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
§ 11. The Nation
A more potent force in the movement towards independence was another weekly, the Nation, established under the editorship of Edwin Lawrence Godkin in 1865, which in the course of a few years set a new standard of free and intelligent criticism of public affairs. Godkin had begun serious work in journalism when in 1853, at the age of twenty-two, he had gone to the Crimea for the London Daily News. He had come to the United States in 1856, had become a keen student of American life, politics, and journalism, and during the war had done the country great service by telling Englishmen, through the Daily News, the truth concerning American conditions. He felt that the American press did not fairly represent the thought and opinions of educated men. He wanted to “see whether the best writers in America cannot get a fair hearing from the American public on questions of politics, art, and literature through a newspaper.” Within a year after the Nation was established a discerning observer said that “it will do much to raise the reputation of American journalism in Europe and by its example to raise the tone of our other newspapers,” and twenty years later an eminent English editor called it the best periodical in the world. It has been said that all the problems of democracy had a fascination for Godkin, and into the discussion of them he flung himself with enthusiasm and vigour equalled only by his breadth and keenness of understanding and the clear, pungent attractiveness of his style. He soon made the Nation a source of intellectual and political inspiration for that somewhat limited number to whom intellectual journalism could appeal. Best known for the long struggle of the Nation for civil service reform, and for a prolonged and finally successful fight against Tammany, through the Evening Post, of which he became editor in 1881, and for other great combats in which popularity was never considered, Godkin was probably the greatest single force for better government in the thirty years following the war. And although never read by the people generally, he profoundly affected the leaders of thought and of journalism, and through them exerted an influence no less wide, and, certainly no less vital to the health of the finer type of democracy, than that of men whose service to journalism is more frequently mentioned and imitated.