As the secession crisis increased in intensity, the Fredericksburg Herald editor wrote in early January 1860: “Newspapers and Telegraphs have ruined the country. Suppress both and the country could be saved now.” The Northern press influenced vast numbers, including newly-landed immigrants; in New York alone the circulation of newspapers and periodicals was triple that in the entire South. And Massachusetts could claim about the same. As those newspapers counseled war against the South, they could also have sought compromise and a peaceful settlement of the issues dividing the country.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org
Newspapers Fuel the War
“In mid-April 1860, virtually all newspapers of the future Confederate States believed in preserving the Union, provided that Southern “rights,” as they conceived them, could be protected. One year later all but a handful of the same journals had endorsed the Confederacy. During most of the intervening twelve months, the Southern press was divided on the question of secession.
Papers which believed that the Union was salvageable held the upper hand in the pre-election period. But a combination of events – notably the alleged abolitionist conspiracy in Texas, the election of Lincoln, the secession of South Carolina and the lower South, and the failure of compromise – shifted the initiative to the disunion publicists and led to a gradual breakdown of Unionist journalism, until, with few exceptions, the press in eleven States became a unit in favor of withdrawal.
Like their Southern-rights counterparts, Unionist editors feared a Republican administration, though some failed to realize the depth of their fears until after the election. In the days following Lincoln’s triumph at the polls, as some Northern journals taunted and threatened the South and as the States of the lower South took firm, irrevocable steps preparatory to leaving the Union, Southern Unionist papers increasingly found it necessary to decide between the Confederacy and the Union.
Most Southerners regarded the election of a Republican president by Northern votes as a direct, calculated insult to their section. With the South’s honor allegedly at stake, most Southern Unionist editors soon forgot their earlier quarrel with secessionists over the legality of secession. Moreover, Southerners were convinced that abolition would be but the first in a chain of events that would spell disaster for the South.
A Tennessee journal showed exceptional insight when, at the height of the sectional crisis, it blamed the alienation of the sections upon the newspapers. “. . . [E]ach indulges in constant crimination and labors incessantly to mislead and prejudice the people of the respective sections. And even now, when the country is trembling on the verge of dissolution, the warfare of misrepresentation and abuse is carried on with redoubled violence by the vultures who thrive and fatten on popular prejudice. We would rather be the lowest thing that crawls the earth than rear our children on bread obtained by such means.”
(Editors Make War, Southern Newspapers in the Secession Crisis, Donald E. Reynolds, Vanderbilt University Press, 1966, excerpts pp. 210-217)