Tuesday, February 26, 2013

1865 - The Revolution, Liberty, & the Press

During the Civil War John Reid McClanahan, the editor-in-chief of the Memphis Appeal, took his newspaper on the road to escape the censorship enforced by the Union occupation of Memphis.  He traveled throughout the south always a step ahead of the Union forces.  After the war he returned to Memphis only to die under mysterious circumstances in June, 1865.

The Norfolk Post reported the following on July 11 1865:

"The Memphis Argus says the city was startled on the morning of June 25th by a report that Col. J.R. McClanahan, one of the editors of the Memphis Appeal had been killed by falling from the window of the Yazoo House.  About five o'clock in the morning the form of a man was discovered lying in the alley behind the hotel.  Upon examination it was discovered to be that of Colonel McClanahan, who, although horribly mangled and weltering in his blood, and was still alive.  Both arms and both legs were broken, the latter near the knees.  His chin was badly crushed, and he was otherwise badly bruised.  Then discovered consciousness had been restored, and the sufferer, in the intensity of his agony, begged the attending surgeon to kill him, and thus put an end to his sufferings."

The White Cloud Kansas Chief posted an interesting article entitled "Travels of a Rebel Press" on November 23, 1865:

"A correspondent of the St. Louis Democrat gives the following interesting item in relation to the Memphis Appeal:

The Memphis-Grenada-Jackson-Atlanta-Montgomery Appeal has been revived.  The first number of volume sixteen was published in Memphis on the 5th inst.  It is the same size and appears in a similar dress to the St Louis Republican.  It is printed on the identical press which left Memphis in 1862, and which was kept out of the hands of the Federals during the war, though it had to do some traveling to do this.

It is worked by the same pressman, Andy Marman, who was shelled out of Jackson when Grant made his famous move from Brownsburg.  The press has made many narrow escapes, and not withstanding its peregrinations, prints a beautiful paper, the columns of which gave an interesting account of its adventures, closing as follows:  "The Appeal, being now perfectly ironclad with paroles, amnesties and pardons, is on its feet again in robust and vigorous life."  Its columns are draped in mourning for Col. John McClanahan, one of its former publishers, who was accidentally killed in Memphis in June last."

Like so many Memphians, John Reid McClanahan is interred at Elmwood Cemetery in lot 128, Fowler.  His headstone proclaims the following:

Born in Laurens District, SC
Died in Memphis, June 29, 1865, Aged 46
Leader of the Memphis Appeal's Great Civil War Run, 1862-1865
Sole Proprietor Editor-In-Chief
April 23, 1851 - June 29, 1865
'The public actions of public men are public
property and those who would censure the press
for a candid scrutiny and a fair criticism of those
actions has lost his allegiance to liberty and
has a forehead ready for the pressure of the
despot's heel' (March 30, 1862)

The quote on the headstone comes from McClanahan's opinion piece on the front page of the Memphis Daily Appeal, March 30, 1862.  It is as relevant today as it was when he wrote it.

The Revolution, Liberty, and the Press
Our country is at this moment in the throes of a revolution; it is in a period of deadly struggle; it is suffering the baptism of blood; it is agonizing with pangs that are the germs of future destiny.  Periods of revolution are periods of danger; minds are excited, cool judgment is comparatively rare, and vigilance is required to preserve intact the true principles of liberty at the moment when their possession is endangered by the animosity of the common enemy.  Times of public excitement and public danger have been the graves of ancient republics.  When the existence of a free nation is endangered by the occurrence of a serious war, the people find it necessary to temporarily abridge the individual liberties of the citizen, and to clothe with unusual power the chief governers of the nation.  In far too many instances, liberty thus weakened has ceased to exist.  The temporary dictator has become a permanent despot; the forms of republicanism have been retained, while the sacred rights of holy liberty have been banished.  We need not enlarge upon this topic: history is full of such instances, and "history is philosophy teaching by example."  It is this weak point in the republican form of government that has given rise to the watchword, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty!"

If this position is true, we at this moment should have all our energies awake, all our tact and judgment standing sentinels by the sacred jewels of our freedom.  The foe is pressing upon us with his utmost power, and we must not only fight the foe in the field, but we must watch against the traitor and the spy by the fireside.  These necessities compel us to give extraordinary powers into individual hands, and to submit to infractions of our personal rights.  While trusting generously, and submitting cheerfully, we must never forget to watch sleeplessly and scrutinize jealously.  Not because we have reason to believe that ambitious schemers in our midst are deliberately plotting to rob us of our birthright, but because experience teaches that, in a republic, a time of hazardous war is a time when liberty is liable to be lost.  We must never be led to accept an infraction of our personal and political rights as anything else but as an evil, and one to be got rid of as soon as happier circumstances will permit.  Martial law, for instance, is an evil--it is the arbitrary submission of the rights, liberty, and property of the people to the imperious dictation of the Provost Marshal.  If we adopt martial law as a means of being delivered form sedition, incendiarism, and pillage, we have simply accepted the lesser of two evils that we may be rid of the greater.  Let us always, then, remember that martial law is an evil, and as such is to be got rid of as soon as the danger from the greater evil that is behind it disappears.  We might mention many other evils necessarily admitted among us during the present derangement of public affairs, many infractions of our personal liberty, but the instance of martial law clearly illustrates what we mean.  All these necessary encroachments on personal and constitutional rights, all these concessions of unusual power, must be watched, or mischief ensues, our republicanism is endangered, and liberty is on the eve of flight.

But who in the community is to practice this sleepless vigilance, and to exercise this jealous scrutiny?  The people, in general, are intent on the conduct of the war; they are either actually in the field or are watching closely its operations; their eye is on the enemy; all their faculties are concentrated on the great labor of conquering the foe, and saving life, property, and national existence.  "With every faculty engaged and every felling excited, how can the majority of the people coolly scrutinize acts, nicely weigh consequences, and narrowly investigate the future results of present actions?  The case looks hopeless that the people, in a struggle of life and death, should preserve their liberties, while the very moment those liberties are endangered is the moment they are unable to guard them; and the case would be hopeless, as it proved in the old republics, but for one engine of modern civilization--the press.  It is the business of the press to weigh, and sift, and investigate, and test, and compare the present with the past, and ask the bearings of the present on the future.  It is the press that points out abuses, denounces reckless ambition, exposes covert danger, warns the careless, awakes the sleeping, animates the languid, inspirits the fainting, and gives the meed of praise to the hero.  The press is the expressed mind of the people, it is not what the individual will, opinions, notions, or peculiarities of the editors make it; what the people think, and judge, and prefer is found there.  A press that does not express the will and sentiments of the people cannot maintain existence; that only lives which the people support, and the people support only that which is the reflex of their own minds.

If the considerations we have presented are just,--and the reader can judge how far they are so--with that determination we should maintain a free, outspoken, unshackled press!  We need not quote the burning sentences of eloquence, nor the glowing paragraphs of literary genius, all are familiar with the terms in which the world's greatest and wisest have spoken of the press; with what religious care they have cautioned us never to permit its liberties to be abridged.  Here is the safeguard of liberty, let us keep it free, and our proudest achievements, and dearest treasures are safe; let the warning voice of the press be hushed and all that has made us great and enviable in the eyes of the world, all that has shed on the pages of American history a halo no other nation possess, is gone!  The liberty of the press must not, of course, be allowed to degenerate into licentiousness; the press, like individuals, must be held responsible for avoidable errors and intentional wrong.  At a moment like the present, the press must not employ itself in giving information that would injure our cause and help the enemys nor, on the other hand, must it be restrained from imparting such facts as will enable the people to judge intelligently of passing events, and to weight truthfully the actions of those whom they have deputed to do their business. Things the press ought not to do, must not be made a pretense by which it is to be prevented doing those things which it ought to do.

The well-conducted, honorable portion of the press, should be treated with confidence by those in authority. when matters of importance require concealment, it is wiser to caution beforehand than to suppress after the mischief is done.  We are aware the men of the camp are apt to look upon editors as persons unscrupulous in obtaining intelligence, and reckless in imparting it.  If they will be at the trouble to make themselves acquainted with the manner of doing business in a good newspaper office, they will find this notion to be a groundless prejudice, and find that a respectable member of the press scorns to do professionally what is beneath his dignity as a gentleman personally.  The press claims, and must be upheld in exercising, the right to criticize the public actions of public men, however high their position; indeed the higher the position, the more need of calling for a rigid accountability.  The public actions of public men are public property, and those who would censure the press for a candid scrutiny and a fair criticism of those actions has lost his allegiance to liberty, and has a forehead ready for the pressure of the despot's heel.   To curb the press is to curb the expression of the people's will, and to subserve the interests of those who have schemes opposed to the public weal.

While our armies are in the field, they look for those remaining at home to preserve for them intact, their birthright of full personal and political freedom.  The sacred duty confided to us we must perform religiously, and it must be performed by the instrumentality of a free press.  We may submit to necessary privations, to mean clothing, to poor food, to being called from our homes, and being taxed in our property, but we cannot submit to have the press silenced, or subjected to censorship--that is an arc too sacred to be touched with profane hands, an interest too important to be endangered by the meddling of either designing craft, or shuffling imbecility.

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