There’s a lot of talk today of bias in the news, but many forget just how opinionated newspapers of the past were. Your average newspaper in the 1800s kept up with everything that was necessary like the weekly prices of goods, marriages, deaths, and so on. But the rest of the paper consisted of mostly editorials, most of which were an attack directed towards someone specific. Most were political, quite a few were anonymous, some were written by the editor of the paper itself, and sometimes these arguments would go back and forth in the paper for months.
150 years ago was 1868, and wouldn’t you love to be paying these prices today? Flour was $9 per barrel, salt was $2 per barrel, potatoes were $1 per bushel, and dried beef was only 30¢ a pound. Along with the prices were advertisements for close to 50 businesses. Among them were Bickle and Stortz’s Ready Made Clothing and Couch and Waggener’s Dry Goods of Point Pleasant, Wilson’s Dry Goods of West Columbia, the Florence Sewing Machine Company’s Agent in Mason, Leon Saw Mill, and the Pomeroy Iron Company. There was also a notice that a new baseball club was forming in Point Pleasant. All of that took up two pages. The other two were full of editorials and comments on the upcoming elections. In the August 13th edition of the “Weekly Register,” there were no less than 43 political editorials and ads.
Now, for those of you who haven’t had West Virginia history in a while, the newly formed West Virginia was solidly Republican. This was only because former Confederates weren’t allowed to vote, but that’s another article. You also have to remember that the parties have flipped and changed quite a few times since 1868, so the Republican and Democrat parties of that time are not the same as those that we deal with today.
Earlier in the summer, both parties held their annual conventions and nominated their candidates. After a heated argument, the Democrats put forth New York Governor Horatio Seymour for President and Congressman Francis Blair for Vice-President. The Republicans on the other hand unanimously nominated General Ulysses S. Grant and Congressman Schuyler Colfax. Of course, we all know that Grant won since hardly anyone has ever heard of Horatio Seymour.
On the state ticket were elections for Congress, governor, the state legislature, and most state cabinet positions. The only Mason County local up for election was Reverend John Phelps, a Union Veteran, who was running for re-election to the State Senate.
At home, the main newspaper was the Weekly Register. It was Republican through and through, and the editor, George Tippett, really came out swinging during elections. He published many of the major editorials from Columbus, New York, and Wheeling, but he also published quite a few smaller ones from here at home. One from the Kanawha Journal read as follows, “Many of the old line Whigs are now leaving the Democratic ranks and will go with the Republicans. C.P.T. Moore (Judge Moore of Gallipolis Ferry), the Democratic nominee for Congress, not so hopeful… Col. Witcher (John Witcher of Cabell County) will probably carry Mason County. Three cheers for Mason!” Another one, seemingly written by the editor, is a bit more direct. It asks, “Young man, do you cast your first vote this fall? Many thousands in West Virginia will do this. Among this number are many hundreds whose fathers fell during the late Democratic rebellion. Every one who so fell was slain by a Democrat. Will you vote for the party that murdered your own father?” Tippett also liked to argue with the county’s other newspaper, the Democrat-leaning Mason County Journal. They frequently accused each other of lying and would go back and forth for weeks. Sadly, the Journal’s records did not survive, so we only have Tippett’s articles and responses.
At least we can take a bit of satisfaction in knowing our ancestors probably hated reading these political editorials as much as we hate listening to the commercials.
The next meeting of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society will be delayed until December, as activity is slowing down now that we’re nearing the start of school. At our December meeting, we should be able to discuss our future location in greater detail, along with updates on various projects.
Information is from the Weekly Register.
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society.