Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 1. The Newspapers of 1860

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XX. Newspapers Since 1860

§ 1. The Newspapers of 1860

WHEN the sudden beginning of the Civil War changed the whole current of national life, the newspapers of the country were in many respects prepared to report and interpret the great event. Had the war been clearly foreseen for a decade, more adequate preparation could hardly have been made to adjust the service to the momentous changes which came so swiftly. Ingenuity and aggressiveness in the gathering of news, the rise and growth of which has been sketched in another chapter, had quickened the whole profession. The telegraph, which was little more than an experiment when the Mexican War came on, had by 1860 been extended to all parts of the country directly affected by the war. The revolution thereby created in methods of gathering, transmitting, and vending news had been accomplished in the interval of twelve or fifteen years, and journalism was becoming accustomed to the new order. The growing use and expensiveness of the telegraph had already led to the formation of press associations. And at almost the same time the invention of the modern papier machè process of stereotyping, together with improvements in printing presses, removed mechanical obstructions which until 1861 had curbed the production of newspapers. With all these general developments there had been, until a few weeks before hostilities began, little detailed preparation to meet the actual crisis; the press was not on a war footing; there were no experienced war correspondents.

Newspapers had spread over the whole country, flowing into the Central valleys and plains and down the Western slopes along with the most enterprising of the early settlers. When Lincoln read his first inaugural, only four states or territories in the Union were without newspapers to report it; twelve years later, not one was without a newspaper to chronicle the defeat and death of the great journalist who sought the Presidency. News style had taken essentially the form still to be found in the more conservative papers of the country; headlines were still inconspicuous, never more than one column wide, and seldom revealing the news they topped. The custom among many papers of sending correspondents throughout the South and the Far West to report conditions and events was now to prove useful preparation for the period when the South became the greatest source of news in the world. Foreign correspondence after its rapid spread in the forties had been somewhat more fully organized, although it was no more ably conducted. The pressure of domestic events led to some neglect of the foreign field, just before and during the war, and it was not until the short Franco-Prussian conflict that European affairs again received much attention from the American press.