Hazel Dicken Garcia, Giovanna Dell'Orto. Hated Ideas and the American Civil War Press. Spokane: Marquette Books, 2008. x + 349 pp. $39.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-922993-88-8; $79.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-922993-89-5.
Reviewed by Fiona Halloran (Eastern Kentucky University)
Published on Jhistory (December, 2009)
Commissioned by Donna Harrington-Lueker (Salve Regina University)
Freedom of Thought and the Civil War Press
Hazel Dicken Garcia and Giovanna Dell'Orto, authors of Hated Ideas and the American Civil War Press, move through time and space but also from reporting to perception. For instance, they devote a chapter to editorial reaction to Abraham Lincoln's Independence Day message to Congress in 1861, but also two chapters to what newsmen had to say about free speech and censorship. They chronicle reactions to activists who espoused controversial ideas, but also discuss the context in which journalists defined their freedom of expression and the limits on it. The result is a book that touches on the specific and the ideological, giving readers a broad sense of the authors' conclusions.
Overall, they determine two things: first, that many editors and reporters expressed passionate devotion to the Constitution and its protections; and, second, that the same men often agreed that certain ideas must and should be suppressed for reasons of state security, social cohesion, and order. Thus, they find that in the end editors were human--as devoted to their side of the fight as to their professional ideals and sometimes willing to embrace contradictory positions.
A number of interesting corollaries emerge from these findings. According to the authors, governments learned the boundaries of repression. Though they often condemned provocative ideas, editors defended the idea of free speech but, in the process, tended to help the government negotiate what could be silenced and what must be endured. Editors wrote more, and more often, about questions of free expression than the authors expected and demonstrated a powerful sense of professional obligation, both to the idea of journalistic integrity and to the public. Lastly, the authors marvel at the fact that despite celebrated instances of press destruction a number of opposition presses survived. Even in wartime Americans tolerated, and talked about tolerating, ideas they hated.
One strength of the book lies in its attention to the fact that "hated ideas" differed across party and regional lines. So the authors examine emancipation as a hated idea for some, and slavery as a hated idea for others. They make clear and conscious efforts to look at both Confederate (or Confederate-sympathetic) and Union newspapers. In each case, they try to understand the idea, its spread in public discourse, and the reaction it aroused among other Americans. For example, extensive space is devoted to the federal reaction to Copperhead ideas (which opposed the Civil War), and to the public pronouncements of Copperhead leader Clement Vallandigham. This approach echoes their nuanced view overall, accepting the variability of concepts and the potential for a single idea to be hated in one region and embraced in another.
Focusing on editors and writers brings a variety of benefits. Their words state in often unequivocal terms the ideals that animated journalism at that time. However, one source of controversial ideas receives very little attention: cartoons and illustrations. The kinds of questions asked by the authors about editorial stances and newspaper coverage could just as productively be asked about political art. Indeed, given the often controversial nature of political cartooning, and the prominence of political cartoonists during the period, the omission is striking. And since political cartoonists worked semi-independently and often contradicted the views of editors, their work could provide an interesting counterpoint to this study.
The product of a research collaboration between a professor of journalism and mass communication and a scholar who specializes in early American newsmen, this book has much to offer those looking for a clear, specific examination of newspapers' reactions to controversy and censorship during the Civil War. This carefully structured examination of newspapers during the Civil War attempts to answer a series of questions about the reception of controversial ideas among newspapermen. The authors begin from the premise that journalists have a unique professional relationship to the First Amendment, and then look for reactions to "hated ideas" in order to see how that relationship works in practice. In particular, they are interested in the effect of the Civil War (and by extension other national crises) on journalists' views.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/jhistory.
Fiona Halloran. Review of Dicken Garcia, Hazel; Dell'Orto, Giovanna, Hated Ideas and the American Civil War Press.
Jhistory, H-Net Reviews.
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