In present day America, there is still great concern for the preservation of the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. Recent controversial incidents include the incarceration of journalist Judith Miller for refusing to reveal the identities of anonymous sources, as well as the revelation of a U.S. attempt to track the finances of terror groups in the pages of the NY Times in 2006. Both of these examples illustrate the continuing rift between the U.S. government and the American media.
There seems to be a pervasive belief that we live in a country with a rich heritage of respecting the freedom of the press. In fact, a thorny relationship has existed between press and state since the founding of America. Just a decade after the ratification of the Constitution, President John Adams signed into law the Sedition Act, making it a crime to publish material that was overly critical of the president or either house of Congress. From its very beginning, America has experienced incidents such as the Sedition Act that have threatened the freedom of speech, and in particular, the right of the press to freely express itself.
Among the most notable episodes in the history of the American press was the Lincoln
Administration.s treatment of the anti-war Northern newspapers during the Civil War. Father
Abraham, as his most admiring supporters refer to him, is widely considered to be one of our
greatest presidents. His extraordinary popularity is likely the reason that many of his
administration.s controversial actions are seemingly glossed over. These questionable measures
include excluding newspapers from the public mail, the confiscation of newspapers, the arrests
of publishers and editors, and the censorship of telegraphic messages. Though all of these
measures may well be both constitutional and justifiable, it is of the utmost importance that all
government actions of this nature be heavily scrutinized.
The Lincoln administration.s most earnest attempts at suppressing anti-war sentiment in
the North were preceded by a wave of violent attacks against newspapers that harbored critical
opinions of the war. This civil unrest was caused by a convergence of two factors: the
homecoming of Northern soldiers after a three-month tour of duty, and growing doubt and
uneasiness surrounding the war efforts after the Union.s defeat at Bull Run (the First Battle of
Manassas). The harsh criticism of the press was not only directed at politicians in Washington,
but also at the local returning soldiers. Incidents of lawlessness quickly spread across the North
in the summer of 1861 (Sprague 129).
The first paper targeted by angry mobs was the Democratic Standard of Concord, New
Hampshire. On August 8th, a crowd led by former soldiers broke down the door of the paper.s
office and began destroying everything in sight. Though the desks and other belongings of the
paper were burned on the sidewalk, the...