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to suppress or not to suppress 151 To Suppress or Not to Suppress Abraham Lincoln and the Chicago Times Craig D. Tenney A great deal has been said and written in recent years about governmental attempts to restrain the press. A roughly equal amount has been said and written about press responsibility. It might be well to remember that, when viewed against other periods of national history, recent attempts to influence, if not dictate, press treatment of the government are comparativelymild.The physical operation of the press is not threatened or affected directly as it was in earlier periods when national concern about the First Amendment was considerably less intense than it is presently and an administration’s willingness to move, oftentimes harshly, against its journalistic opponentswas not nearlyso restrained. A case in point is the suppression of the Chicago Times in 1863 at the height of the Civil War. No sooner had Major General Ambrose E. Burnside imposed the suppression than PresidentAbraham Lincoln ordered him to lift it, and followed thatdirectivewithyetanothertelling Burnside he might letthe suppression stand temporarily.While a few historians have mentioned the Times affairand the first Lincoln directive to Burnside,1 none has mentioned the second. 151 E Civil War History, Vol. XXVII No. 3, © 1981 by The Kent State University Press 1. See, for example, Justin Walsh, To Print the News and Raise Hell—A Biography of Wilbur F. Storey (Chapel Hill, 1968), 174–83; Robert S. Harper, Lincoln and the Press (New York, London, Toronto, 1951), 258–62; Harold L. Nelson, ed., Freedom of the Press from Hamilton to the Warren Court (Indianapolis, New York, 1967), 230–32. In order to view this proof accurately, the Overprint Preview Option must be checked in Acrobat Professional or Adobe Reader. Please contact your Customer Service Representative if you have questions about finding the option. Job Name: -- /358884t 152 craig d. tenney 2. James G. randall, Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln, rev. ed. (urbana, 1964), 46. 3. records of many government actions against the press may be found in The War of the rebellion : A Compilation of the Official records of the Union and Confederate Armies [cited hereafter as O.r.] (Washington, 1880–1901), ser. 2, 2: passim. 4. James G. randall, “The newspaper During the Civil War,” American Historical review 23 (Jan. 1918), 316. 5. edwin and Michael emery, The Press and America, An interpretative History of the Mass Media, 4th ed. (englewood Cliffs, n.J., 1978), 169–70. 6. See fn. 3, supra. For Blair’s involvement, see u.S., Congress. House, Postmaster General’s Authority Over Mailable Matter, 37th Cong., 3d sess., 1863. Misc. Doc. no. 16. Professor James G. randall, who made a thorough and careful study of the constitutional problems besetting the Civil War president, seemed notably impressed by Lincoln’s restraint in dealing with opposition newspapers and by his overall respect for press freedom. instances of administration activities against the press, randall said, “were not sufficiently numerous to argue a general repressive policy.”2 But of the newspapers against which action was taken, and there were many,3 randall observed that their utterances “were so vicious that suppression or the arrest of their editors seemed but mild forms of punishment.”4 Journalism historians edwin and Michael emery, in taking much the same approach, observe that Lincoln had “definite ideas about freedom of expression” when he rescinded the suppression of the Times.5 Study of the suppression, however, indicates it was not a tender regard for the First Amendment that guided Lincoln’s hand in signing the order lifting the suppression. it was something more basic to the president’s nature—a regard for politics. one would think that had the president been even moderately favorable toward general press freedom, he would have acted much earlier in the war when Secretary of State William H. Seward, Secretaries of War Simon Cameron and edwin M. Stanton, and PostmasterGeneral MontgomeryBlair, as presidential agents orsurrogates,were moving decisivelyagainst the opposition press.6 That Lincoln did not act then would easily and naturally be viewed by cabinet officers, other bureaucrats and bygenerals in the field as a tacit approval of future repressive action against those publications and editors who bitterly opposed the administration and its war policies. Lincoln apparently never did anything generally to stifle such perceptions, choosing instead to handle such matters on a case-by-case basis. With Burnside, one case involved the arrest of former ohio congressman Clement L. vallandigham in May 1863. Another...


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