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“A Press That Speaks Its Opinions Frankly and Openly and Fearlessly”

“A Press That Speaks Its Opinions Frankly and Openly and Fearlessly”

The Contentious Relationship between the Democratic Press and the Party in the Antebellum North

Chapter:
(p.11) “A Press That Speaks Its Opinions Frankly and Openly and Fearlessly”
Source:
This Distracted and Anarchical People
Author(s):
Matthew Isham
Publisher:
Fordham University Press
DOI:10.5422/fordham/9780823245680.003.0002

This chapter examines the function of partisan newspapers in the antebellum political system in the North, where the partisan press was most extensive. Partisan newspapers performed important tasks for their parties, disseminating party principles and creeds, publishing campaign materials and ballots, and exhorting party members to the polls. Focusing on the urban Democratic press, this chapter argues that party exerted little to no control over “their” newspapers. Newspapers’ editorial independence and frequent criticism of party principles or policies inspired factional conflicts that weakened the Democratic Party in the North. Because partisan newspapers were independent businesses affiliated with a party but not operated by it, they retained a large degree of autonomy. These papers often embodied the individual thoughts and opinions of their owner-editors as much as they represented the expressions of the party. These factional conflicts bolstered third party challenges to the Democrats, such as the Free Soil organization, which inspired defections of disaffected antislavery members from the Democratic Party. Those defections in turn aided the emergence of the Republican Party in the mid-1850s as the main opposition to the Democratic Party in the North.

Keywords:   Partisan newspapers, North, Democratic Party, Free Soil, Editors, Hunkers, Barnburners

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