"With its careful examination of southern Republican newspapers, For Free Press and Equal Rights sheds welcome new light on the volatile politics of the post-Civil War South. Abbott has given us a nuanced picture of the evolution of Republican policy as partisan editors tried to hold black readers while attracting whites. Abbott also uncovers the political imperative for the publishing contracts at the heart of postwar political corruption. Together, these important insights will prompt a new investigation of postwar southern politics."
—Heather Cox Richardson, author of The Death of Reconstruction: Race, Labor, and Politics in the Post-Civil War North, 1865–1901
Abbott first traces the origins of the southern Republican press from its lone stronghold in antebellum northwest Virginia to its wartime expansion in the wake of the Union Army's occupation of such far-flung places as Key West, Florida, and Port Royal, South Carolina. Abbott then discusses the challenges of establishing and sustaining a Republican press where the most likely readership--freed slaves--was usually illiterate and too poor to subscribe, much less to contribute advertising revenue. Looking at the different ways white and black editors faced common problems from ostracism and libel to vandalism and physical assault, Abbott also discusses the mixed blessings of patronage, by which Republican officials steered printing business to their party organs. Abbott's state-by-state, year-by-year analyses look at the fluctuating number of southern Republican papers in terms of their distribution in rural/urban and anti/pro-Republican areas.
For Free Press and Equal Rights reveals a wealth of information about papers ranging from the Visitor of Hot Springs, Arkansas, which lasted less than a year, to the Union Flag of Jonesborough, Tennessee, which ran from 1865 to 1873. It makes a number of new and important points about political patronage and the publishing process, race and print culture, Republican ideology and rhetoric, and our first amendment rights.
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