James Melvin Lee.

History of American journalism online

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addition to the comment about the money market, stock quo-
tations were given. According to T?ie Herald, it was ''the only
paper in the city which gives authentic and daily reports of
Wall Street operations, stocks, and the money market." Until
1838 the department was conducted entirely by Bennett. In
reviewing the history of this department, he said in The Herald
of February 20, 1869: —

The daily financial report was begun by us when we started The
Herald. We made it personally. Getting through that part of our va-
ried labors that could be done at an early hour, we went to Wall Street,
saw for ourselves what was in progress there, and returned with our
report sketched out in fragmentary fly leaves of letters or other handy
scraps of paper. We told the truth, for we were in the interest of the
pubhc; and the truth of that locality was not complimentary in those
days any more than it would be now. War was made upon us right and
left by the men whose little games were spoiled whenever the public
came to know what they were at; and, strangest of ail things for a war
originating in that quarter, it was a "moral war." We lived through it,

Compelled to delegate our labor in the preparation of a financial
report, we have alwa3rs meant and still mean to keep that report as
honest as it was in its origin; to constitute it a legitimate and exact
record of what is honestly done in Wall Street, and an exposure — a lay-
ing bare to the eyes of the public of what is dishonestly done there. We
wiU compound none of the villainies with the fellows who trade on
public credulity to abuse public confidence. One journal shall tell what
Wall Street really is and what is done there.

Wall Street had some excellent newspaper stories, as Bennett
soon found out.

After the fire which destroyed the Ann Street printing-plant,
Bennett announced the policy which, carried out in every detail,
contributed much to the success of The Herald. That policy was :
*'In every species of news The Herald wiU he one of the earliest of
the early.'' At the same time Bennett announced this policy he
also said: ''We mean to procure intelligent correspondents in
London, Paris, and Washington, and measiures are already
adopted for that piupose." When the Sirius and Great Western
crossed the Atlantic, with steam as the motive power, Bennett


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enlarged the foreign correspondence of the paper. For years
The Herald was first in foreign news. Bennett did not n^ect
local and national news. After he had found the value of such
items to the paper he went over New York with a net and
gathered in — with apologies to The New York Times — "all
the news that's fit to print/' along with some that wasn't.
He developed his own news bureau for the interior. He printed
'"news-slips" which were sent free by express mail to the news-
. papers in the interior. These "newsHslips," which reached pub-
lishers one mail in advance of the regular issues of The Herald,
took the place of the tel^raph news service of the Associated
Press of to-day. This free news service placed papers receiving
the same under obligation to see that The Herald got all the
worth-while news from their territory — and got it before the
other New York papers.

In building up The Herald^ Bennett had the active co5p^*ation
•of Frederick Hudson, who had the honor of being managing
•director. Of the latter, Samuel Bowles, the elder, once said,
while editor of The Springfield ReptMican, that Hudson was
the greatest organizer of a mere newspaper that this country
has ever seen.


The conservative Journal of Commerce, a six-penny paper, on
June 29, 1835, published an account of the penny press in
New York which described not only the conditions in New York,
but those in other cities which had penny newspapers: —

It is but three or four years since the first penny paper was estab-
lished. Nowtherearehalf adoaenormoreof theminthbcity, withan
aggregate circulation of twenty or thirty thousand, and perhaps more.
These issues exceed those of the large papers, and, for aught we see,
they are conducted with as much talent, and in point of moral char-
acter we think candidly they are superior to their six-penny contem-
poraries. . . . They are less partisan in politics than the large papers,
and more decidedly American, with one or two exceptions. The manner
in which their pecuniary affairs are conducted shows how much may
come of small details. They are circulated on the London plan, the
editors and publishers doing no more than to complete the manu-
facture of the papers, when they are sold to the newsmen or carriers at


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67 cents per 100. The earners distribute the papers, and on Saturday
collect from each subscriber six cents, so that for each call their net
income to the carriers is but one third of a cent. We wish our penny
associates all success, hoping that they will grow wise, good, and great,
unlil they make every sixpenny paper ashamed that tells a lie, or be-
trays its country for the sake of party, or does any other base thing.

For some reason the owners of the six-penny political sheets
did not consider it strictly ethical to sell their wares on city
streets. Subscribers recdved their papers by carriers, and tran-
sient purchasers had to go to the counters of newspaper offices.
The penny press, however, did not wait to enroll annual sub-
scribers, but tried to market its merchandise daily through
boys. The pages of the early penny papers fairly bristled with
advertisements of ^'Boys Wanted.'' The first issue of The
PtMic Ledger in Philadelphia contained a small advertisement
to this effect: —

50 MEN AND BOYS can make it an advantageous business to
circulate this paper. Apply at the office of The Ledger Nos. 38-39

Early issues of The Boston IS o^clock News contained this ad-
vertisement: —

WANTED 20 boys neatly dressed and excellent deportment to sell
The Daily News — None need apply except those who intend to en-
gage permanently. 30^ for every 100 sold.

Possibly The Sun of New York was the first to use news boys
in this way. Almost at the start that paper contained a notice: —

TO THE UNEMPLOYED. A number of steady men can find em-
ployment by vending this paper. A liberal discount is allowed to those
who buy to sell again.

For the first time journalism was brou^t directly to the
people. By making the daily papers easy to buy, the penny press
brought something of a revolution into American journalism.
Its system of marketing its products undoubtedly had much to
do with its success.


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The penny paper on account of its size was forced to give its
news in small space. For example, the first issue of The Sun in
New York gave an account of a revolution in Mexico in four lines
which included a statement of the soiurce of the item. For the
most part, the penny sheet printed its news on inside pages:
the first page was given over either to advertising or to articles
usually quoted from exchanges. The Sun^ to quote its first issue
again, had on its front page a supposedly humorous story about
an Irish captain and the duels he fought; early issues of Tfie New
York Transcript devoted their front pages to a continued story,
"Edward and Julia; a Reminiscence of Forty Years Since";
page one of the first issue of The Daily Evening Transcript
in Boston was composed entirely of advertisements. At the
start the editor of the penny paper usually culled his material
from the pages of his more verbose six-penny contemporary:
later, he either went himself or sent a reporter to gather such

The chief distinction between the six-penny sheets and the
penny papers was that the former featured the news of legisla-
tive chambers and the latter that of the courts. It must be
frankly admitted that in some instances the penny press went to
the extreme limit in reporting criminal cases, but in so doing
it showed soimd newspaper psychology. What makes a short
piece of fiction so interesting is its account of some struggle or
"scrap," whether it be the conflict in a character study where
two natures battle against each other, or whether it be the fight
of two rivals for the hand of Fair Ophelia. How well James Gor-
don Bennett knew this has been outlined elsewhere. In reporting
the happenings of the police court the "scrap" element, which
gave value to the accounts, was present in double strength:
first, there was the story of the physical combat which brought
the contestants to court; second, there was the legal battle be-
tween their lawyers. The penny papers went on the principle
of what the Lord let happen ou^t to be printed in their sheets.
Such contentions of the penny press brought upon it the severe
criticism of the more cultured in the community. It was not


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uncommon for the subscribers of the more conservative papers
to write letters similar to the following: —

Your paper should take a more dignified stand; and not condescend
to notice the assaults of the d^raded penny press. The price of your
journal is such that it is taken only by readers of the more intelligent
classes; readers who despise the vul^mty of the penny newspapers,
and who have cause to feel themselves affronted when you give so large
a space, or any space, indeed, to a refutation of their absurdities. It
seems to me, that a proper respect for your own dignity, as well as a
proper respect for those into whose hands your lucubrations chiefly
fall, ought to restrain you from giving additional circulation to the trash
of the minor prints, which are suited only to the taste and capacities of
the lower classes of people.

It was in answer to just this letter that William Leggett
replied: —

If it were true that the readers of the penny papers are chiefly con-
fined to what our correspondent chooses to term the "lower classes,"
it would be no argument against them, but in their favour. Those who
come within the embrace of that exotic phrase are in immense majority
of the American people. It includes all the honest and labouring
poor. It includes those whose suffrages decide the principles of our
government; on whose conduct rests the reputation of our country;
and whose mere breath is the tenure by which we hold all our dearest
political, religious, and social rights. How ineffably unportant it is,
then, that the intelligence of these ''lower classes " should be cultivated;
that their moral sense should be quickened; and that they should have
the means within their reach of learning the current history of the
times, of observing the measures of Uieir public servants, and of be-
coming prepared to exercise with wisdom the most momentous privi-
lege of free-men. This great desideratum the penny press supplies, not
as well and thoroughly, perhaps, as the philanthropist could wish, but
to such a degree as to be necessarily productive of immense benefit
to society. It commimicates knowledge to those who had no means of
acquiring it. It calls into exercise minds that before rusted imused. It
elevates vast numbers of men from the abjectness of mere animal
condition, to the nobler station of intelligent beings. If usefulness con-
stitutes the true measure of dignity, the penny press deserves pre-emi-
nence, as well on accoimt of the character of its readers, as the extent
of its circulation. He who addresses himself to intelligent and cultivated
minds, has a critic in each reader, and the influence of his opinions must
necessarily be circumscribed. But he who addresses himself to the mass
of the people, has readers whose opinions are yet to be formed; whose


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minds are ductile and open to new impressions, and whose intellectual
characters he, in some measure, moulds. He becomes the thinker, in
fact, for a vast number of his fellow-beings. His mind transfuses itself
through many bodies. His station renders him, not an individual, but
a host; not one, but legion. Is this not a vocation of inherent dignity?
— to address, daily, myriads of men, not in words that fall on cold and
inattentive ears, and are scarce heard, to be immediately forgotten;
but in language clothed with all that undefinable influence which typog-
raphy possesses over oral communication, and ftlftiming attention
not in the hurry of business, or amidst the distractions of a crowded
assemblage, but when the thoughts have leisure to concentrate them-
selves upon it, and follow the writer in all the windings of his argument.
If the censures were well founded which are lavished on ''The vile
penny press," as some of the larger papers are prone to term their
cheaper rivals, they should but provoke minds governed by right prin-
ciples to a more earnest endeavour to reform the character of an instru-
ment, which must be powerful, either for evil or for good. That they
are so vile we do not admit. We have found, ourselves, honourable
and courteous antagonists among them; and if those who apply to them
the harshest epithets, would treat them instead, with respectful con^
sideration, cop3ang from their columns as readily as from those of other
journals, when intrinsic circumstances presented no particular motive
of preference, and contesting their errors of opinion on terms of equal
controversy, they would do far more towards raising the character and
increasing the usefulness of that important branch of popular literature,
than gen^^ and sweeping condemnation can possibly do to degrade it.
For ourselves, professing that our main object is to promote the cause
of truth in politics and morals, we should consider ourselves acting
with palpable inconsistency, if we were governed, in any degree, by so
narrow a principle of exclusion as that which our correspondent re-
commends. That newspaper best consults its real dignity which never
loses sight of the dignity of truth, nor avoids any opportunity of ex-
tending its influence.


Not all of the six-penny newspapers, however, were so chari-
table toward their younger bretiiren found in the penny press.
They resented the strenuous competition which they must meet
in the gathering and selling of news. The aristocrats of the day
thought that the newspaper was their especial property and
should be published for them exclusively. It was something of
an honor before the establishment of the penny press to be a
newspaper subscriber; it was somewhat similar to having a piano


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in the house; but when newspapers sold for a penny a copy, they
crept into the pockets of the working-man to be glanced at has-
tily at his noonday lunch and to be read religiously after his
evening meal. Naturally, politicians bitterly opposed this new
press, and did what they could to prevent it from feeding at the
political crib of State and National advertising. Nevertheless,
the new jomnalism, opposed to politics and independent in
spirit, continued to thrive. It was said that in ten years it did
more good by exposure of municipal scandals than the older
press had done in twenty. In the birth of the penny newspaper
may be f oimd the b^inning of the independent press in America.
The new press when it discussed politics did so without taking
ordeiB from Washington: it ceased to be a minor or a servant
controlled by party class or personal clique.


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1832 — 1841

The p^nj^prees brought several changes in the manufacture
and marketing of newspapers. Among these were the use of
steam to turn the press and the employment of bo3n3 to sell single
copies in addition to diatributing papers among regular sub-
scribers. The greater demand for larger editions, the competi-
tion to be first in news, the better facilities for gathering items,
the deeper interest taken in civic improvement, the changes in
the body politic, the expansion of the country, the increase of
literacy among all classes with the introduction of compulsory
education — all these things brought readjustment in the
printing and making of newspapers.

These changes came gradually, however, and will be taken up
more in detail as they appear. They were concomitant with
other transformations of American civilization. Many reforms
grew out of the agitations of the penny press. In New York, for
example. The Sun advocated the installation of a paid fire de-
partment. Under the volunteer system the chief aim of fire
companies was to be first at the burning building rather than to
extinguish the flames. One company never hesitated to destroy
the apparatus of a rival if thereby it could be first at the fire.
Rival gangs which formerly fought on city streets put on the
red shirts of volunteer firemen and fought their battles for su-
premacy as before. In securing the introduction of horse-drawn
engines and the adoption of a paid department, The Sun ren-
dered a most distinct service to the city. The Herald performed
just as distinct a service when it fought for the adoption of uni-
forms for the city police. Previously, members of the police de-
partment had been distinguished from civilians only by the
presence of a badge worn on the coat. In case of trouble, it was
not imcommon for a policeman to remove his badge and with


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the inRJgnia in his pocket, watch the fracas as a spectator. The
reforms in the police department brought about by The Herald
added much to the respect for law and order in New York. Pos-
sibly the penny press of Philadelphia secured even greater
reforms for that city. The press was again simply a mirror of
the transformations of overgrown villages into metropolitan
cities and of isolated States and Territories into a Nation.


During the time when the penny press was being established
in the larger cities, Horace Greeley was interested in various
newspaper enterprises. His entrance into New York City in
1831, because of his peculiarities of dress and mannerisms,
might be paralleled to that of Benjamin Franklin into Phila-
delphia. From his savings as a journeyman printer, Greeley,
as has already been mentioned, aided in the publication of what
became the first one-cent newspaper in New York, The Morning
PosL At the time The Sun was established he was running a job
office which made a specialty of the advertising literature of lot-
teries, etc. In conjunction with Jonas Winchester he started
on March 22, 1834, The New Yorker, in which he published the
larger part of his editorial work, both original and selected writ-
ing|9, though he continued to write for The Daily Whig. He was
a member of the political company, spoken of in the press as
Seward, Weed, and Greeley. This company proceeded, after
the political revolution of 1837 to start, under the auspices and
by ihe direction of the Whig Central Committee of the State
rf New York on March 3, 1838, a campaign paper in Albany
called The Jefferaoman. Funds for its establishment were con-
tributed by the leading Whig politicians in amounts of ten dol-
lars each. The paper, sold at fifty cents a year, was according
to Greeley establidied "on the impulse of the Whig tornado to
secure a like result in 1838 so as to give the Whig party a Gov-
ernor, lieutenant-Govemor, Senate, Assembly, United States
Senator, Congressman, and all the vast executive patronage of
the State,'' then amounting to millions of dollars. For his ser-
vices, Greeley received a remuneration of one thousand dollars,
but he naturally expected to get some of those offices worth from


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three to twenty thousand dollars per year which Seward upon
being elected Governor was handing out to his friends. In this he
was disappointed: to quote his words, ''I return to my garret
and my crust."

In the Tippecanoe and Tjrler campaign of 1840 — known as the
''Tip and Ty'' campaign in the press — the same political firm
brought out another campaign paper on May 2, 1840, entitled
The Log Cabin published simultaneously at New York and
Albany. Of this sheet Henry Jarvis Raymond, when editor of
The New York Times, once said, " It was the best campaign paper
ever published.'' It was designed only for a campaign sheet and
was expected to expire with the twentynseventh number: forty-
eight thousand of the first issue were sold and subscriptions came
in at the rate of seven hundred a day. The Log Cabins both by
its caricatures and by its editorials, promoted the raising of log
cabins, formally dedicated with plenty of hard cider, as political
centers and headquarters for Harrison and lyier men.

The Whig tornado, mentioned by Greeley, started with Jack-
son's decision to remove the deposits of the Government from
the Bank of the United States. Financial interests subsidised
existing Whig organs and started new ones at strategic points.
Democratic papers, alienated by Jackson, continued their op-
position to his successor, Martin Van Buren. A group of papers,
headed by The Enquirer of Richmond, was especially bifet^
toward Van Buren for not favoring the annexation of Texas and
became even more violent in its denunciation when he accepted
a nomination of a rival political organisation. The sound money
doctrines of Van Buren made the Whig campaign organs popu-
lar with the masses which wanted ''higher wages and lower
prices" so readily promised by these sheets in case of victory
at the polls. Log cabins were frequently erected to be used
as printHshops and the office mascot was invariably a live
raccoon chained to the front doorpost or to the rude chinmey
of the structure. The popularity of the log cabin was due to the
fact that Harrison was not only bom in one, but also had one
attached his house. Rival campaign weeklies existed for the
Democratic Party with names as peculiarly appropriate as
The Log Cabin. Two favorites were The Coon Skinner and The


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Dry Cider Barrett. Of the Whig sheets, nesrt to Greelejr's Log
Cabin, came The ComrSUxUc Fiddle and The Whig Rifle. Never
again did the campaign weeklies, or dailies for that matter, play
so important a part in presidential elections as in the "Tip and
Ty" campaign of 1840.


After Harrison had been elected, largely through the Whig
Campaign organs of which The Log Cabin was the leader,
Greeley natmtilly thought that Governor Seward would ask
that the position of postmaster of New York be given to the
editor of The Log Cabin, but he was unable not only to get this
position, but also to get anything "in the scramble of the swell
mob of coon-minstrels and cidernsnickers which swarmed to
Washington for offices." Of the residents from New York,
City "no one in the crowd," to quote Greeley's own words in
a letter to Seward, had done so much "toward General Harri-
son's nomination and election," as the editor of The Log Cabin.
Unable to get political office Greeley started The Tribune in New
York on April 10, 1841, on the very day of Harrison's funeral.
The aim of this newspaper, published at one cent, was that it
should be "removed alike from servile partisanship on the one
hand and from gagged, mincing neutrality on the other."
Though there were already numerous daily papers in New
York there was still room for another local Whig paper. The
Courier and Enquirer, The New York American, The Express,
and The Commercial Advertiser were Whig papers, but circu-
lated at the armual subscription price of ten dollars a year: The
Evening Post of the same price leaned to the Democratic side of
politics; The Journal of Commerce, while primarily a conuner-
cial daily favored entries approved by the Democrats. The
Signal, The TatUer, and The Star were among the cheap papers
which sat astride the political fence; The Sun had now achieved
an enormous circulation, and while professing neutrality in poli-
tics always shone a little brighter for the Democrats; The Herald
was still independent and had raised its price to two cents.

In his preliminary notice of publication, Greeley thus out-
lined the policy to be pursued by The Tribune : —


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Online LibraryJames Melvin LeeHistory of American journalism → online text (page 20 of 44)