The Antebellum Press: Setting the Stage for Civil War reveals the critical role of journalism in the years leading up to America’s deadliest conflict by exploring the events that foreshadowed and, in some ways, contributed directly to the outbreak of war.

This collection of scholarly essays traces how the national press influenced and shaped America’s path towards warfare. Major challenges faced by American newspapers prior to secession and war are explored, including: the economic development of the press; technology and its influence on the press; major editors and reporters (North and South) and the role of partisanship; and the central debate over slavery in the future of an expanding nation. A clear narrative of institutional, political, and cultural tensions between 1820 and 1861 is presented through the contributors’ use of primary sources. In this way, the reader is offered contemporary perspectives that provide unique insights into which local or national issues were pivotal to the writers whose words informed and influenced the people of the time.

As a scholarly work written by educators, this volume is an essential text for both upper-level undergraduates and postgraduates who study the American Civil War, journalism, print and media culture, and mass communication history.

chapter |13 pages


part I|2 pages

Nullification, Abolition, and Division

chapter 4|12 pages

Disunion or Submission?

Southern Editors and the Nullification Crisis, 1830–1833

chapter 5|9 pages

Abolitionist Editors

Pushing the Boundaries of Freedom’s Forum

chapter 6|7 pages

When the Pen Gives Way to the Sword

Editorial Violence in the Nineteenth Century

chapter 7|14 pages

An Editorial House Divided

The Texas Press Response to the Compromise of 1850

chapter 8|10 pages

“The Good Old Cause”

The Fugitive Slave Law and Revolutionary Rhetoric in The Boston Daily Commonwealth

chapter 9|13 pages

Franklin Pierce and the Failure of Compromise

Newspaper Coverage of the Compromise Candidate, the “Nebraska Act,” and the Midterm Elections of 1854

chapter 11|14 pages

“Like so many black skeletons”

The Slave Trade through American and British Newspapers, 1808–1865

part II|2 pages

The Election of 1856, Dred Scott, and the Lincoln-Douglas Debates

chapter 12|14 pages


A Year of Volatile Political Reckoning

chapter 16|11 pages

“More than a Skirmish”

Press Coverage of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates

part III|2 pages

The Election of 1860 and the Crisis of Secession

chapter 17|11 pages

The Democrats Divide

Newspaper Coverage of the 1860 Presidential Conventions

chapter 18|11 pages

Fanning the Flames

Extremist Rhetoric in the Antebellum Press

chapter 19|11 pages

The Fire-Eating Charleston Mercury

Stoking the Flames of Secession and Civil War

chapter 20|11 pages

“Our all is at stake”

The Anti-Secession Newspapers of Mississippi

chapter 22|14 pages

War of Words

Border State Editorials During the Secession Period