Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion
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“Lincoln believed that ‘with public sentiment nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed.’ Harold Holzer makes a significant contribution to our understanding of Lincoln’s leadership by showing us how deftly he managed his relations with the press of his day to move public opinion forward to preserve the Union and abolish slavery.” —Doris Kearns Goodwin
From his earliest days, Lincoln devoured newspapers. As he started out in politics he wrote editorials and letters to argue his case. He spoke to the public directly through the press. He even bought a German-language newspaper to appeal to that growing electorate in his state. Lincoln alternately pampered, battled, and manipulated the three most powerful publishers of the day: Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald, and Henry Raymond of the New York Times.
When war broke out and the nation was tearing itself apart, Lincoln authorized the most widespread censorship in the nation’s history, closing down papers that were “disloyal” and even jailing or exiling editors who opposed enlistment or sympathized with secession. The telegraph, the new invention that made instant reporting possible, was moved to the office of Secretary of War Stanton to deny it to unfriendly newsmen.
Holzer shows us an activist Lincoln through journalists who covered him from his start through to the night of his assassination—when one reporter ran to the box where Lincoln was shot and emerged to write the story covered with blood. In a wholly original way, Holzer shows us politicized newspaper editors battling for power, and a masterly president using the press to speak directly to the people and shape the nation.
another key issue, slavery: “Understanding the spirit of our institutions to aim at the elevation of men, I am opposed to whatever tends to degrade them. I have some little notoriety for commiserating the oppressed condition of the negro; and I should be strangely inconsistent if I could favor any project for curtailing the existing rights of white men, even though born in different lands, and speaking different languages from myself.”91 The declaration appeared the next day in the Illinois
Springfield during the convention.42 Soon he was not only helping Nicolay answer correspondence, but submitting fresh newspaper pieces under the rather precious nom de plume, “Ecarte,” a coy play on a voguish two-man card game called écarté. Thus, Nicolay and Hay not only functioned respectively as office manager and correspondence clerk; they served also as official, if anonymous, propagandists, the equivalents of what today would be called campaign press secretaries. • • • If candidate
that “disputation was the higher duty of man”; and Raymond, who relished “the joy of a fight,” yet possessed “no skill in discussing . . . moral consequences.” Raymond himself came close to agreeing with this assessment when he admitted that, however vehemently the press might criticize politicians, the newspaper trade was designed not to reform society but to earn money. “There is nothing,” he maintained, “of less consequence to a public man than what the papers printed about him
Mifflin, 1922), 311. 50 Michael Burlingame, ed., Lincoln’s Journalist: John Hay’s Anonymous Writings for the Press, 1860–1864 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1998), 353n14. 51 Two versions of Lincoln’s farewell address are in CW, 4:190–91; New York Herald and New York Times (via the AP), February 12, 1861. 52 New York Herald, February 13, February 15, 1861; Villard, Memoirs of Henry Villard, 1:152. 53 Burlingame, ed., Lincoln’s Journalist, 35–36. The author is indebted to New
See Pyle, “Dateline Gettysburg,” America’s Civil War (November 2010): 30–37. 145 The Gilbert text is in CW, 7:19–20. Young added a memorable phrase at the end. He had heard Lincoln say “this nation under God,” and though it is possible he did not find the phrase in the president’s manuscript—precisely which manuscript Lincoln read from remains unknown—Gilbert placed it in his dispatch. It was subsequently accepted in all standard printings of the speech—including copies later written out by