Date of Award

Summer 2022

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Dr. Susannah J. Ural

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Dr. Andrew Haley

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Dr. Andrew Wiest

Committee Member 3 School



This thesis advances scholars’ understanding of how newspaper editors framed and presented news during the secession crisis of 1860-1861. Methodologically, it draws on the publications of seven Unionist editors from Tennessee who initially resisted secession but later pursued different courses during the Civil War. Through this period, editors balanced their roles as journalists and political actors working to advance an ideological cause. Guided by existing practices and their unique journalistic styles, these editors presented a near unified message—influenced by Whig political culture—that framed their response to outside events. This unanimity fractured in 1861 as local pressures, business interests, and personal choices compounded to force editors to choose sides regarding secession.

This study engages with the arguments of historians Carl Osthaus, Donald Reynolds, and Berry Craig. It extends the views of all three that local concerns, Southern culture, and business interests impacted the course taken by newspaper editors, but argues against Reynold’s claim regarding their general lack of political engagement. Furthermore, this work contests Osthaus’ assertion that Southern editors catered to the desires of local elites in their communities. Lastly, it contradicts Reynolds and Craig’s thesis that nineteenth-century newspapers mirrored their local communities. Instead, it demonstrates that many editors were fiercely ideological in their activism and editorial work, and leveraged their platform to influence readers—sometimes superseding public opinion in the process. In Tennessee, they did so with anti-elitist, populist rhetoric that spoke to the concerns of the white, middle-and lower-class readers who likely comprised their base of subscribers.