The Pen Makes a Good Sword: John Forsyth and the "Mobile Register", 1837--1877

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Charles Bolton

Advisor Department



From 1837 to 1877, John Forsyth, Jr. of Mobile, Alabama, wrote about and often played an active role in many of the most important events of the nineteenth century. Described, upon his death, by the New York Times as "the most important Democratic editor of the South," Forsyth used the Mobile Register as his personal organ to advocate the cause of the South as well as the Democratic party. This purpose of this dissertation is to document both the journalistic and political career of John Forsyth, Jr. as well as to place him in the proper context of a southern editor during the antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction periods. An examination of primary and secondary sources (particularly Forsyth's written record as displayed in the pages of the Mobile Register ) answers four questions. First, to what extent had a two-party system developed in Alabama in the 1830s and 1840s? Second, what were the motivations behind, and rationale for, the unionist faction of the Democratic party? Third, why did southern unionists, such as Forsyth, fall in step with the secessionists after the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln? Finally, how did a prominent editor such as Forsyth react to presidential and congressional Reconstruction? To answer these questions, this dissertation examines the career of John Forsyth, Jr. as editor, United States Minister to Mexico, state legislator, Confederate Peace Commissioner to the Lincoln administration, mayor of the city of Mobile, Civil War field correspondent, and Reconstruction critic. In so doing, the writer reached several conclusions. First, John Forsyth's political philosophy survived that of his critics. From his Mexican economic-protectorate scheme to his support of Stephen A. Douglas and the Union, retrospect proved him both prudent and prophetic. Second, the editor served as a good example of a devout party loyalist. Forsyth viewed every issue in the fight of Democratic principles. Finally, John Forsyth presented a representative picture of the important role played by the nineteenth-century editor.