Campaign newspapers first appeared in the 1828 and were a popular adjunct to the thousands of newspapers published throughout the United States. Most were published specifically for a single campaign; others, like “The Whip & Spur” were revived and revised for multiple campaigns.
Even Abraham Lincoln edited one in 1840 titled “The Old Soldier”. There were perhaps fifty campaign newspapers issued in the election of 1860. The most famous one was our namesake, “The Rail Splitter”, with editions published in Chicago and Cincinnati. The main Douglas organ was the Cleveland “Plain Dealer”. Unlike Greeley’s “The Log Cabin” in 1840, these papers had very limited circulation with many titles represented by single copies or a mere handful of copies. The standard reference work for this genre is William Miles’ “The People’s Voice: An Annotated Bibliography of American Presidential Campaign Newspapers, 1828-1984”. It makes a fine companion piece to Miles’ work on presidential campaign biographies.
Recently, a fellow Rail Splitter acquired three different copies of the “Herald of Freedom And Advocate of the Illinois Rail-Splitter.” It was published in Pottsville, PA (near Reading), site of the trial of the Molly Maguires in 1877. We have never seen any other issues. Each is devoted to campaign news and propaganda. The covers are adorned with woodcut cartoons. In order to convey the flavor of these rare publications, we summarize the contents of the October 24th issue.
“Campaign Lyrics. What has caused this Great Commotion?” (all of column 1)
“Aims of the Secessionists” (all of column 2, more than half of column 3)
“Fruits of Fusion”
“Thrilling Speech . . . from the Mauch Chunk Gazette, premising the illustration, which is artistically designed and executed, was ordered by us from the first talent of the country, regardless of expense. . . The Last Democratic Speech with a Faithful Likeness of the Orator.” (with woodcut… the “speech” nearly all of column 4)
“Disunion vs. Protection” (nearly all of column 5)
“What Douglas Accomplished”
“The Popular Sovereignty of the Constitution” (“The People of Pennsylvania, eminently conservative; the breakwater between the surges of Abolitionism on the one side, and the waves of Pro-Slavery fanaticism on the other, will be called upon in about two weeks from this, to discharge another duty at the polls. . . .”) (the editorial most of column 1)
“Mr. Lincoln’s Conservatism” (the balance of column 1, concluding at top of column 2)
“Buchanan’s Office Holders”
“Mr. Yancy and the Vice Presidency”
“‘Old Abe’ Going To Speak” (“. . . He will address his fellow-citizens of all parties, from the east portico of the Capitol, at Washington City, on the 4th day of March next, at 1 o’clock, P.M. All are invited to attend.”)
“The Sufferings of the People of Kansas”
Miscellaneous smaller articles and tid-bits remainder of column 3
(at top of column 4) woodcut announcing Mass Meeting in support of Lincoln/Hamlin, “Protection & Freedom, And Free Homes for Freemen” with list of locations, October 27th through November 5th
“How to Buy Pennsylvania”
“Who Will Hold Office Under Lincoln at the South?”
“Great Rejoicing at the Home of Mr. Lincoln”
“Republican Platform adopted by the Chicago Convention, May 17, 1860”
“The Two Headed Party. Northern Head. President – Stephen Arnold Douglas, of Illinois. Vice President – Herschel V. Johnson, of Ga. / Southern Head. President – John Cabell Breckinridge, of Ky. Vice President – Joseph Lane, of Oregon”
“What the Dred Scott Case Decided”