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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

American Newspapers, 1800-1860

A guide to understanding and using antebellum American newspapers.

Welcome!

This series of tutorials will teach you about American newspapers from the period 1800-1860. You will learn about the history of the American newspaper industry, and about the development of journalism and the concept of news. You will also learn about the people who produced newspapers as well as the people who read them. This knowledge will make you a better user of this important source material, whether your purpose is to write a term paper, to research your family history, to learn more about local history, or to uncover facts and early perspectives on historical events and phenomena. Simple curiosity is often the best reason for beginning to use historical newspapers!

Waud, A.R. "An Armed Neutrality". Engraved by G.H. Hayes. p. 291 in Beyond the Mississippi by Albert Richardson. Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Co., 1869.

Image credit: Waud, A.R. "An Armed Neutrality". Engraved by G.H. Hayes. p. 291 in Beyond the Mississippi by Albert Richardson. Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Co., 1869.

Video



This video is fully sub-titled. Click here to view a complete transcript.

What Kind of News Was Printed in Antebellum Newspapers?

Percentage Distribution of Contents, by Category, Among Nine Antebellum Newspapers, 1831-1832
  Five
Metropolitan
Newspapers
Four
Non-Metropolitan
Newspapers
Politics 50.5 69.6
Crime and Courts 2.5 2.3
Accidents 3.6 4.8
Society and Women 2.5 1.4
Leisure 2.8 5.0
Business and Labor 22.9 2.3
Religion 0.6 4.2
Science and Education 1.7 1.2
History 0.3 0.0
Weather 0.5 0.6
Other 0.8 1.7
From: Baldasty, Gerald J. The Commercialization of News in the Nineteenth Century. © 1992 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Reprinted by permission of the author and The University of Wisconsin Press.

Learn More

For the early years of this period, The Press of the Young Republic, 1783-1833 by Carol Sue Humphrey provides a short, broad overview, with an emphasis on the political side of newspaper publishing.19 The Popular Press, 1833-1865 by William E. Huntzicker extends Humphrey's history another thirty years. Like Humphrey, Huntzicker provides a broad overview.20 For social history treatments of journalism and news, two highly regarded works are Discovering the News: a Social History of American Newspapers by Michael Schudson (first sixty pages cover this era), and Journalistic Standards in Nineteenth-Century America by Hazel Dicken-Garcia.21

For the political parties of this era, see Political Parties in a New Nation: The American Experience, 1776-1809 by William Nisbet Chambers, The Second American Party System: Party Formation in the Jacksonian Era by Richard P. McCormick, and The Third Electoral System, 1853-1892: Parties, Voters, and Political Culture by Paul Kleppner.22 On the relationship between the political parties and newspapers, see The Press, Politics, and Patronage : the American Government's Use of Newspapers, 1789-1875 by Culver H. Smith.

For African American newspapers of this era, see The Early Black Press in America, 1827 to 1860 by Frankie Hutton, and the first seventy pages in A History of the Black Press by Armistead Scott Pride.23

Photo Gallery

Notes

Notes 1 through 17 refer to places in the video.

1. The video component of the tutorial was made possible in part by The Robert E. and Kay E. Merrick Family Endowment Fund, a generous gift from Bob and Kay Merrick to the University of Illinois Library. Special thanks to Bob and Kay Merrick; Gale-Cengage Learning; Readex-Newsbank; ProQuest LLC.; Accessible Archives; HarpWeek; the New York Public Library; the Library of Congress; the Long Island Museum of American Art, History, and Carriages; the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University; the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum; the Ohio Historical Society; the Peabody Essex Museum; and the American Antiquarian Society.

3:02–3:40. Robert F Karolevitz, Newspapering in the Old West: A Pictorial History of Journalism and Printing on the Frontier (Seattle: Superior Publishing, 1965), 173-79; Lewis A. Pryor, "The 'Adin Argus': The End of the Hand Press Era of Country Weeklies," Pacific Historian 17, no. 1 (January, 1973): 6; Marion Marzolf, Up From the Footnote: a History of Women Journalists (New York: Hastings House, 1977), 12; Milton W. Hamilton, The Country Printer: New York State, 1785-1830 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), 71; Patricia Okker, Our Sister Editors: Sarah J. Hale and the Tradition of Nineteenth Century American Women Editors (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995), 7; Clarence S. Brigham, Journals and Journeymen: A Contribution to the History of Early American Newspapers (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1950), 71, 78.

3:51–3:57. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: the Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 847; "A Staunch Foe of Slavery" [Obituary for Jane Grey Swisshelm], New York Times, 23 July, 1884, p. 1; Sylvia D. Hoffert, Jane Grey Swisshelm: An Unconventional Life, 1815-1884 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 3.

3:58–4:05. Hoffert writes that Swisshelm was also published in the Atlanta Constitution, the Washington Evening Star, the Boston Commonwealth, the Lily, the Liberator, the Kaleidoscope, the Ohio Cultivator, and the New England Farmer, in Jane Grey Swisshelm, 191.

4:10. Madelon Golden Schilpp and Sharon M. Murphy identify at least three other "great" newspaperwomen of this period: Anne Newport Royall, Cornelia Walter, and Jane Cunningham Croly. Great Women of the Press (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983), 21-36, 62-73, 85-94. Clarence S. Brigham identifies 15 women newspaper publishers working between 1800 and 1820 in Journals and Journeymen, 73.

4:32–4:35. Attribution by Brigham in Journals and Journeymen, 73.

8:17–08:27. Ralph Green, "Early American Power Printing Presses," Studies in Bibliography 4 (1951-1952): 145. 08:28 – 08:49 Frank Luther Mott, American Journalism: A History, 1690-1960, 3d ed. (New York: MacMillan, 1962), 294-95.

9:16–09:22. Fred F. Endres, "'We Want Money and Must Have It': Profile of an Ohio Weekly, 1841-1847," Journalism History 7, no. 2 (Summer, 1980): 69.

14:35–14:46. Scott Derks and Tony Smith, The Value of a Dollar: Colonial Era to the Civil War, 1600-1865 (Millerton, N.Y.: Grey House, 2005), 307.

15:15–15:20. Frankie Hutton, The Early Black Press in America, 1827 to 1860 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1993), ix.

15:21–15:34. Martin E. Dann, The Black Press, 1827-1890: The Quest for National Identity (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1971), 16, 33.

15:35–16:01. Hutton, Early Black Press, x-xiii. The portraits in this section are of: Justin Holland, musician, educated at Oberlin College, fluent in Spanish and English. See David K. Bradford, "Holland, Justin," in African American National Biography, ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Alexander Crummell, priest in the Protestant Episcopal Church, orator, educated at Queen’s College, Cambridge. See Benjamin Brawley, Early Negro American Writers (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1935), 299-305; Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, renowned musician. See Eric Gardner, "Greenfield, Elizabeth Taylor," in African American National Biography, 3:625-27; Sarah Parker Remond, abolitionist, physician, educated at Bedford College for Ladies in London. See Karen Jean Hunt, "Remond, Sarah Parker," in African American National Biography, 6:563-64; and Edward James Roye, son of an affluent merchant, educated at Oberlin college, became an advocate for black emigration to Liberia, and eventually served as that country’s fifth president. See Peter J. Duignan, "Roye, Edward James," in African American National Biography, 7:21-23.

16:03–16:09. James P. Danky, and Maureen E. Hady, African American Newspapers and Periodicals: A National Bibliography (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998), xxxi.

16:10–16:13. Hutton, Early Black Press, ix-xvii.

16:32–16:37. Danky and Hady, African American Newspapers, xxxi; Hutton, Early Black Press, xiv.

16:51. Handwritten newspapers were unusual, but not completely unheard of. See Roy Alden Atwood, "Handwritten Newspapers on the Iowa Frontier," Journalism History 7 (1980): 56-67; and Warren J. Brier, "The 'Flumgudgeon Gazette and Bumble Bee Budget'," Journalism Quarterly 36 (1959): 317-320.

17:42–17:55. Daniel F. Littlefield, and James W. Parins, American Indian and Alaska Native Newspapers and Periodicals, 1826-1924 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984), xii; James P. Danky, and Maureen E. Hady, Native American Periodicals and Newspapers, 1828-1982: Bibliography, Publishing Record, and Holdings (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984), xv.

17:55–18:04. The number depends on how one distinguishes between a newspaper and a periodical (e.g. magazine). Littlefield and Parins, American Indian and Alaska Native Newspapers, 425-26; Danky and Hady, Native American Periodicals, xv.

19. The Press of the Young Republic, 1873-1833 recommended for its combination of brevity and comprehensiveness by Catherine C. Mitchell in Journal of the Early Republic 17, no. 2 (Summer, 1997): 322-3; and Ross F. Collins in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 74, no. 1 (Spring, 1997): 218-9. Criticized for focusing excessively on the political role of newspapers (neglecting changes in journalism and social role of newspapers) by John K. Alexander in William and Mary Quarterly 55, no. 1 (January, 1998): 167-70; and Andrew Cayton in Historian 60, no. 3 (Spring, 1998): 634-5.

20. The Popular Press, 1833-1865 recommended by Kimberly Garmoe in Jahrbuch für Kommunikationsgeschichte 2 (2000): 253. Faulted for its uncritical acceptance of the received history by Jeffrey L. Pasley in Journal of the Early Republic 21, no. 2 (Summer, 2001): 387-90. Recommended as a general overview of newspaper history, but criticized for neglecting developments in jounralism, by Robert Page in Civil War History 45, no. 3 (September, 1999): 282-3.

21. Discovering the News recommended by Sue Curry Jansen in Theory and Society 10, no. 1 (January, 1981): 143-8; Reamy Jansen in Radical Teacher 24 (1983): 32-3; Oliver Knight in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 443 (May, 1979): 175-6; E. Barbara Phillips in Contemporary Sociology 9, no. 6 (November, 1980): 812-3; Albert E. Gollin in "Critiques and Celebrations of the Newsmaking Process: An Expository Review," Public Opinion Quarterly 44, no. 2 (Summer, 1980): 276-83; Ross Eaman in Historical Dictionary of Journalism (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2009): 339; and James W. Carey in "The Discovery of Objectivity," American Journal of Sociology 87, no. 5 (March, 1982): 1182-8. Criticized for ignoring the first century of American newspapers, and for lack of new evidence by Thomas C. Leonard in Journal of American History 66, no. 2 (September, 1979): 365-6. Journalistic Standards in Nineteenth-Century America recommended by Betty Houchin Winfield in Journal of American History 77, no. 4 (March, 1991): 1345-6; Cheryl D. Bohde in American Periodicals 1, no. 1 (Fall, 1991): 107-8; Patrick S. Washburn in American Historical Review 96, no. 2 (April, 1991): 605; Jean Folkerts in Journalism Quarterly 67, no. 3 (Autumn, 1990): 606-7; and Eaman, Historical Dictionary 338.

22. All three recommended by Harold F. Bass, Jr., Historical Dictionary of United States Poltical Parties, 2d ed. (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2009), 410, 412, 413. For a guide to presidential campaigns, see the Robert North Roberts and Scott John Hammond, Encyclopedia of Presidential Campaigns, Slogans, Issues, and Platforms (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004); and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Running for President: the Candidates and their Images (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994). For a statistical compendium of presidential election results, see Michael J. Dubin, United States Presidential Elections, 1788-1860 : the Official Results by County and State (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2002).

23. Both recommended by Roy E. Finkenbine, "Newspapers," in Encyclopedia of African American History, 1619-1895: From the Colonial Period to the Age of Frederick Douglass, ed. Paul Finkelman (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 2:446.