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Lincoln Supporters Trash Copperhead Newspaper

 

Copperhead cartoon from Civil War / SeacoastNH.com

 

HISTORY MATTERS 

Pro-South "Copperheads" desperately wanted to prevent the North from re-electing Lincoln during th Civil War. Yankee New Hampshire had its own pro-South newspaper run by a feisty publisher. On April 10, 1865, the public stormed his office and tore up his printing press. Here’s the story.

 

 

With the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, across the nation, every state is scrambling to exhibit its Lincoln artifacts and relive its Lincoln memories. New Hampshire is no exception. The NH Historical Society in Concord has a blood-stained swatch of the president’s coat and a penknife from the fallen leader’s pocket. The Woodman Institute in Dover has Lincoln’s saddle. Candidate Lincoln paused there during a whistle-stop campaign tour in 1860. He spoke briefly in Manchester and Concord, and visited his son at Phillips Exeter Academy.

A drunken mob

Portsmouth’s Lincoln connection is stranger still. On a rainy April 10, 1865 – four days before the assassination -- a Portsmouth mob trashed the offices of The States and Union newspaper on Daniel Street. A drunken crowd of up to 2,000 citizens, sailors and shipyard workers taunted publisher Joshua Kane Foster, threatening to lynch him. The editor escaped out the back door clutching his ledgers and subscription list. Local police took no action as the "mobocracy" smashed the printing press and tossed office equipment and files out a second story window. The crowd cheered and later dispersed to attend a patriotic rally in Market Square.

Editor Joshua Foster hated Abraham Lincoln. And he was not alone. Many New Englanders opposed the Civil War that left over 600,000 soldiers dead. Local merchants held ties to the southern cotton trade, and feared an economic catastrophe. Others were simply attracted to Foster's racist commentary in an era when racial prejudice against blacks was common, even in New England.

Foster’s pro-South pro-slavery anti-Lincoln newspaper riled many in this Yankee seaport, but his "Copperhead" view was tolerated. The States and Union first appeared the day after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation at the height of the war in 1863. Portsmouth already had four newspapers, all generally favoring the Union cause. Foster offered the only radically alternative view in town. The editor routinely attacked Republicans, abolitionists, blacks, the church, the military, the president and the war.

The editor described himself as a "states rights" Democrat. He argued for the right of each state to embrace or reject slavery. Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s Vermont opponent, as well as former President Franklin Pierce, a NH native, also espoused states rights. His alternative paper, Foster said, was the voice of "Peace Democrats" who wanted an end to war. He attacked the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for building what today might be called weapons of mass destruction. When Lincoln activated a military draft, Foster howled in protest. When wealthy Union draftees were allowed to buy their way out of military service for $300, Foster howled again.

By his account Foster had few true friends in Portsmouth, yet his four-page paper did contain local advertising and clearly attracted readers. The States and Union appeared in Portsmouth as the Copperhead movement worked in the North to prevent Lincoln from being re-elected. In Foster's view, The Portsmouth Chronicle, The NH Gazette, The Portsmouth Journal and The Ballot were all singing from the pro-war abolitionist songbook. To his detractors, Foster's alternative view was nothing short of treason.

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Saturday, November 18, 2017 
 
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