CHAPTER FOUR: THE SLAVERY PRESS AND THE POLITICS OF SECESSION
"It is not at all surprising that the people of the South are so indifferent to the rights of the African race. For, as far as the negro is concerned, the press, the pulpit, the bench, the bar, and the stump, conspire with a unity of purpose and pertinacity of zeal, which is no less lamentable than extraordinary, to eradicate every sentiment of justice and brotherhood from their hearts. They sincerely believe Wrong to be Right, and act on that unhappy conviction." - James Redpath, The Roving Editor, 1859
"The slavery controversy in the United States presents a case of the most violent antagonism of interests and opinions. No persuasions, no entreaties or appeals, can allay the fierce contention between the two mutually repulsive elements of our system." - Mississippi Free Trader, August 28, 1857
The antebellum slavery press played two major roles: political and economic. Deciding which of these roles was most important is not an easy task because of the shifting situations of specific newspapers. A large political role for the newspapers can be seen from the very earliest days of the Natchez press, but a careful examination of the nature of political rhetoric shows a marked transformation in the manner in which the newspapers conducted political business as Mississippi and its place in the republic changed between 1800 and 1860. Starting about 1830, the Natchez newspapers clearly highlighted the importance of sectional politics and the South’s increasing concern over its slave interests. This focus on sectional matters, emphasized by column after column of many newspapers dedicated to stories on abolition, submissionists, disunionists and secessionists, popularized these issues and inflamed large segments of the white southern population. As early as 1850, disunion and civil war seemed likely, if not inevitable.
Of course, politics is more than candidates and elections and the president’s latest speech. What exactly constitutes a political article? Articles titled “Abolitionists Endorse Whig Candidate” or “The Dangers of the Tariff” can be safely characterized as political pieces. Sometimes the distinction is not so clear. Some articles promoted stereotypes of women, northerners or blacks without specific references to elections or parties or candidates, yet some of these articles certainly had a political purpose.
Until the late 1820s, many southerners viewed slavery as a necessary embarrassment, echoing Thomas Jefferson’s imagery of slavery: “As it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.” (1) In the early 1800s, southern planters commonly admitted the problems of slavery, but they rationalized the institution in a number of ways. They had inherited a bad system and they would have liked to have been able to do away with it, but the slaves could not be freed en masse because they would either starve during the winter or rampage across the countryside. This attitude changed drastically by the 1830s, and the Natchez press would play its part in propagandizing slavery as a beneficial institution.
A number of factors put the South on the defensive, but the rise of the abolitionist movement and the wide distribution of anti-slavery literature disturbed the southern planters and the placidity of their worldview. Nat Turner’s rebellion of 1831 also shook the core belief of white southerners that slaves felt contentment and gratitude for the paternalistic care of the good white people. A shift in reasoning began in the 1830s, in response to Nat Turner and the publication of abolitionist journals like William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator. By the end of the decade, slavery was no longer a necessary evil; the institution had become a positive good, beneficial to whites and blacks, northerners and southerners. Blessed by God, endorsed by the Bible, southern thinkers lauded slavery as a vital cog in the machinery of freedom. (2)
Attitudes towards slavery and blacks surfaced in many articles, and these types of articles, while also useful for cultural reasons, provide excellent examples of more subtle political uses. In a slave society, the social order had to be rigidly maintained, and politics played a major role in supporting and strengthening the rules that made up this social order. The press in such an environment endorsed candidates, publicized the viewpoints of a party, and supported the social order in a manner that transcended party politics. The Natchez press supported slavery in several ways. Natchez newspapers offered various philosophical and practical justifications for the institution, printed individual stories that mocked black behavior, and often proposed to show the negative consequences of disturbing the accepted power structure.
The southern newspapers often filled the lengthy gaps of time between proslavery pamphlets for its readers. The Natchez press regularly published editorial attacks on the abolitionists and reported on violence allegedly provoked by critics of slavery. Natchez newspapers, like journals across the South, also published defenses of slavery on a regular basis.
With the 1860 publication of Cotton is King, most of the wide-ranging justifications for slavery appeared in book form. Cotton Is King defended the institution in a number of ways through a variety of essays written by proslavery philosophers like Samuel Cartwright, a frequent contributor to the Natchez press. (3) In order to portray slavery as a legitimate, reasonable, logical and/or beneficial system, these writers utilized a number of perspectives: moral and political philosophy, political economy, social ethics, political science, international law, and the Bible. The justifications for slavery in Cotton is King did not exhaust all the possible methods and rationalizations, but they demonstrated that the field had a lot of room for innovation for creative southern propagandists.
The southern press played its role in southern society to support and justify the institution, and the Natchez newspapers did not shirk the duty of the press as a purveyor of proslavery propaganda. Proslavery arguments appeared in Natchez on a semi-regular basis within a few years of the beginning of the abolition movement. Less than a month after its first issue in August 1835, the Free Trader featured a proslavery article entitled “Injustice and Evils of Slavery” that admitted that slavery “is against the spirit of Christianity” at the same time it denied “that there is anything in the Old or New Testament, which would go to show that slavery when once introduced, ought at all events to be abrogated, or that the master commits any offense in holding slaves.” The author, Thomas R. Dew, cited examples of Biblical figures who owned slaves and carefully selected quotes from the New Testament, such as “Let every man abide in the same calling where he is called,” to present slavery as a Christian institution. (4)
A more “scientific” approach, taken from the work of Charles Caldwell, filled almost four columns in the Free Trader on December 4, 1835. Caldwell claimed that Africans were obviously inferior to white men, and this inferiority vindicated the popular pseudoscience known as phrenology because the brain of the black man was smaller and “also worse balanced, its animal component being much more preponderant over its intellectual and moral.” Caldwell went on to claim “that the Negro race has never produced a truly great man, either in the capacity of a moralist, an artist, a lawgiver or a sage.” Caldwell compared Central and Western Africa — “as barbarous and uncultivated now, as they were five hundred years ago” — to the accomplishments of the Caucasians, who “have revolutionized the face of a large portion of the globe … The cause is plain,” wrote Caldwell. “The Caucasians . . . have within themselves an ever-living and exhaustless fountain of improvement, which is denied to the other races.” (5)
In the 1840s, Samuel Cartwright wrote a series of letters justifying slavery to William Winans, who had been an active member of the state’s colonization society. These letters appeared in the Free Trader, and nine of them were printed sporadically between December 1841 and April 1842, defending slavery on Biblical, physiological and economic grounds. Whereas Dew’s argument begrudgingly allowed the possibility that slavery might be wrong, Cartwright embraced the developing idea that slaves benefited from slavery, that they experienced more full and productive lives under the care of the white southern elite. (6)
John Fletcher, of Concordia Parish, Louisiana, across the river from Natchez, advertised in the Courier and the Free Trader in 1851, publicizing his book Studies in Slavery for several weeks. The prospectus declared that “the object of the learned Author has been to show that the institution of slavery is of Divine appointment.” Concurrently appearing with the ad, the Free Trader published a long letter from Dr. Cartwright to a Mr. Warner, in which Cartwright praised the book: “It ought to be read by every intelligent person North as well as South.” (7)
Throughout the antebellum period, the newspapers also published material that dehumanized the slave and the free black, denigrating the intelligence and abilities of the race of Africans. As early as 1806, the Mississippi Herald carried a story about an indulgent master who allowed two feuding slave women to settle their differences with a fake duel. (8) Later articles claimed that: free blacks, unable to survive without white protection, suffered a higher rate of mortality than slaves; (9) manumitted blacks in Richmond, Virginia, had petitioned the state legislature, hoping to be enslaved again; (10) and an abolitionist had been captured by a slave who turned him over to authorities, highlighting the loyalty of the slaves and the efficiency of the system. (11)
A survey of the newspapers of Natchez during the slavery period reveals an atmosphere of tension and conflict, and elections heightened the conflicts that could end in violence. However, a more methodical study of the newspapers shows how the nature of these conflicts changed over a period of sixty years. Sectional tensions and the ideological battle over slavery replaced the local feuds of earlier years. By the 1850s, even local elections reflected the conflicts raised by the issue of slavery as the two Natchez newspapers took up sides on the issue of secession. The Democratic organ, the Free Trader, accused the opposition party (which changed from Whig to Know Nothing to Constitutional Union during this uncertain and tumultuous time) of being abolitionists or submissionists. The opposition party, represented by the Natchez Courier, characterized the Democrats as disunionists or rabid secessionists.
Another striking character of the press in the 1850s is the continuing nature of the tensions. The sectional crisis that led to the Civil War could be said to have started with the rise of the abolitionists in the early 1830s, but the acquisition of vast amounts of Mexican territory in 1848 touched off a series of events that followed one another in rapid succession: the Compromise of 1850, the secession crisis that lasted well into 1851, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and the resulting conflict over “Bleeding Kansas,” the collapse of the Whigs over slavery and the rise of the Republican Party, the Dred Scott case, Harper’s Ferry, and the election of Lincoln in 1860. State and national elections also triggered conflicts even when the nation did not face a national crisis (the 1855 election is a good example). At the same time, the southern newspapers definitely offered frequent coverage and criticism of abolitionist publications and activities. A good example is the 1852 publication in book form of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a work that the southern press definitely noted with scorn. (12)
What follows is a discussion of the Natchez press based upon a sampling of the months of August, September, and October every seven years from 1814 to 1842 and then every three years for the period from 1842 to 1860. The newspapers in 1814 and 1821 displayed very little of the sectional venom that wracked the nation in the 1850s. Marschalk’s attacks on Poindexter reflected a local conflict that had become very personal because of the volatile nature of the personalities involved. The newspapers of 1820 and 1821 turned out to be sedate when compared to the days of the Marschalk-Poindexter feud and the era that would follow. Perhaps Marschalk had mellowed quite a bit. Or maybe things had calmed down because the state capital had been moved to Jackson and Poindexter had moved from the Natchez area. The papers barely mentioned the presidential election of 1820. The newspapers of this period, the Era of Good Feelings, presented quite a contrast to the provocative journals of other times. The browser can leaf through several months’ worth of microfilm without seeing a single overtly political article.
The national election of 1828 presented a startling contrast. Strangely, the Aaron Burr Conspiracy, an affair of twenty years before, became a major issue, and all the scandals and the improprieties of Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay become the subject of nearly every issue in the months leading up to the election. (Henry Clay was not even the National Republican candidate!) The specter of slavery, and the dangers of manumission, surfaced in the controversy over Prince, and Marschalk condemned Adams and Clay for furthering Prince’s cause. The issue of slavery, and Marschalk’s dramatic warnings about Santo Domingo (Haiti), marked the election of 1828 as an anomaly. It had been a very nasty campaign and Marschalk had crossed the line, not by attacking Clay and Adams, but by using scare tactics and merely mentioning the Haiti revolt. Better to never mention Haiti, most southerners thought. The slaves would not revolt if they did not know that a successful revolt had taken place in Haiti.
Despite the issue of slavery, the Prince controversy can still be explained as a local issue. Jackson had passed through the area many times, and a number of Natchez residents had served with him during the War of 1812. The episode with Prince was known to many people. Jackson’s supporters only exploited the Prince issue in the Natchez area and in the parts of Louisiana close to Adams County. When slavery again became a major issue in national campaigns, it would primarily be an attack against party, whereas Marschalk’s criticism in the election of 1828 was an attack on individuals.
Natchez newspapers of the last three decades before the Civil War illustrated the growth and the triumph of a new party system, and a sectional divide that dominated national politics after the acquisition of California and the New Mexico Territory after the war with Mexico of 1846 to 1848. This sectional tension rose to the surface sporadically in the 1830s and the 1840s as the Natchez newspapers criticized the abolitionists. After 1848, the nation faced a series of crises, incidents provoked by the actions of slavery’s promoters and its critics. Almost every year, the Natchez newspapers latched onto a new outrage against their perceived right to own human beings as property. The Free Trader, a Democratic Party newspaper through the entire period, generally spoke with more venomous language than the Courier, aimed at abolitionists and, later in the decade, at Whigs and Know Nothings because of the northern sections of these parties.
The state election of 1835, as shown by Lorenzo Besançon’s experiences, certainly demonstrated the passions excited by party loyalty by the 1830s. A closer examination of the newspapers of the fall of 1835 revealed that the campaign for the presidency in 1836 started very early: the Free Trader advertised its endorsement of Martin Van Buren for president and Richard Johnson as vice president as early as the fall of 1835, more than a year before the election. (13) But the election rhetoric of the time, as devastating as it could get, displayed none of the animosity over slavery that would gradually develop in the succeeding decades. The Natchez press of 1835 defended slavery and insulted abolitionists, but it did not try to paint political opponents as abolitionists. Anti-slavery sentiment had not yet begun to creep into the politics of the major parties. Abolitionism as a movement had gained little acceptance among northerners, and anti-abolitionist mobs targeted prominent abolitionists in dozens of incidents, in the North as well as the South, in the 1830s.
Hotly contested elections remained the norm in Natchez through the late 1830s and the early 1840s and beyond. In the mid-1840s, editors continued to refrain from tarring their opponents in terms based on the conflicting viewpoints about slavery. The use of abolitionist imagery began to appear in the 1840s at election time, and intensified after that as the South focused on their interests in the New Mexico Territory after 1848. As early as 1843, the Free Trader published an article titled “Whiggery and Niggery” that attacked the Whig Party as a whole because northern abolitionists voted Whig more often than they voted Democrat. (14) This trend, still very rare in 1843, would intensify later. The fall of 1845, for example, contains very little material that explicitly evokes abolition in relation to the state election. A survey of the Free Trader for August, September and October yields the expected defenses of slavery and a few attacks on the abolitionists, including an attack on Kentucky abolitionist Cassius Clay and a report that one in 24 free blacks in Massachusetts ended up in jail. The Free Trader devoted more space to the annexation of Texas than to any other story during this period.
With the acquisition of California and the New Mexico Territory in 1848, the nature of Natchez newspapers changed abruptly. The opposing charges of abolitionist and disunionist flew back and forth between the two party newspapers of Natchez on a regular basis, almost continuously, even when campaign season had ended. The nation swerved unsteadily from crisis to crisis, and the Natchez press reflected this state of affairs. It is likely that the press played a vital role in influencing the sectional tensions that would eventually lead to civil war.
In the fall of 1848, the Free Trader devoted close to seventy-five percent of every issue to the election, and the presidential contest between Zachary Taylor and Lewis Cass generated many slavery-related controversies. Between August and November, the Free Trader published an 84-line poem titled “The War Cry of the Democrats;” (15) several refutations of alleged Whig lies about Cass; (16) a “Patriotic Letter from Gen. Quitman” that took up three and a half columns; (17) an attack on Whig vice presidential candidate Millard Fillmore for his “vote on establishing diplomatic relations with the niggers of San Domingo;” (18) and several articles that claimed that Fillmore was an abolitionist because he voted with John Quincy Adams on many occasions. (19) A September 6, 1848, article stated that “to gain its ends by deception is characteristic of the Whig Party” and a more explicit attack on the Whigs, titled “In Detroit — Whigs join with Abolitionists,” appeared in the Free Trader on October 18:
Will not the South be convinced by the unmistakable signs of the times, that the Northern Whigs are their natural enemies, as well as that the Northern Democrats are their natural allies?
Taylor got more than his share of outrageous criticism, much of it pertaining to his views on slavery and its expansion into the territories:
He was not in favor of receiving Texas into our Union, nor in favor of the recent war with Mexico. The only evidence of his being in favor of slavery, that I ever heard of, was the fact that he did what every man at the south must do, if he would have servants, viz: either own or hire slaves. I do well remember that a part at least of the colored people living in his family could read well, and were very pious. I never heard a word from the General in favor of the slave system, but on the contrary, his decided preference for the institutions and customs of the North. (20)
The Free Trader published a series of political letters under the pseudonym “Pushmata,” and the thirteenth letter said that Taylor’s “opinions are too fluctuating” and stated that Taylor “has voluntarily surrendered, or expressed a willingness to surrender, to the will of a majority of Congress, the only constitutional barrier to the abolition of slavery.” Taylor “openly concedes a point, which is the centering wedge of abolition, viz: that ‘slavery is an evil, and blighting in its effects upon the agricultural and commercial prosperity of the South.’” “Pushmata” also raked Taylor over the coals because he “considers that slave labor has had a fatal influence on the prosperity of Virginia, and that it is injurious to all the states where it exists. These are dangerous sentiments …. Whenever we conclude that slavery, as it exists with us, is an evil, we surrender all that our adversaries desire.” (21)
For the next twelve years, the nation conducted its political business in this poisonous atmosphere. The question of the ultimate disposition of the new territory provoked the secession crisis of 1850. A further examination of the Natchez press shows that the crisis did not end with the Compromise of 1850, as the Free Trader continued to advocate and promote a secession convention long after public sentiment had turned against the idea.
A look at the Free Trader and Hillyer’s Natchez Courier in the fall of 1851 shows that both papers retained the heated rhetoric of the year before. The Courier criticized The Mississippian, the secessionist paper of Jackson, for threatening abolitionists with this statement: “This is all we have to say to the abolitionists. If we catch you stealing our slaves we will hang you — legally, and not by a mob, and without excitement or commiseration.” (22) The Courier also attacked perceived hypocrisy on the part of South Carolina’s Robert Barnwell Rhett, “the leader of the disunionists of the South,” for his anti-secession speech in 1812, when the New England states threatened to leave the Union on the eve of the War of 1812. (23)
In a most revealing editorial, the Courier reviled “The New Tactics” and again castigated perceived hypocrisy on the part of the opposition:
”It is somewhat amusing to notice the very same papers which beg so piteously not to be named “disunionists,” and who have been for months stirring up rebellion against laws passed by their accredited Representatives in Congress — we say it is quite amusing to notice that these same journals that contain the bitter complaints, are denouncing those who are silencing their political heresies as “Abolitionists and Whigs”!” (24)
The Free Trader supported the secession convention and contributed to the invective by referring to the Whig candidate for governor as “the traitor Foote” and calling the Whig newspapers “Submission papers.” (25) Publicizing more dearly-held beliefs of the secessionists, the Free Trader featured a letter that claimed that “the northern federalists and abolitionists had subsidized the press and print shops for the purpose of preparing the public mind for the abolition of slavery in the United States in aid of the views of the monarchical interests of Europe . . . These submissionists have witnessed for more than twenty years the untiring efforts of English abolition societies, of the press of that country and of the most prominent divines and statesmen, to urge and recommend the abolition of slavery in the United States.” (26) In October, the Free Trader attributed the success of the Whigs to “the vast amount of wealth and of influence possessed by” the Whig Party and its members, and characterized Democratic success as “proof of the moral strength of Democracy . . . when we see how nobly it has ‘held its own.’” (27)
The Natchez press in 1854 did not devote quite as much space to politics, largely because it was not a presidential election year, nor was it a year for a major state election. However, the Free Trader and the Courier suffered no dearth of controversial political material because of the rise of the Know Nothings. Hillyer supported the Know Nothings in 1855, and the Free Trader verbally assaulted the Courier on a regular basis. Hillyer’s support for the Know Nothings in 1854 amounted to a more neutral position. While the Free Trader harangued the Know Nothing movement with articles with titles like “The Do-Nothings,” (28) and “Ignorance, Intolerance and Fanaticism,” (29) the Courier defended the movement, refuting alleged falsehoods printed in other papers and publishing a claim that “Know-Nothingism does not evidence mush attachment to demagogues of any description.” (30)
These articles about Know Nothingism offered few attempts to identify the movement with abolitionism, but both of the Natchez newspapers published sectional complaints about the abolitionists. The Free Trader, for example, castigated northern magazines in an article titled “Northern Periodicals and Slavery,” claiming that, in the August issue of Harper’s Weekly, “the South was fiercely assailed, and the so-called aggressive spirit of slavery made the scapegoat for all our national sins and domestic discords.” (31) A week later, the Free Trader reported that Chicago abolitionists had rioted at a scheduled speech by Senator Stephen Douglas and caused the cancellation of the event. The sub-heads told the story: “Abolition Rioters Victorious — The Senator Refused Hearing — Free Speech Repudiated in a Free City — Anarchy in Chicago.” (32)
The Courier also recorded northern perfidy, but not as often as the Free Trader. The August 12, 1854, issue featured an item titled “The Effect of Fanaticism,” which described a southerner visiting New York who got drunk and accidentally killed a man who attacked him. “Instantly the New York Tribune throws its eyes to Heaven, and exclaims, ‘Behold the effect of the social institutions of the South!’ All the crime of the act, (and terribly does it paint the murder,) it lays on the system of slavery. To that it attributes the hot blood, the weapon, the deed.” The Courier indignantly responded to the charge and harangued the Tribune for its hypocrisy, pointing out that the New York newspaper often reported on murders and poisonings committed by northerners and did not try to affix blame to the culture of the North.
The Natchez press of 1854 reported a short era of peace, despite the editorials attacking abolitionists. The next few years, however, would see the nation jostled and agitated by one crisis after another. We have already examined 1855 and the acrimony generated by the state election in which the Democrats beat the Know-Nothings. The conflict over “popular sovereignty” would divide the nation and wreck national parties. By the time of the state elections of 1857, the two Natchez newspapers reflected a time of tension and conflict. The Free Trader of August 18 attacked Know Nothingism (in its death throes) and featured a front page article that asked “Shall the Majority of the Democratic Party Control the Policy of the Democratic Party!” in which the anonymous author explained to the reader the reality of 1857 America: the waning influence of the South would soon hamper the ability of southern politicians to protect southern interests. The South “has been growing more and more Democratic, while the changes at the North have been the other way, and the Democratic Party there becomes weaker and weaker.” The same issue overflowed with articles that showed a burning interest in the topics directly affecting southern interests: “The South Betrayed,” “Where Do We Stand,” “The Submissionists,” “Slavery in Kansas.” The first of these articles contained the following passage, underlining southern discontent with the Buchanan administration they helped to elect: “That the South has been betrayed there can be no doubt. Let the reader examine the facts in the case. The Democratic party fought the last battle upon the Kansas-Nebraska bill; Mr. Buchanan endorsed and stood upon that platform; do the provisions of that bill justify the Walker policy in Kansas? If so, the Southern Democracy are dupes and fools.”
The following week, in an article titled “Virginia and the Black Republicans,” the Free Trader attacked some Virginia newspapers for an alleged lack of suitable concern over the question of the Kansas constitution: “If we encourage or even tolerate Freesoilism now, we are leading the way to Black Republicanism in 1860 . . . The Richmond Whig, taking a calm view of the Freesoil movement of the day, sees them likely to rise in the ascendancy, and coolly announces that it will then be ready to co-operate with the Black Republicans against the Democrats.” (33) Every issue from the fall of 1857 displayed similar concerns about the future of the South. Several times a month, the Free Trader would devote most of a page to the issues of slavery, expansion, abolition, and the reality of sectional politics. The Free Trader of August 28, 1857, printed a page with the following headlines: “Sectional Agitation must be Terminated,” “Kansas,” “Perversions, Errors and Duties Pertaining to the Kansas Controversy,” and “Southern Elections.” An attack on the submissionist Woodville Republican appeared on the same page. (34) On the front page of the same issue, the Free Trader published an article on the “Consequences of Slavery Agitation.”
In October, the Free Trader mused about “The Next Presidential Election” and “A Dissolution of the Union.” (35) The latter article speculated: “War between the States in the first period of their separate existence would be accompanied with much greater distresses than it commonly is in those countries where regular military establishments have long been sustained . . . The want of fortifications, leaving the frontier of one State open to another, would facilitate inroads. The populous States would with little difficulty overrun their less populous neighbors. Conquests would be as easy to be made as difficult to be retained. War, therefore, would be desultory and predatory. Plunder and devastation ever march in the train of irregulars.” (36)
Tensions did not subside in the years after 1857, and the South became more defensive of their “peculiar institution.” A Free Trader article from October 11, 1858, predicted the potential disaster waiting in the future. Titled “The Next President,” it discussed the dangers for the Democratic Party if the northern leadership did not recognize southern demands at the national convention scheduled in Charleston in the spring of 1860. “We will abide by the decision of the convention if it nominates the right sort of man.” The front-runner, Stephen Douglas, was not the right sort of man. The South would not be content with Douglas, the article implied, foreshadowing the Democratic split at Charleston by eighteen months or so.
Between the Free Trader editorial of 1858 and the summer of 1860, the sectional tension worsened and the nation was falling apart at the seams. John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry dominated the nation’s press in the fall of 1859, but many other smaller infractions, such as the distribution of Hinton Rowan Helper’s The Impending Crisis, helped to fan the flames. As predicted, the Charleston convention split the Democratic Party: northern Democrats had chosen Douglas, and southern Democrats had chosen Buchanan’s vice president, John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, as their presidential candidate. John Bell of Tennessee joined Lincoln, Breckinridge and Douglas as the Union candidate. The Free Trader joined with most of Mississippi’s major newspapers to support Breckinridge. The Courier supported Bell.
In the months leading up to the election, the Free Trader often devoted eighty percent of its space to the election, praising Breckinridge, undercutting Douglas, criticizing Bell, and vilifying Lincoln. An August 6 editorial looked back to the 1830s to attack Bell for being the only southern congressman to vote in favor of accepting anti-slavery petitions. Later in the campaign, the Free Trader printed articles making fun of Hillyer’s Courier for predicting a Bell victory in Mississippi, and called Bell a disunionist, a Know-Nothing, and a proscriptionist. (37) A September 17 article claimed that Douglas really had no intention of winning the election: he hoped that the split Democratic vote would throw the election to Lincoln, and the two had made an arrangement that Douglas would be Lincoln’s successor.
The Free Trader reported on abolitionist activity in Virginia and Texas and attributed it to Lincoln’s influence. In August, under the title “Let it be Understood,” the Free Trader proclaimed “that no Southerner, no Union-loving man, no patriot can vote for ABRAM LINCOLN, with honor!” (38)
In the sixty-year period from the origins of the Mississippi press to the start of the Civil War, the Natchez newspapers experienced a number of transformations because of changes in technology, society, culture, economics and politics. Before 1830, the attempt to put a finger on a single factor as the most important influence proves to be a difficult and largely subjective challenge simply because of the number of potential subjects. Andrew Marschalk’s personality and quirks appears to have had as much influence on the tone of political debates as any national policy. Public interest in the War of 1812 may have been the necessary spark to revive the newspapers in Natchez at a time when the Mississippi press suffered a low point. A changing economy, often referred to as the Market Revolution, probably affected the Natchez area as much as it transformed any region of the United States. (39) Innovations such as the steam boat and the telegraph certainly played a part in the development and role of the press. Many of these causes are inter-related, and quantifying their respective influences would be a difficult and perhaps impossible task.
After 1830, however, the task becomes easier. Many factors influenced the press, but Natchez newspapers were obsessed with defending slavery, demonizing abolitionists, and identifying political foes with the abolitionists, the slave status of Kansas, and the New Mexico Territory. By the 1850s, slavery could only be described as a positive good, ordained by God. Abolitionists accepted payment from foreign agitators, practiced fanaticism and acted on their irrational hatred of the South. The two Natchez newspapers, the Courier and the Free Trader, adopted different strategies to protect southern interests: the Whig Courier advocated a moderate reaction to perceived northern interference; the Democratic Free Trader preached a more extreme philosophy that made secession seem the only realistic target. But the moderate stance seemed more and more like dishonorable submission as the 1850s wore on. After the series of crises popularized and propagandized by the southern leadership, aided and abetted by the Natchez press and other newspapers throughout the South, secession and civil war seemed a natural alternative to many Americans, including enough non-slaveholding southerners to create a Confederate army effective for four years of war.
(1) Thomas Jefferson to John Holmes, April 22, 1820, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
(2) For a variety of proslavery arguments, see E.N. Elliot, editor, Cotton Is King (Augusta, GA: Pritchard, Abbot, & Loomis, 1860), especially “Liberty and Slavery: Or, Slavery in the Context of Moral and Political Philosophy,” pp. 273-289 and pp. 337-380; “The Bible Argument: Or, Slavery in the Light of Divine Revelation, pp. 461-521; and “The Bible Argument of Slavery,” pp. 841-877.
(3) Samuel Cartwright practiced as a physician in the Natchez area and was also one of the editors of the Statesman for a short time. He frequently wrote essays defending slavery and one of his essays, titled “The Education, Labor, and Wealth of the South,” was included in Cotton Is King, pp. 879-896.
(4) Mississippi Free Trader, August 25, 1835.
(5) Mississippi Free Trader, December 4, 1835.
(6) In 1843, Cartwright’s letters to Winans were collected in a book with the unwieldy title Essays, Being Inductions Drawn from the Baconian Philosophy Proving the Truth of the Bible and . . . of the Decree Dooming Canaan to Be the Servants of Servants . . . in a Series of Letters to the Rev. William Winans, (Vidalia, LA: s.n., 1843).
(7) Mississippi Free Trader, September 10, 1851.
(8) Mississippi Herald, September 2, 1806.
(9) Natchez Courier, March 15, 1843.
(10) Mississippi Free Trader, April 2, 1856.
(11) Mississippi Free Trader, January 26, 1860.
(12) For an example, see the Concordia Intelligencer, April 16, 1853.
(13) The Democratic Party held its controversial caucus in May 1835 to anoint Jackson’s chosen successor.
(14) Mississippi Free Trader, October 25, 1843.
(15) Mississippi Free Trader, August 2, 1848.
(16) Mississippi Free Trader, August 2, August 16, and August 23, 1848.
(17) Mississippi Free Trader, August 9, 1848.
(18) Mississippi Free Trader, August 30, 1848.
(19) Mississippi Free Trader, September 6, 1848.
(20) Mississippi Free Trader, August 30, 1848.
(21) Mississippi Free Trader, September 27, 1848.
(22) Natchez Courier, August 12, 1851.
(23) Natchez Courier, August 22, 1851.
(24) Natchez Courier, September 16, 1851.
(25) Mississippi Free Trader, August 2, 1851.
(26) Mississippi Free Trader, August 13, 1851.
(27) Mississippi Free Trader, October 11, 1851.
(28) Mississippi Free Trader, August 15, 1854.
(29) Mississippi Free Trader, August 22, 1854.
(30) Natchez Courier, September 12, 1854.
(31) Mississippi Free Trader, September 13, 1854.
(32) Mississippi Free Trader, September 20, 1854.
(33) Mississippi Free Trader, August 21, 1857.
(34) The Woodville Republican had published this sentence: “Rather than have a family quarrel in the Democratic party, let Kansas go.”
(35) Mississippi Free Trader, October 13, 1857. The first article was reprinted from the New York Day Book.
(36) Mississippi Free Trader, October 6, 1857.
(37) Mississippi Free Trader, August 27, September 3, and September 17, 1860.
(38) Mississippi Free Trader, August 27, 1860. Lincoln’s first name was often incorrectly printed as Abram.
(39) In the first half of the 19th century, technological advances in transportation and communications transformed the North American economy. Before the War of 1812, most rural Americans, remote and isolated from the ocean, rivers and large cities, lived in self-sufficient communities with little incentive to produce surplus agricultural products because of the high cost of transportation. Between 1810 and 1850, canals, improved roads, railroads and the steam boat improved accessibility to local and national markets, increasing the incentive for more small farmers to participate in the market economy. This change radically altered the way that Americans viewed markets, labor and land. See Charles Sellers, The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846 (New York, Oxford University Press, 1990), especially pp. 3-30.