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The Pen Makes a Good Sword

John Forsyth of the Mobile Register

Written by Lonnie A. Burnett

Publication Year: 2006

This book is a biography of Alabama native John Forsyth Jr. and documents his career as a southern newspaper editor during the antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction periods. From 1837 to 1877 Forsyth wrote about many of the most important events of the 19th century. He used his various positions as an editor, Civil War field correspondent, and Reconstruction critic at the MobileRegister to advocate on behalf of both the South and the Democratic Party.
In addition, Forsyth played an active role in the events taking place around him through his political career, as United States Minister to Mexico, state legislator, Confederate Peace Commissioner to the Lincoln administration, staff officer to Braxton Bragg, and twice mayor of the city of Mobile.


Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

The idea for this book came during a 1993 Ph.D. seminar course at the University of Southern Mississippi. Over the last twelve years, I have amassed many debts of gratitude which, although they can never be adequately repaid, must, at the very least, be acknowledged. My highest expression of thanks goes to Charles C. Bolton whose comments and suggestions were always ...

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Introduction: “The Pen Makes a Good Sword”

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pp. 1-4

In December of 1837, a twenty-five year-old John Forsyth Jr. published his first editorial as co-owner of the Mobile Daily Commercial Register. The young Forsyth, perhaps with (at least in this early stage of his career) an exaggerated sense of his own importance, assured his readers that “the great concerns which demand the advocacy, and should inspire the pens of Southern ...

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1 “The Great Son of a Noble Sire”

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pp. 5-11

By the time John Forsyth Jr. penned his first editorial, five generations of his ancestors had already lived in America. Members of the Forsyth family first crossed the Atlantic in the late seventeenth century. James Forsyth, the first of the clan to immigrate to America, arrived from Scotland in 1680. In 1688 he received a land grant in Amelia County, Virginia. Scant evidence remains of ...

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2 “What Rare Times We New OppositionEditors Will Have”

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pp. 12-30

When John Forsyth Jr. arrived in Mobile, the port city had already survived more than a century of history that included relocation, a period of colonial rule, deadly disease, financial struggles, and several natural as well as man-made disasters. Originally settled by the French at Twenty-Seven-Mile ...

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3 “We Are in a Fit of Disquiet”

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pp. 31-56

In the late spring of 1841, John Forsyth Sr. paid his first visit to Mobile. To honor such a distinguished guest, a committee of prominent Mobilians extended an invitation to the now ex-secretary of state to a public dinner to be held to recognize his many accomplishments. The offer (printed in the Register), noted that the occasion would be a “slight manifestation of the estimation in ...

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4 “Cannot We Pause a Moment to Think of Our Country?”

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pp. 57-74

John Forsyth returned to Mobile in 1853 with no intention of returning to the Register. The once-again Mobilian poured whatever capital he had amassed into a lumber mill project to be constructed on an island across the river from the city. Before the mill turned out its first product,

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5 “Sacrificed on the Altar of Duty”

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pp. 75-96

At the 1856 Democratic National Convention, John Forsyth had led an unsuccessful effort to renominate President Franklin Pierce. Forsyth, the head of the Alabama delegation, remained stubbornly loyal to Pierce long after most of the party regulars had abandoned the cause. Apparently appreciative of such allegiance, Pierce, two months later, appointed the Mobile editor ...

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6 The “Disturber” of the Democracy [Contains Image Plates]

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pp. 97-117

John Forsyth returned to Alabama in November 1858 with every intention of returning to his diplomatic post. After the Ju

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7 “The Cause of the Union Was Lost”

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pp. 123-144

Several weeks after Abraham Lincoln’s election, John Forsyth wrote a somewhat somber letter to Stephen A. Douglas. He correctly surmised that with Douglas’s defeat, “the cause of the Union was lost.” More prophetically, he noted that he never for a moment believed that “a giant nation could die ...

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8 “The Zenith of Today Is the Nadir of Tomorrow”

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pp. 145-173

Only a few weeks after the surrender of Mobile, John Forsyth traveled to Montgomery. Walking along the streets of the defeated Confederacy’s birthplace, the editor could not help but pause and reflect. Most likely thinking back on the Yanceyites, he wrote that “the doctrine of precipitation, which originally had the most prurient hot-bed in this capital, is quite abandoned as ...

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Conclusion: “We Never Doubted Where John Forsyth Stood”

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pp. 174-187

The year 1873 marked the start of the decline of John Forsyth’s editorial prominence. His health, which troubled him in the latter part of the previous year, never completely recovered. The ailing journalist increasingly found himself away from his beloved post. At the advice of his doctor, Forsyth, in the late spring, embarked on a trip to Europe. This journey, his first trip ...


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pp. 189-214


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pp. 215-227


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pp. 229-239

E-ISBN-13: 9780817381745
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817315245

Publication Year: 2006

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Journalism -- Political aspects -- Alabama -- Mobile -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 19th century.
  • Forsyth, John, 1812-1877.
  • Newspaper editors -- United States -- Biography.
  • Daily register (Mobile, Ala.).
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