American "journalism" returns to its colonial and 19th century roots

How the mob handled a newspaper it didn't like in 1837.

How the mob handled a newspaper it didn’t like in 1837.

Because real American history is no longer taught in woke schools, return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear when journalism was so partisan that mobs killed publishers they loathed.

Cable news, social media and much of the press following the lead of the Washington Post and New York Times have become so partisan that it resembles the early days of the Republic when newspapers were overtly partisan. Passionately so. Readers knew what they were getting when they shelled out their pennies to buy a sheet, pro or con.

They were so partisan that some publishers were killed by mobs.

Elijah Parish Lovejoy was an abolitionist newspaper editor  who was shot and killed by a pro-slavery mob in Alton, Illinois.  As Tim O’Neil described it in the  St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

ALTON • Besieged but defiant, the editor and his friends guarded the new printing press inside a riverfront warehouse. A mob surged toward them. Everybody had weapons.

Elijah Parish Lovejoy, a free press martyr/

Elijah Parish Lovejoy, a free press martyr/

“Burn ’em out,” someone outside shouted. “Shoot every damned abolitionist as he leaves.”

When men with torches climbed onto the roof, defenders of the press opened fire, killing one rioter and forcing others to retreat. In the eerie quiet, editor Elijah P. Lovejoy stepped outside for a look.

Five shots riddled him. “Oh God, I am shot,” he said as he fell.

Lovejoy, known for righteous and unforgiving prose against slavery, was almost 35 when he was killed Nov. 7, 1837. The mob tossed his press into the Mississippi River.

It was the fourth press that Lovejoy had lost to people who hated his words. He soon became a martyr to the nation’s small but rising wave of abolitionism. In Illinois, a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln decried the mob violence.

Another death came in the Baltimore Riots during the War of 1812. Here’s a lengthy description:

22 June

On the night of 22 June 1812, just four days after war had been declared, an angry mob gathered outside the office of the Federal Republican newspaper. Angered by the paper’s criticism of the Republican administration, the entire office was leveled to its foundations and printing apparatus’ were destroyed by the mob. One of the editors narrowly escaped with his life. One of the attackers was killed as he attempted to knock out a window on the upper floor and fell with it on to the street below.  The papers editor, Alexander Contee Hanson, vowed to recommence the paper to assert his rights and resist oppression. The mobs continued for several more weeks and anyone with Federalist or Pro-British views were attacked.

27 July

By 27 July, Alexander Hanson had re-established the Federal Republican in the house of one of its proprietors, Mr. Wagner, and occupied it with around fifteen to twenty other men including James Lingan and Henry Lee III. Fearing that another mob may form, the men were prepared to defend the house and armed themselves with muskets, pistols and swords. Shortly after eight o’ clock in the evening a mob formed outside and threw stones at the house which broke the windows and burst open the shutters. Henry Lee fired warning shots over the heads of the mob to try and frighten them away, but to no avail. The mob broke open the lower door and were fired upon, hitting and killing a man named Dr. Gale, forcing him to be dragged off by the mob. The violence continued throughout the night in which resulted in several men being wounded.

28 July

Around sunrise the next day, the mob brought an artillery field piece and placed it in front of the house, but they were prevented from firing it by the arrival of mayor Edward Johnson and other officials. The men were eventually persuaded to vacate the house and taken to the Baltimore Prison under armed guard. The men were marched through the streets on the one mile journey, protected by two lines of around fifty infantry and twenty Dragoons. Some of the men were injured as protesters who lined the streets threw stones.

The men were placed in the prison without armed guard, that despite the mayor promising one and stating that he would lose his own life before the men should be hurt. In the company of the mayor were three men, two named Mumma and Maxwell, one of which had a key in his hand. The men said they were acquaintances of the jailer, but the men suspected that they had bad intentions, having been seen as part of the mob before. A mob said to number around 300 soon gathered outside the prison by nightfall and managed to break in to the prison almost instantly without exertion, making the men believe that it was opened by someone with a key, possibly Mumma or Maxwell. The men attempted to rush the mob to escape, but to no avail, and nine of them were beaten for a number of hours whilst others were not recognized by the mob and managed to escape unhurt. The men had penknives stuck in-to their faces and hands and had hot candle grease poured into their eyes. James Lingan was killed and an attempt was made to cut off the nose of Henry Lee. Robert Thompson was tarred and feathered and paraded around town on the back of a cart. The men were eventually saved by a Dr. Hall, who encouraged the mob to retire until morning. Hall and four other doctors tended to the men’s wounds and commandeered Carriages for the men to make their escape.

It hasn’t come to that today (I hope). Newspapers in those days established partisan reputations; their “news” stories reflected those biases so clearly that no one could have mistaken it for something else.

Most readers here aren’t old enough to remember the Chicago Tribune under the hard-right, isolationist hand of Col. Robert McCormick. News stories were selected, written and played that supported his political, economic and social views. In case no one noticed the bias, an editorial cartoon ran prominently in the middle of the Tribune’s front page. In response to the overt bias, Marshall Field III created an opposing voice that eventually emerged as the Chicago Sun-Times.

Today,  Twitter and Facebook’s liberal bent is so well established that only a fool could expect them to be balanced. For that reason, I hope efforts to make Twitter, Facebook and other social media responsible to the government fail.

More on that later.




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  • Last time I looked Trump was on Twitter with millions of followers (sadly). Seems to counter your contention that Twitter has a liberal bias.

    I don't quite see how your historical vignettes enlighten the state of journalism today. Of course, you omit current examples of right-wing media.

  • Thomas Jefferson was known for having “anonymous” surrogates print broadsheets under the guise of journalism accusing his enemies of more disreputable actions than anything we see today. Didn’t such libelous journalism lead to the duel between Hamilton and Burr? Of course, when it comes to citing unnamed anonymous sources, WaPo and the NYT have no peers.

  • In reply to Get out of IL now!:

    Has any reputable investigative journalist ever NOT used unnamed anonymous sources?

  • In reply to Get out of IL now!:

    Make that: Has any reputable investigative journalist NOT used unnamed anonymous sources?

  • In reply to Get out of IL now!:

    And where does your information come from ?

    Daily Caller?
    Breitbart News?
    Fox News?
    New York Post?
    Sinclair Network?
    Washington Examiner?
    Washington Times?
    One America News?
    Rush Limbaugh?
    Lou Dobbs?
    Alex Jones?
    Dennis Byrne?

    Or are you aschamed to say?

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Or are you ashamed to say?

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    I believe it came from Thomas Fleming’s book, Duel, Hamilton, Burr, And the Future of America. Unfortunately, in leaving IL, I have donated all my American history books to a local college. But any serious research on Jefferson, Burr and Hamilton will describe the feuds for power after Washington. I also ran across some of Jefferson’s anonymous writings when I spent several days at Monticello courtesy of a relative with the National Park Service. Don’t do much serious research, do you?

  • In reply to Get out of IL now!:

    I wasn't referring to your history books. You referenced the distinguished journalists at the New York Times and the Washington Post, several of my sources for facts and the truth. What are your sources for facts these days? Nice try at evasion.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    I'm in such distinguished company.

  • Distinguished journalists such as the author of the 1619 Project, who has been criticized by numerous historians and quietly had parts deleted? Or Jennifer Rubin, the “conservative” columnist at WaPo, whose conservatism resembles Hubert Humphrey? Or Paul Krugman, who predicted a global recession and stock market crash if Trump got elected? Or Maggie Halberstrom whose numerous scoops fell apart? I’ve never referenced any from your list above. Any columnist, including yours, look at their employer, you know their bias. Even Sports Illustrated and ESPN, they’re politicized. Your sources are pure?

  • In reply to Get out of IL now!:

    OK. But what are your sources of information? Quit beating around the bush.

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