Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 5. The Influence of the Great Editors

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

§ 5. The Influence of the Great Editors

It was not mere editorial arrogance or vanity that James Gordon Bennett displayed when at the outbreak of the war he assured President Lincoln of the support of the New York Herald. Lincoln’s subsequent offer of the French mission to the erratic journalist vouches for that. For editorial influence was then at its greatest, and the power wielded by the leaders in the great era of personal journalism—such men as Greeley, Bennett, Bowles, Raymond, Bryant, Schouler—made government by newspapers something more than a phrase. The country was accustomed to a journalistic leadership in which it had faith. Not a few editors felt competent to instruct the government in both political and military affairs, and some undertook to do so, notably Horace Greeley, in the New York Tribune, to the clamour of which paper is attributed the ill-advised aggression which led to the defeat at Bull Run. Of all the editorials written during the war, Greeley’s “The Prayer of Twenty Millions,” printed in the Tribune on 20 August, 1862, is probably the most significant, not only because it indicates the tone assumed in many papers, but especially because it drew from President Lincoln a reply which defined more clearly than ever before his position on the question of slavery and made unmistakable the relative positions of President and editor. There is a resemblance between this encounter and an earlier and less public one between Lincoln and Seward, and the two events are not incomparable in importance. After that exchange of ideas the newspapers of the North supported the President more completely than before. As the war progressed, however, the editorial gradually came to occupy a less important place than news, and by the close of the conflict the authority and influence of the great personalities of journalism had appreciably declined.