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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. Includes video tutorials, downloadable data, data visualizations, glossary, recommended readings, artifact galleries, and more.


Although the American Revolution focused many people's attention on the contrast between the ideal of liberty and the realities of slavery, most people hoped that slavery would gradually die out and that former slaves could "return" to Africa in a colonization scheme [q.v.]. Nevertheless many abolition socities were formed in the 1780s and 1790s, and support for outright abolition intensified in the 1830s. Famous abolitionist newspapers included William Lloyd Garrison's Liberator (Boston, 1831-1865), and Frederick Douglass's North Star (Rochester, 1847-1855).1
Literally "before the war", in American history this term commonly refers to the period before the Civil War, which began in 1861.
An assistant, generally young, who was bound by contract to work for a set number of years in exchange for training in a craft or trade. On newspapers, apprentices generally assisted with printing or delivery. Apprentices often ran away before receiving their indentures, and became "half-way journeymen," who knew the craft of printing, but were willing to work for less.


Indicates a publication frequency of one issue every two weeks. More typical of newspapers with national distribution, especially those not focused primarily on general news, but on news of interest to specific audiences (e.g. farm news, temperance news, womens' suffrage news, abolitionist news, religious news, and so forth).
Blanket Sheet
Nickname for very large broadsheet [q.v.] newspapers of the 1830s. They were about twice the size of conventional modern newspapers, as you can see in this comparison photo.
A large format newspaper, but not as large as a blanket sheet [q.v.]. Newspaper page size increased throughout this period, as improvements in printing technology made it possible to print larger and larger sheets. In the twentieth century, the broadsheet format was often compared with the tabloid [q.v.], in contrast to which it was sometimes deemed more respectable and serious. The earliest newspapers, prior to this period, were large, unfolded broadsheets printed on a single side, though ballads and other kinds of printed material were also issued this way. Sometimes called broadside. Example of a broadsheet.
Part of an article that identifies the author. Most articles in antebellum newspapers were unsigned, or signed with pseudonyms [q.v.] or initials. Bylines did not appear regularly until the second half of the nineteenth century, and earlier bylines often gave only the newspaper from which the article was reprinted, a generic name (e.g., "Special Correspondent"), or a pseudonym (e.g., "Publius").2 Example of a byline.


Descriptive text beneath a photograph, illustration, or other graphical material. Example of a caption.
Part of a hand printing press [q.v.] into which the compositor [q.v.] arranged the letter press [q.v.], wood cuts [q.v.], and rules [q.v.]. The completed chase was then be inked and pressed onto a sheet of paper, creating the printed page.
Refers to the number of copies sold or distributed. For nineteenth century newspapers these numbers can be misleading because there was no attempt to verify publisher's claims, and many publishers used inflated circulation numbers as a means of self-promotion, as seen in this example, or to increase advertising rates. At the same time, it's important to keep in mind that many people shared newspapers, so a single copy could be read by several people.
Colonization Scheme
Plans to facilitate the emigration of freed slaves from the United States to Africa. Because few could imagine freed slaves living side by side with whites, many who supported emancipation saw a solution in colonization. The best known organization advocating colonization was the American Colonization Society. Colonization was also supported by many free blacks, although it remained a controversial topic among blacks and white reformers alike.
Commercial Paper
See: Mercantile Papers
Person who assembled letter press [q.v.] and woodcuts [q.v.] into pages; typesetter.
As opposed to a reporter [q.v.], who was primarily responsible for writing local news, a correspondent wrote from an important place or from the site of an important event, and may or may not have been a regular employee of the newspaper. Example of an article by a correspondent.
Country Paper
A large majority of the population in antebellum America lived outside of big cities, and country newspapers served people living in these rural areas. Because local news in small towns could be spread more effeciently by word of mouth, country papers primarily reprinted national and foreign news obtained through newspaper exchanges [q.v.].
Cylinder Printing Press
This steam-powered press used cylinders rather than flat beds to run more than one page at a time. First used by an American newspaper in 1825, it was improved by Richard Hoe in 1832, and this version made it possible to meet increased demand, and also made it less expensive for publishers to produce daily [q.v.] newspapers.


A newspaper that was published every day, generally intended for a local audience. Dailies did not become common until the 1830s, when technological advances made it possible to produce them less expensively. Dailies were generally confined to larger towns and cities. Daily publication did not imply Saturday or Sunday, and if a newspaper published an issue on Sundays, it was often as a separate edition [q.v.].
Part of a newspaper article that identifies the location from which the story was filed. Example of dateline.
One part of a headline [q.v.]. Stacked deck headlines became common during the Mexican-American War (1846-48). Different decks are often distinguished by different typography (e.g. different sized typeface, or a different font altogether) in order to create greater visual variety, but decks can also be separated by a horizontal rule [q.v.]. Example of decks distinguished both typographically and with horizontal rules.
Democratic Party
Grew out of the anti-government wing of the Democratic-Republicans in the 1820s. Most closely associated with Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, it drew on the support of farmers, urban laborers, and Irish Catholics; it supported western expansion and Indian Removal [q.v.] and opposed federal regulation of commerce.
Display Type
Type that was bold, large, italicized, or fancy, often used in a headline [q.v.] (especially multiple deck [q.v.] headlines) or in advertisements in order to draw attention to the item. Example of display type used in advertisements.


Newspapers are sometimes published in different editions. An edition can be distinguished by the time of day it is issued (e.g. morning edition, afternoon edition, evening edition, final edition) or by the special nature of its content (e.g. extra [q.v.] edition, inauguration edition). Later, newspapers began issuing different editions for different regions (e.g. City Edition, Suburban Edition, Metro-North Edition). Daily [q.v.] newspapers often published weekly [q.v.] and semi-weekly editions for regional distribution, or for subscibers who were not interested in taking a daily newspaper. Variant editions can pose problems to the researcher trying to track down a specific citation. Digitized newspaper collections often include only one edition. Microfilmed collections are more likely to include multiple editions. You can often tell which edition you are reading by looking at the nameplate [q.v.]. Example of a weekly edition and a daily edition issued the same day.
Example of an extra edition.
The person responsible for setting the agenda and tone for a newspaper, as well as revising the work of reporters and correspondents. In newspapers of the 1820s and 1830s, when the editor emerged as a position distinct from the printer, the editor was also responsible for many of the newspaper's business functions, which were later assumed by the publisher, and the news-gathering functions, which were later assumed by reporters. In some cases the editor wrote the bulk of a newspaper's original content.
In present-day newspapers, an editorial is usually an unsigned article that reflects the opinion of the newspaper's editorial board, and is usually separated in the layout from fact-based articles. However, in antebellum American newspapers, this distinction between news and opinion was not always clear cut. You might find items, particularly on the second page, that explicitly set out the newspaper's official point of view, but opinion was also found in many articles whose purpose was to inform. You can count on the distinction becoming more solid as the duties of editor and reporter became more specialized and separate during the 1840s and 1850s.
The chief means of transmitting news from city to city from the 1700s to the middle of the nineteenth century. The United States Postal Service permitted newspaper publishers to exchange copies of their newspapers, postage-free, with any other newspaper in the country, and these exchanges allowed editors both to circulate their own news, and to gather news from other parts of the country and world. Editors reprinted in their own newspapers articles from the papers they received through the exchanges. About half of the news in a typical paper came from newspapers the editor had received through the exchanges. This method was supplemented and eventually replaced by the telegraph (invented 1844) and news-sharing organizations such as the Associated Press (founded 1848).
An edition [q.v.] of a newspaper--usually a city newspaper--that was published in addition to the regular editions, and sold on the street when especially important news broke, such as a fire, the death of an important person, or the arrival of war news. This example of an extra edition features state election news.


See: Running Title.
A printing term that refers to the body of type capable of printing a single sheet of paper. In a four-page newspaper, a printer might have one forme for pages two and three, and another forme for pages one and four.
Fourdrinier Machine
The first continuous paper making machine. Before its invention in 1799, paper was hand-laid one sheet at a time. The Fourdrinier machine made it possible to produce paper less expensively, and was well-established in the United States by the 1830s. Like other technological advances, it helped newspaper publishers lower their overhead costs.
In United States history, the term "frontier" refers to areas on, and just beyond, the western cusp of American settlement. Because westward migration continued throughout this period, the land thought of as "frontier" was constantly shifting to the west. Frontier regions were organized first into territories, and eventually into states, after which they eventually ceased to be considered frontier. The development of frontier regions was made possible in large part through the government's policy of Indian removal [q.v.].


Government Printing Contract
Before the establishment of the Government Printing Office in 1861, federal, state, territorial, county, and municipal governments all hired private printers to handle their printing needs. For example, federal and state governments paid to have legislative journals and statutes printed, often in the newspaper itself, and then separately in compiled volumes. Governments also contracted for the printing of militia orders, licenses, legal forms, ballots, county tax-delinquent land lists, proclamations--anything that the government might need to have printed. Government printing contracts were essentially a form of job printing [q.v.] work, and as such they were an important supplement to the newspaper publisher's income, especially for country papers [q.v.]. Politcians commonly used these contracts as rewards for party loyalty, and government printing contracts were a well-understood form of political patronage [q.v.].


Informally, the title of an article. Technically the headline is a line of display type [q.v.] that is set above the article, and that summarizes that article, or otherwise attempts to capture a reader's attention. Headlines are sometimes divided into different decks [q.v.] A second deck is something like a subtitle. Headlines were often set in a font not not much larger than that used in the article itself, and seldom spanned more than one column. Many articles in early newspapers had no headlines at all. Example of a headline.
Human Interest Story
A news article, often sentimental, about ordinary people and events. In this period, the human interest story was developed by, and associated with, the penny papers [q.v.].


In Kind
See Payment in Kind.
Indian Removal
The forced migration of Native Americans from land in the eastern United States to lands west of the Mississippi River. The 1830 Removal Act under President Jackson attempted to standardize the process by which tribes were forcibly removed from their lands. 


Job Printing
Printing work contracted on an individual basis. Many newspaper publishers, especially in the country, could not make enough money to support themselves through newspaper subscriptions and advertising alone. To supplement their incomes, newspaper publishers would print just about anything that could be printed on their presses, and they sometimes purchased an extra press to handle a wider-range of job printing work. Examples of job printing include invitations, lottery tickets, handbills, posters, and even books and magazines. In the bigger cities, printers increasingly specialized in particular kinds of printing--book printing, newspaper printing, or job printing. In the country-side, however, newspaper publishers continued to perform job printing work throughout the antebellum period.
The gathering, writing, and publishing of news [q.v.]. The word first appears in its modern sense during the mid-19th century, and is associated with the professionalization of the newspaper business.


Labor Press
With the achievement of universal white male suffrage in the 1820s, many skilled tradesmen banded together to assert their political influence through newspapers directed at the educated working classes. They advocated many different reforms, including better wages and better working conditions. Labor newspapers criticized existing institutions and newspapers for being unbalanced and undemocratic. Examples of labor newspapers include the Mechanics' Free Press (Philadelphia), the Working Man's Advocate (New York), and the Sentinel (New York). Benjamin Day, editor of the New York Sun, got his start in the labor press, and some scholars argue that the labor press was an important influence on the early penny papers [q.v.].3
Legal Notice
Advertisements, published in authorized newspapers, that announce a legal proceeding (e.g., bankruptcy, foreclosure, divorce, etc.). A newspaper had to meet certain requirements before it could accept legal advertising. These requirements were set by the state governments, but usually the paper had to demonstrate a record of continuous publication--at least six months--and proof of general circulation. In some states, each county officially designated a paper for legal advertising. Often called legal advertising, it tended to be more remunerative than display advertising, and therefore an important source of revenue.
Letter Press
Technically, a method of printing that uses type to create an impression on the page (as opposed to offset printing, which uses lithographic plates).  The term is also commonly used to refer to the alpha-numeric portions of a printed work, in contrast to the illustrations.
London Plan
Method of newspaper distribution that used street sales rather than subscriptions [q.v.] to sell newspapers. In the London plan, newspaper publishers sold newspapers wholesale to newsboys, who then sold the newspapers on the street at a profit. In the United States, this method of distribution was popularized by the penny press [q.v.] Newspapers traditionally relied on subscriptions, which in theory at least were paid in advance.


Part of the newspaper that gives publication information like the title of the newspaper (often in shortened form), date of publication, place of publication, frequency of publication, name of publisher or editor, subscription rates, contact information, and more. Location of the masthead varies, but in antebellum newspapers it was often found inside the newspaper, or in the upper left corner of the front page, near the nameplate [q.v.]. The term "masthead" is sometimes used for the nameplate, from which is should be distinguished. While the nameplate almost invariably appears at the top of the newspaper's front page, and usually spans the entire width of the page, the masthead can appear anwhere in the newspaper, and usually spans a single column. Both the nameplate and the masthead include similar information. Editorials [q.v.] often appeared beneath the masthead. Example of a masthead.
Mercantile Papers
Newspapers written primarily for city businessmen engaged in finance and trade. They contained information about prices of commodities, ship arrivals and departures, as well as political and foreign news. An example is the New York Journal of Commerce.
Mexican War
The first war on foreign soil to be substantially covered firsthand by American newspapers. The war arose over longstanding border disputes, most immediately from disagreements over the southern border of Texas, which the U.S. annexed in 1844 after it won independence from Mexico in 1836. When diplomacy failed, fighting broke out in spring of 1846, and the war ended a year later with the signing of the Treat of Gaudalupe Hidalgo, in which Mexico recgonized the Rio Grande as its northern border and ceded New Mexico and California to the U.S.
Indicates a publication frequency of one issue per month. Like a bi-weekly [q.v.] newspaper, monthly publication was more typical of newspapers with national distribution, especially those not focused primarily on general news, but on news of interest to specific audiences (e.g. farm news, temperance news, womens' suffrage news, abolitionist news, religious news, and so forth).
Usually printed on the nameplate [q.v.], it reflected the newspaper's outlook, political affiliation, aspirations, or ideals. For example, The New York Sun's motto, "It Shines for All," indicated its intent to reach a broad audience, and the Washington Globe's motto, "The World is Governed Too Much," suggests its support for Jacksonian Democracy. Sometimes mottos were little more than meaningless platitudes, especially as the period of the party press ended, and newspapers increasingly claimed to be objective purveyors of information. A common motto of this type was "Independent in all things, neutral in nothing", used by dozens of newspapers from the 1840s on. Example of a motto.


The top of the newspaper's front page, where the newspaper title is printed. Other information commonly printed on the nameplate includes the place of publication, date of publication, volume and issue numbering, and a motto or logo if there is one. Sometimes called masthead [q.v.], flag, title-line, or titlepiece. Unlike a masthead, however, the nameplate's location is fixed, and usually spans the entire width of the page. In contrast, the masthead can appear just about anywhere, and usually spans a single column. Example of a nameplate and masthead.
Dating back to the 14th century as a word meaning "new things" or "novelties," by the 15th century it had acquired its current meaning: a report of recent events in speech or writing. The first newspapers did not appear until the 17th century, and the modern notion of news as an objective account of important and recent events did not emerge until the middle of the 19th century. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, newspapers printed a variety of items that we would probably not categorize as news stories today, such as poltiical speeches presented without comment, anecdotes about unidentified people, issue advocacy, and lists of ship arrivals and departures.
Although we might commonly think of news-gathering in terms of a reporter going out to observe and ask questions, the process of getting news into the newspaper has taken a variety of forms. Many early nineteenth century newspapers, especially country papers [q.v.] merely reprinted items from other newspapers that they received through exchanges [q.v.]. Others reprinted political speeches or recent legislation. The most common way of transmitting news from place to place was through the postal service or by ship, but newspapers often found ways of getting the news more quickly, especially when the news was important. For example, New York papers sent boats to meet ships entering the harbor, so that they could be the first to print important news; other papers sent express riders, who could travel more quickly than the postal service, to carry news from a distant place back to the newspaper office.
Newspaper Agent
A person who solicited subscriptions and collected remittances. Postmasters often served as newspaper agents. Agents reduced the publisher's profits from subscriptions, but increased the publisher's ability to penetrate distant markets. On a smaller-scale, an individual could serve as a newspaper agent by forming a newspaper club [q.v.].
Newspaper Club
A group of people who subscribed to a newspaper through a friend or acquaintance, who acted as a small-time newspaper agent [q.v.]. The act of forming a newspaper club was sometimes called "raising a club". Club raisers would receive a reduced subscription, or receive a premium [q.v.], in exchange for signing up new subscribers. The term could also be used to describe the practice of bundling newspaper titles, and selling them at a cheaper net price. For example, a person could subscribe to three different newspapers for less than it would cost to subscribe to all three separately. (The catch, of course, is that it meant the subscriber often ended up taking newspapers that he or she didn't really want.)
Newspaper Database
A searchable repository of digitized newspapers. Some, like Chronicling America, are freely available on the web. Others, such as Proquest Historical Newspapers or Gale Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers, are fee-based.


A contested concept in the history of journalism. Some scholars trace it to the politically independent penny press of the 1830s.4 Others point out that political papers before the 1820s had well developed concepts of objectivity.5 These early newspapers often published government documents without comment, assuming that their readers would interpret the material for themselves. However, the modern notion of journalistic objectivity as "balance," in which all important perspectives are given equal weight, probably dates to the professionalization of journalism in the 20th century.


Paper of Record
A Newspaper considered to be the most complete and authoritative account of events, generally the paper read by elites. This position is held by the New York Times in the U.S. today, but in the nineteenth century the number of newspapers and the politically fragmented journalistic landscape meant that no single paper could be the uncontested paper of record. However, certain papers did attain preeminence in various times and places: for instance, the New York Weekly Tribune for country readers in the 1840s and 1850s, or the National Intelligencer in Washington, DC from 1800 to the 1820s.
Party Ticket
A list of candidates running for office from the same political party. Political newspapers that were aligned with a particular party often printed that party's ticket week after week, often near the newspaper masthead [q.v.]. Example of a party ticket printed beneath the newspaper masthead.
Broadly speaking, the support of a powerful person for a less powerful person, cause, etc. Political patronage became especially important with the birth of the second party system in the 1820s, as political parties [q.v.] used their influence to benefit allies in exchange for support. Political parties also supplied capital for the founding and operation of newspapers that were then expected to support the party's views and candidates. Newspapers were often rewarded with government printing contracts [q.v.] for such support. Patronage of this kind was an accepted and routine aspect of early-nineteenth-century newspaper publishing. As advances in printing technology dramatically increased the cost of running a newspaper during the 1830s and 1840s, the influence of political patronage diminished.
Payment in Kind
Payment in commodities or produce, as opossed to legal tender. Because rural economies were especially cash poor in this era, country papers [q.v.] often accepted payment in kind, both for subscriptions and advertising, in lieu of cash.
Penny Papers
The first penny papers appeared in Boston and New York in the 1830s. In contrast to six-cent papers emphasizing politics or finance, penny papers sold for one-cent per issue and targeted a broad working- and middle-class audience through individual street sales. Early penny papers also emphasized more topical news, scandal, and police reporting. Some of the most important penny papers were the New York Sun, the New York Herald, the New York Tribune, the Philadelphia Public Ledger, and the Baltimore Sun.
Political Papers
Newspapers that focused primarily on politics and government.
Political Parties
The prevalence and purpose of political parties went through several changes in the early nineteenth century. The founding fathers generally disliked the idea of political parties, but after the relative unity of the Washington administration, divisions became open as political opponents organized into rival Federalist and Democratic-Republican camps. This first party system lasted from 1793 to around 1820, when the Democratic-Republicans gained a virtual monopoly on political office during the "Era of Good Feelings." The second party system began in the late 1820s when the Democratic-Republicans broke into the ascendant Democratic Party [q.v.], led by Andrew Jackson (1828-1836), and the opposition Whig Party [q.v.]. These were more like modern political parties that were well-organized and hierarcihcal, and appealed to a mass electorate through rallies and campaigning. The third party system came about after the 1852 collapse of the Whig Party and the emergence of the Republican Party in the run-up to the Civil War.
Something given away for free to newspaper subscribers, as an incentive to subscribe. Often it was a gift or some other bonus. Sometimes a premium was given to a subscriber who formed a newspaper club [q.v.].
Prices Current
A list of current prices of commodities; often printed in early mercantile papers [q.v.], but common in political papers [q.v.] and country papers [q.v.] as well. Example of prices current.
The printer is responsible for the physical production of the newspaper, including typesetting and the operation of the printing press [q.v.]. Early printers, especially on country papers [q.v.], were often responsible for all aspects of newspaper production, including news gathering [q.v.], editing, marketing, and distribution, as well as operating the printing press.
Printing Press
A machine used to transfer letters and images from an inked surface onto paper. The earliest printing presses in America were screw presses, which could print one side of 75 sheets in about an hour. Various technological innovations increased the speed at which newspapers could be printed, and by the 1840s, power presses were capable of printing two to eight thousand sheets an hour. The older, screw presses remained popular on the frontier because they were easier to transport, and they continued to be used throughout this period.6 Example of a printing press.
A short article in which a newspaper describes itself, often stating its purpose, character, intended audience, editorial stance, governing principles, or other information of this kind. A prospectus was typically included in a newspaper's first issue, but sometimes was published previous to the first issue, as a separate handbill. Some newspapers published a new prospectus with the first issue of each volume [q.v.]. A prospectus, like other articles, could be picked up through the exchanges [q.v.] and reprinted in other newspapers. Sometimes, the propsectus was the only issue ever published, due to lack of interest or financial support. Example of a prospectus introducing the first issue of a new volume. Example of a prospectus reprinted in another newspaper.
An assumed name, often used by a letter-writer, editor, or correspondent, to disguise his or her true identity, or to express something of import to the reader: for example, a letter might be signed with the pseudonym "Cassandra" if its writer wanted to invoke the story of the prophet who was cursed to have all her prophecies ignored. Example of two letters signed with pseudonyms.
Person or organization responsible for the business side of the newspaper. The publisher may or may not be involved in day-to-day production of the newspaper (e.g. news-gathering [q.v.], editorial, and printing functions). After the introduction of the expensive steam printing presses in the 1830s, the rise of the daily [q.v.], and the development of news-gathering techniques, the cost of operating a newspaper greatly increased, and publishers gradually took the role of the political parties [q.v.] in supplying the necessary capital.


Reform Movements
Organized efforts to improve specific aspects of American social or political life. Reform movements were often moral or rationalist, and they proliferated in the United States during the nineteenth century. Examples of antebellum reform movements include temperance, women's suffrage [q.v.], labor movements, utopian communities, abolition [q.v.], food reform, dress reform, and many others. Motivated both by the expansion of voting rights during the early part of the century, and by the religious fervor of the Seond Great Awakening, reformers believed in progress and sought to bring the nation's political and civic life in line with its moral and religious ideals. The work of reform movements was often coordinated by voluntary associations [q.v.]. Reform movements commonly published newspapers as a way of communicating among geographically-dispersed, but like-minded individuals, and as a way of promoting their causes.
A newspaper employee who collects the news, either by direct observation, or by investigative techniques like the intervew. Reporters then write up the results of their work, which is then edited and published in the newspaper as a news article. For much of this period, newspapers did not use reporters for news-gathering [q.v.]. Instead, many newspapers printed content borrowed from other sources: letters from correspondents, articles found in newspapers received through the exchanges [q.v.], political speeches, laws, or lists of prices current [q.v.]. The reporter emerged as a position distinct from the printer [q.v.] and the editor [q.v.] in the 1830s, when newspapers began printing enough local news that a single person could not cover it all.
Republican Party
Because of the volatile party system of the early nineteenth century, Republican could refer to a variety of different parties: the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans from the 1790s to the 1810s; the National Republican party of the 1820s, most closely associated with John Quincy Adams, which grew out of the pro-government wing of the Democratic Republicans after the collapse of the rival Federalists and in opposition to the Jacksonian Democratic Party [q.v.]; or the Republican party of Abraham Lincoln, founded in 1854 to replace the Whig Party [q.v.].
Technically, a piece of metal strip used typographically to produce a horizontal or vertical line, but the term is also commonly used to identify the printed result. Rules are used in newspapers to create borders between newspaper columns or around advertising. They are also used horizontally to separate articles in the same column, or to separate different decks [q.v.] of a headline [q.v.].
Running Title
Title of the newspaper that appears atop each page, often in a shortened form, and often including the date. Also called the folio. Example of a running title.


Indicates a publication frequency of two issues per week.
Shipping News
A list of ship arrivals and departures, including ports of origin and destination, as well as details about the goods carried on board. Particularly useful to businessmen engaged in trade, the shipping news was a staple of city mercantile papers [q.v.]. Shipping news could also include other news items collected from crew, passengers, or newspapers aboard the ships.
Before the 1830s, when penny papers [q.v.] introduced the London Plan [q.v.] of selling individual copies on the street, most newspapers were sold by subscription. Subscribers agreed to purchase all issues of the newspaper, for a specified period (usually a year). The newspaper was then delivered to the subscriber, or the subscriber picked up his or her copy at either the nearest post office, or at the newspaper office itself. In theory, subscriptions should have helped to stabilize a newspaper's finances. However, because payment was not required ahead of time, many subscribers simply did not pay, and collecting past-due subscriptions was a chronic problem for many newspapers. Subscriptions continued to be a mainstay of newspaper sales, even after the penny papers successfully introduced the London plan, and subscriptions were the main way for out of town readers to obtain copies.
The legal right to vote. Women's suffrage was an important reform movement [q.v.] of this era. Originally, only white men who owned property could vote, but by the 1820s most states had abolished the property requirement. Although the 15th Amendment (1870) gave all men the right to vote, regardless of race, the right of blacks to vote was not secured until the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Women gained suffrage in 1920 with the 19th Amendment.


Technically designates a newspaper format, half the size of the traditional broadsheet (q.v.). The tabloid format newspaper did not appear in the United States until the beginning of the 20th century. Tabloids came to be considered more downmarket than broadsheets.
One of the largest reform movements [q.v.] of the nineteenth century, the temperance movement encouraged people to abstain from alcohol and advocated prohibition. It was especially popular with middle-class women and was closely associated with Evangelical Protestantism. Temperance advocates formed temperance societies (the largest, the American Temperance Society, was founded in New England in 1826) and held large, revival-like meetings that attempted to convert the crowds to temperance. 
Unlike the term bi-weekly [q.v.], which indicates a publication frequency of one issue every two weeks, tri-weekly rather counter-intuitively denotes a publication frequency of three issues every week. Tri-weekly publication was typically associated with daily [q.v.] newspapers, the publisher of which made a tri-weekly edition from the formes [q.v.] that had already been set for two consecutive issues of the daily edition's inside pages (usually pages two and three). Because the tri-weekly edition was made up entirely of inside pages, it usually did not have a nameplate [q.v.]. You are unlikely to find many tri-weekly newspapers in a newspaper database [q.v.]. To learn more about tri-weekly newspapers, see the website Tri-Weekly Newspapers Explained from the Connecticut State Library.


Defined by the United States Census as any settlement with a population greater than 2,500. In 1830, only 8.8% of the population lived in an urban area; by 1870, 34% did.


Newspaper issues were organized into volumes. A volume often covered a one-year period, but this one-year period did not necessarily correspond to a calendar year. For example, the first issue of the first volume of the New York Herald was issued on May 6, 1835; the first issue of the second volume on March 10, 1836; and the first issue of the third volume on May 22, 1837. The first issue of a new volume might include a new prospectus [q.v.], especially if the change in volume number coincided with a change in content or layout, as when the Herald expanded from four to five columns with the start of its second volume. Volume and issue numbers were usually printed on the nameplate [q.v.], and less commonly on the masthead [q.v.]. The volume and issue numbering can help a researcher establish whether a newspaper run is complete. It was not uncommon, especially on the frontier, for newspapers to publish less regularly than advertised, so the volume and issue numbering can help identify gaps. Conversely, complete numbering can indicate that a gap in the chronology (say, a jump in a weekly [q.v.] from July 3 to July 17) indicates a gap in publication, not a missing issue. Example of volume and issue numbers.
Voluntary Association
A major feature of the reform movements [q.v.], voluntary associations included a wide variety of organized groups, including churches, political organizations, advocacy groups, and professional organizations. Important because they provided a means of civic involvement that mediated between the individual and the state and, at least in theory, did not depend on gender, class, social status, or race. Examples include the American Temperance Society, the American Colonization Society, American Anti-Slavery Society, American Peace Society, and so forth.


A newspaper published once a week. In the early part of the nineteenth century, weeklies were by far the most common type of newspaper in both cities and rural areas. Even after daily [q.v.] newspapers became common in larger towns and cities, those newspapers often published a weekly edition [q.v.] as well, which was usually a digest of the most important articles from their daily edition, and was intended for regional distribution outside the city. An intermediate form, between the daily and the weekly, was the semi-weekly, which could be issued either two or three times a week. During this period it was common for city newspapers to publish daily, semi-weekly, and weekly editions. As in this example, you can tell if a newspaper is a daily or a weekly by looking at either the nameplate [q.v.] or masthead [q.v.], where you can usually expect to find frequency of publication along with terms, advertising rates, and other information. Weekly publications remained typical for country papers [q.v.] throughout this period.
Whig Party
The American Whig party originated as an opposition party to the Jacksonian Democrats. They were less populist, but advocated for government's ability to reform and improve society and facilitate commerce.
An illustration made by engraving a picture onto a block of wood, which was then fixed into the chase [q.v.] of the the printing press [q.v.] along with the letter press [q.v.] to create a single page. After 1860, woodcuts were typically electrotyped, and thus the printing surface became metal instead of wood. Example of a woodcut illustration.


1. The following works were consulted in compiling this glossary: Helen H. Carey, and Judith E. Greenberg, How to Read a Newspaper (New York: Franklin Watts, 1983); Ross Eaman, Historical Dictionary of Journalism (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2009); Bob Franklin, Martin Hamer, Mark Hanna, Marie Kinsey, and John E. Richardson, Key Concepts in Journalism Studies (London: Sage, 2005); Vic Giles, and F.W. Hodgson, Creative Newspaper Design, 2d ed. (Oxford, Eng.: Focal Press, 1996); Linda Hall, ed., Acronyms, Initialisms, and Abbreviations Dictionary, 40th ed., (Detroit: Gale, 2008); Richard M. Harnett, Wirespeak: Codes and Jargon of the News Business (San Mateo, Calif.: Shorebird Press, 1997); Allen Hutt, and Bob James, Newspaper Design Today: A Manual for Professionals (London: Lund Humphries, 1989); Greg Miller, Elizabeth Novickas, and Gerry Labedz, The Daily Illini Design Guide (Champaign, Ill.: Illini Publishing, 1976); Daryl R. Moen, Newspaper Layout and Design: A Team Approach, 4th ed. (Ames, Ia.: Iowa State University Press, 2000), which includes an interesting discussion of the tabloid format in chapter 15; Albert A. Sutton, Design and Makeup of the Newspaper (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1948), which includes useful, if brief, essays on historical developments in newspaper design--see, for example, chapter 11 on the headline.

2. For a discussion of signature versus anonymity in newspapers, see Lucy Maynard Salmon, The Newspaper and the Historian (New York: Oxford University Press, 1923), 65-74.

3. See for example Dan Schiller, Objectivity and the News: The Public Rise of Commercial Journalism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981), 43-45; and Andie Tucher, Froth and Scum: Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and the Ax Murder in America's First Mass Medium (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 12-13.

4. See for example Michael Schudson, Discovering the news: A Social History of American Newspapers (New York: Basic Books, 1978); and Schiller, Objectivity.

5. John Nerone, "The Mythology of the Penny Press," Critical Studies in Mass Communication 4 (1987): 376-404.

6. William H. Lyon, The Pioneer Editor in Missouri, 1808-1860 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1965), 93; James Moran, Printing Presses: History and Development from the Fifteenth Century to Modern Times (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), 47; Lewis A. Pryor, "The 'Adin Argus': The End of the Hand Press Era of Country Weeklies," Pacific Historian 17, no. 1 (January, 1973): 1-18; Cathleen A. Baker, From the Hand to the Machine: Nineteenth Century American Paper Mediums: Technologies, Materials, and Conservation (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Legacy Press, 2010), 157.