Lincoln and the Press
Abraham Lincoln believed that with public sentiment nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed. He had a strong appreciation for the power of the press to influence public opinion. He manipulated public opinion and the press; as he leaked private letters to various editors which helped to create a personal loyalty with them. His strong attachment to the press wasn’t better exemplified than on the night he was mortally wounded at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. Newspaper clippings were found in the wallet he carried in his pocket.
A Team of Rivals
Lincoln had a favorite expression, “if you can’t lick’em, join’em.” He followed his own advice; as he managed his relationship with the newspapers by recruiting the loyalties of newspaper owners, editors, and reporters on a grand scale. After recruiting members of the press, Lincoln would offer jobs in his cabinet, or at the White House in exchange for favorable news reporting. For their loyalty, they were rewarded with positions like; ambassador, port inspector, revenue collector, postmaster, and White House staffer. Since this strategy was effective, during his presidency, “dozens and dozens of the ink” were brought in to save the Union.
President Abraham Lincoln enjoyed humor, and many Americans enjoyed poking fun at him, some good-natured and some politically charged. One of the most widely published in Harper’s Weekly was humorist and cartoonist, Thomas Nast. His satirical illustrations gave a voice to the feelings, emotions, and thoughts of the American, newspaper reader. Below are some examples of political cartoons that illustrated the life and times of President Lincoln’s presidency.
This cartoon foreshadowed the “Lady of Liberty” becoming the “Caesar of War,” just months after his Presidential Inauguration. Lincoln’s powers as president were in question by many, just as the “War of the Rebellion” was to begin.
Copperheads were Northern sympathizers, dissenters of the war, who supported a truce to end the conflict. Hence during the election of 1864, they supported former General George McClellan for president as he ran against Lincoln. Their influence inconsequently waned with the ebb and flow of the Union’s success against the South. Furthermore, his detractors were not limited to Southern critics; Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd said, the constant attacks caused him, “a great deal of pain.”
The significance of the riots was that it showed the anti-war attitudes of many protestors. Most noteworthy were the Irish immigrants, who violently protested being drafted into a war whose cause was the emancipation of slaves.
The United Kingdom’s press viewed the fragmented republic as being a failed experiment. The cartoon showed a foreshadowed society of civil disobedience with a disregard for law and order. Foreign governments watched and hoped that the American people would lose faith in their government and consequently weaken their democracy. Foreign governments used the newspaper to spread divisive propaganda while they attempted to gain political influence by manipulating public opinion.
Lincoln’s shown playing cards with a southern soldier. He raised his last card which showed the racist image of a black man. The card game sat on a barrel of gunpowder–that raised questions about whether the military draft instituted by the president was a real card or just a bluff.
Columbia was the Goddess of Liberty, which stems from classical symbolism. She is the country’s conscience talking: “Where are our sons? Who is to blame?” As an aside, Columbia was the unofficial national anthem, sung and hummed by soldiers from both north and south. It originated around 1796. Due to the overwhelming number of fallen soldiers the will of the people to wage war was severly tested.
Because it was known that Lincoln believed in the prophetic importance of dreams. A newspaper cartoon depicted him dreaming about the past failures of various battles and the decapitation of members from his cabinet. His dreams tormented him, causing him great pain and suffering, as a result he suffered some form of depression. This illustration predicted that good times were coming.
The cartoons depicted the rowdiness of democracy; and the political abuse inflicted upon President Lincoln. Throughout the war, saving the Union at all costs was his primary goal. He united the nation against racism, hatred, and bigotry.
A Message from the President
Much as he was ridiculed, Lincoln was also praised during his presidency for his part in the Civil War. Lincoln’s words during his first inaugural address were most revealing: “…we are not enemies, but friends… through passion we may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection…”
A History Lesson
What can be learned from this time in our history? During Lincoln’s presidency the country had consequently lost faith in its democracy; and therefore, it turned to division and violence in a self-destructive manner. It was due to the greatness of Lincoln that our nation was saved. Today, we face similar challenges that have divided us.
Most of all, Abraham Lincoln demonstrated a strong character with purpose, vision, and truth. He took ownership of an emotional nation while he self-regulated his emotions, thoughts, and behavior. His social awareness and self-awareness provided him with wisdom to govern. He used reflection, introspection as he contemplated his military and political decisions. Most especially, his social awareness showed respect, compassion, and positive communication to all Americans regardless of their support for him. As he demonstrated these qualities with a moral compass; he became known, as the president of all Americans, both North and South.