One of the many pleasures of reading Harold Holzer’s Lincoln and the Power of the Press is getting to know the big three New York newspaper editors who framed political debate during Lincoln’s ascent to the presidency. James Gordon Bennett, Horace Greeley, and Henry Jarvis Raymond were prominent features in Lincoln’s political landscape. Their competition, always bitter, led to innovative practices that grew the editors’ readership, influence, and profits. Lincoln spent significant energy cultivating relationships with these men, knowing they were the key to swaying public opinion and winning elections. He obsessed over their editorials and coverage. He wrote to them often, at times directly and at times through “private” letters released to competing editors. Bennett, Greeley, and Raymond were celebrities, and not for lack of self-promotion.
Rival newspapers took to covering these editors as often as they did high-profile politicians. Holzer features several political cartoons lampooning the big three, including this one appearing in Vanity following Lincoln’s 1860 Republican Party nomination:
New York Republican politicians and editors were furious with Greeley, whom they blamed for the failed nomination of William Seward (later to become Lincoln’s Secretary of State). Greeley is Brutus in the above cartoon, the one in the shabby top hat. Raymond looks on from the back as Marc Antony. The short one with the beard.
Holzer gives us so much in this book. Lincoln turning a blind eye while Secretary of War Edwin Stanton censors newspapers. The “fake news” panic of 1864. Lincoln’s press strategy to help the country wrap its head around emancipation. This is a fascinating history of a president who believed in the power of the press and knew how to use it to his advantage.
After reading Holzer’s book, I would love to ask high school students:
- How was the national press coverage of Lincoln’s presidential campaign similar to President Obama’s first presidential campaign?
- How was Lincoln’s relationship with the press similar to President Trump’s? How was it different?