This story begins in Jefferson County, Virginia, in the early 1840’s. Told chiefly through the viewpoints and voices of contemporary local journalists, it attempts to present events as they saw them. Their readers’ world views were shaped mainly by what they read in the press, augmented by letters and word of mouth, so the Fourth Estate exerted an enormous influence on the public’s thoughts and actions.
The cast of characters includes John S. and Horatio N. Gallaher of the Virginia Free Press; James W. Beller of the Spirit of Jefferson; and Henry Hardy, H. W. McAnly, and John H. Zittle of the Shepherdstown Register. J. Harrison Kelly and B. F. Washington also figure largely in this narrative, for they both wrote for local newspapers before becoming editors in their own right. While some of the participants spent their entire professional careers in Jefferson County, Virginia, others followed the news and their fortunes westward, settling in California or other newly opened territories.
Adopting the motto that “The Pen is mightier than the sword,” many editors believed they could use their skills to shape voters’ opinions. Like many newspapers of the time, they were political organs, founded to publicize party ideas and promote candidates seeking public office. These editors represent the viewpoints of the local Whig and Democratic parties as they struggled with major issues such as the Mexican War, Westward Expansion, the California Gold Rush, the spread of slavery, and more.
The current volume closes with the signing of the Compromise of 1850, but subsequent volumes will continue the narrative up through the 1870’s to the end of Reconstruction, exploring how these journalists tried to change their world and in turn were changed by it. The book is arranged chronologically and grouped in five parts: The Pen and the Sword, Manifest Destiny, Seeing the Elephant, Golden Shackles, and Conflict and Compromise. The narrative is enhanced by a wealth of illustrations and an index to full-names, places and subjects.
William D. Theriault
2017, 6x9, paper, index, 240 pp.