Sunday, November 25, 2012

1861-1863: Belvidere's Newspaper War (Part One)

Politics, in one form or another, was a major factor in the cause of the American Civil War and of the division among the people of New Jersey.  Warren County was not exempt from political division.  Although Asbury was the original headquarters for the Musconetcong Rifle Guards and Company H of the 8th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment, it also had a sizable pro-Southern contingent.  Bridgeville also had a group of anti-war/pro-Southern residents who were soon called the "Bridgeville Thinking Man's Club."  In Independence Township, a group of anti-war Democrats were soon nicknamed the "Knights of the Golden Circle" after a pro-Southern group in Pennsylvania.  The Republicans, in support of President Abraham Lincoln, were joined by pro-Unionist Democrats in opposing: "Breckenridge Democrats" or "Copperheads," who opposed the war against the southern states.
Franklin Pierce Sellers, a Republican owner/editor of The Belvidere Intelligencer, was a staunch supporter of preserving the Union at all costs.  John Simerson, a Democrat owner/editor of Belvidere's other newspaper, The Warren Journal,  did not see the need for a war to save the Union.  Thus, the stage had been set for a second war - a war of newspapers.  The war was waged between the two newspapers until Seller's death in 1863.  The news war continued, but not with the same intensity, when Andrew Jackson Shampanore, a pro-Unionist Democrat, took over The Belvidere Intelligencer.  If nothing else came from this war of newspapers, it was guaranteed that each newspaper had one definite sale - to each other.
Sellers, whose sons and stepson were volunteer soldiers, was very popular among the Warren County soldiers.  Sellers offered to print local soldiers' letters and reports of the war in his newspaper.  These letters of soldiers' first-hand accounts of the war are really the basis for this blog.
Simerson's motto was clearly stated in the April 26, 1861 edition of The Warren Journal, "The Union of the Fathers! The Flag of the Thirty-four States. Free Speech - Free Press! NO MOB LAW."  The flag of his newspaper also stated weekly, "Equal Education, Equal Rights, Equal Laws. Day Light and Fair Play -- and the Democracy of New Jersey ask no more."  
The newspaper war in Belvidere began in July 1861 around the time of the First Battle of Manassas Junction, VA (First Battle of Bull Run).  On July 26, Simerson wrote in The Warren Journal, "We have been informed that the Reverend George B. Day, of the M.E. [Methodist-Episcopal] Church of this village, preached a sermon last Sabbath evening for the especial benefit of the editor of this paper."  Simerson's anti-war stance had apparently been discussed in the Belvidere Methodist Church, and Reverend Day felt a need for his congregation to pray for Simerson. 
Simerson tried to defend his view that there could be peaceful ways of working out the political differences between northern and southern states of the Union and noted it was inappropriate  for the minister to attack another person's freedom of speech in church.
Sellers, after reading Simerson's article in The Journal, wrote in the August 2 edition of The Intelligencer, "If this be so, Mr. Day certainly is entitled to the thanks of this community.  We understand that some persons are disposed to censure Mr. Day for what he did.  This is ungenerous, inasmuch as it shows that Mr. Day feels it his duty to attack sin wherever it shows itself in a way calculated to deceive the unwary.  He could not have chosen a more fit subject upon which to exercise a reformatory influence.  The man who dares attack a prominent and dangerous blackguard, deserves more credit than he who directs his attention to one of less note and of less injurious influence.
"The Journal's sins of treachery are well known, and its disloyalty a foregone conclusion.  Abundant proof has been adduced to prove this fact -- now we may have mention the publication by that paper last week of Vallandigham's speech in Congress! So universal is the belief in Vallandigham's traitorous principles, that no one, except he of like feeling, speaks in praise of his speech.  Is it to be wondered at that The Journal should be            made the object of an especial sermon?"
Sellers reprinted an article from The Sussex Register on August 9, 1861, "Nearly every paper in New Jersey, which supported [John C.] Breckenridge for President last fall, is now insidiously at work undermining the Government, and trying to sow distrust and dissension in the ranks of the supporters of the Union.  They hold up the famous Vallandigham as a model of patriotism, while they studiously ignore the existence of such Jersey Democrats as John R. Thomson, George T. Cobb, Nehemiah Perry, and W. G. Steele.  But a day of reckoning is approaching.  We shall soon be engaged in the fall elections, and then it will be discovered that no man who shall be urged for office by such papers as The Sussex Herald, Warren Journal, &c., will have the remotest chance of success.  The people of this State, by an immense majority, are true to the Union, and they will not permit a single traitor to gain official position.  The candidate who seeks or receives endorsement from any of the editorial Iscariots, who now disgrace New Jersey by their shameless disloyalty, is a doomed man; he will be indignantly put down, and his name thenceforth   be loathed and execrated."
On August 16, 1861, Sellers wrote, "WHO ARE THEY? -- The Journal man asks us to name the twenty male secessionists in Belvidere.  If he had called upon us for nineteen out of twenty, and we furnished them, he would have been as completely informed on that subject as if we had added the name of the editor of The Journal to the list.
"The editor of The Journal, in the same article, says: 'We do not believe that we have a single Democrat in Belvidere, or in the County of Warren, who is a secessionist, or a sympathizer    with the secessionists;' and in the same column of his paper, he tells us that the Democrats of Hope have adopted the Oxford Club preamble and resolutions, and approvingly says: 'Thus the good work goes bravely on. The people of Warren are firmly attached to the Union, but they did not believe that the present Black Republican war programme is the proper mode of perpetuating it, or restoring peace'!  What does The Journal mean  by the first part of the last quotation?  Does it mean that the good work that goes so bravely on in the townships of Oxford and Hope, by men it styles Democrats, is the banding themselves into semi-secret politicals clubs, being emphatically a cheap edition of 'The Knights of the Golden Circle,' revised and adopted to suit the circumstances of Northern sympathizer with Southern Rebellion?  And while they commit no oopen act of legal treason, from which they are only restrained by fear for the safety of their necks, they go stalking through the community and hypocritically denounce the misfortunes of our country, crying peace, peace, compromise, fraticidal conflict, imbruing your hands in your brother's blood, and you can't subjugate the South -- that war was commenced by Lincoln, &c. &c., and after they have gone through with all this, and much more of such  sniffling, blubbering, lying pretense, they will declare their real sympathetic feelings -- the 'South are only fighting for their rights, and they will have them in spite of the d----d abolitionists;' never uttering one single word of sympathy for the Government at Washington, that has been, and is at this moment contending against the most wanton, atrocious and gigantic rebellion that modern history has, or ever will record.  Thus the 'good work goes bravely on,' as The Journal styles it, of embarrassing and paralyzing the power and energy of the government -- debauching public patriotism and weakening the love and veneration which every citizen should bear towards his, the only great free Government on the globe.  In the face of all this, The Journal says it 'does not believe there is a single Demorcrat in Belvidere, or in the country, who sympathizes with the secessionists'!
"If John Simerson -- a most miserable tool at best, besides a most perverter of the truth -- does not sympathize with speeches of such Union Democrats as Holman of Indiana, McClerand and Richardson of Illinois, Wright of Pennsylvania, Dickinson of New York, Crowell and Stratton of New Jersey, Frank Thomas of Maryland, Holt of Kentucky, the successor of the thief and traitor John B. Floyd, in Buchanan's Cabinet?  And above all, why has he excluded from The Journal those thrilling appeals to democratic and national patriotism, and the scathing denunciation of secession and treason by glorious Andrew Johnson, a Democratic Senator fronm the once loyal State of Tennessee, whose name and fame are so completely embalmed in the hearts of the true Union men of the nation that, like William Tell, it will need no historian to transmit it to future generations.  Why has The Journal excluded from its columns the last two great speeches of the dying patriot and statesman Stephen A. Douglas?"  [Seller's literary attack on Simerson went on in a column from the top to the bottom of the page.]      
Copyright 1997-2012: Jay C. Richards

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