression.