- Kentucky's Rebel Press: Pro-Confederate Media and the Secession Crisis by Berry Craig
In a letter written shortly after Kentucky rejected secession, George D. Prentice, the pro-Union editor of the Louisville Journal, stated his paper was "still trying to do its duty." However, he believed that the work needed to defend the state "must be done by ball and bayonet rather than the pen." In Kentucky's Rebel Press: Pro-Confederate Media and the Secession Crisis, veteran journalist and historian Berry Craig recounts the critical months after Lincoln's election when the editorial pen was a crucial weapon in determining Kentucky's destiny. Throughout the sectional crisis, pro-Confederate journalists advocated secession as the Commonwealth's best recourse as the nation fell apart. Nearly half of the state's approximate sixty newspapers dueled with their pro-Union rivals for the hearts and minds of the people.
Craig profiles the leading pro-Confederate editors, including the influential Walter N. Haldeman of the Louisville Daily Courier, S. I. M. Major of the Yeoman (Frankfort), and Thomas B. Monroe, Jr. of the Statesman (Lexington). Other small-town journalists are featured, including Len G. Faxon of the Columbus Crescent, a "Fire Eater" from western Kentucky who condemned Union soldiers as largely foreign immigrants, a horde of "Dutch (i.e. German) sons of b____" (p. 21).
While less vitriolic, the editorial position of Haldeman's Louisville Courier, the state's leading Southern Rights organ, generally reflected that of Kentucky's other pro-Confederate papers. The Courier defended the right of secession, deplored Lincoln's first inaugural address as a "declaration of war" against the South and applauded Governor Beriah Magoffin's refusal to answer the President's call for volunteers after Fort Sumter (p. 68). The Louisville Courier initially opposed the [End Page 371] neutrality movement but after the state's Unionists gained the upper hand, Haldeman joined other pro-Confederate editors who supported the stance in order to deny Lincoln Kentucky troops. With the end of neutrality on September 17, 1861, Kentucky officially declared for the Union and the state's pro-Confederate papers were suppressed by military force.
By far the book's most significant contribution lies in the fact that the pro-Confederate press placed great emphasis on both the preservation of slavery and white supremacy as just cause for secession. While Kentucky editors saw the South acting in the spirit of their Revolutionary forbearers, they also made it clear that the only way to protect slavery was to secede. As Haldeman's Louisville Courier warned, the Lincoln administration would free Kentucky's slaves, bring economic ruin to the state and make African-Americans "the equals in all respects of the white men" (pp. 159–60). Craig makes it perfectly clear that for the rebel press, "States Rights" and the preservation of slavery were inextricably bound.
The state's pro-Union press made the same argument regarding the Abolition threat but contended that slavery would be best protected by the Constitution and the Fugitive Slave law. They argued that the "Black Republicans" should be fought with ballots not bullets. The pro-Confederate press ultimately failed in their efforts to persuade Kentuckians to leave the Union. Craig rightly points out that Kentucky, under the political guidance of Henry Clay, had long been "intensely nationalist and unionist" (p. 2). Craig suggests that the defeat of the pro-Confederate press was ultimately an "example of the media's inability to change public opinion" (p. 10).
In addition to shedding light on the position of the state's pro-Union press, Craig also treats the freedom of speech issues surrounding the suppression of the rebel press by the Lincoln administration. He also discusses the post-war return of ex-Confederate editors to the forefront of Kentucky journalism, an era in which former wartime enemies united in a common cause against the threat of the racial equality posed by radical Republicans. [End Page 372]
The work could have been strengthened by...