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The impulse of an American writer in justifying the use of newspapers as historical materials is to adopt an apologetic tone. It is somewhat curious that such should be the case, for newspapers satisfy so many canons of historical evidence. They are contemporary, and, being written without knowledge of the end, cannot bolster any cause without making a plain showing of their intent.

Their object is the relation of daily events; and if their relation is colored by honest or dishonest partisanship, this is easily discernible by the critic from the internal evidence and from an easily acquired knowledge of a few external facts. As the journals themselves say, their aim is to print the news; and much of the news is present politics. Moreover, the newspaper itself, its news and editorial columns, its advertisements, is a graphic picture of society.

When Aulard, in his illuminating criticism of Taine, writes that the journals are a very important source of the history of the French Revolution, provided they are revised and checked by one another, the statement seems in accordance with the canons of historical writing; and when he blames Taine for using two journals only and neglecting ten others which he names, the impression on the mind is the same as if Taine were charged with the neglect of evidence of another class. One would hardly attempt to justify Taine by declaring that all journals are inaccurate, partisan, and dishonest, and that the omission was a merit, not a defect. Leaving out of account the greater size and diffuseness of the modern journal, the dictum of Aulard would seem to apply to any period of history.

Why is it then that some American students fall consciously or unconsciously into an apologetic tone when they attempt to justify the use of newspapers as historical sources? I suppose it is because of the attitude of cultivated society to the newspaper of to-day. Society calls the ordinary newspaper sensational and unreliable; and, if neither, its accounts are so diffuse and badly proportioned as to weary the seeker after the facts of any given transaction. Despite the disfavor into which the American newspaper has fallen in certain circles, I suspect that it has only exaggerated these defects, and that the journals of different democracies have more resemblances than diversities. The newspaper that caters to the "masses" will never suit the "classes," and the necessity for a large circulation induces it to furnish the sheet which the greatest number of readers desire.

But this does not concern the historian. He does not make his materials. He has to take them as they are. It would undoubtedly render his task easier if all men spoke and wrote everywhere with accuracy and sincerity; but his work would lose much of its interest. Take the newspaper for what it is, a hasty gatherer of facts, a hurried commentator on the same, and it may well constitute a part of historical evidence.

When, in 1887, I began the critical study of the History of the United States from 1850 to 1860, I was struck with the paucity of material which would serve the purpose of an animated narrative. The main facts were to be had in the state papers, the Statutes, the _Congressional Globe_ and documents, the records of national conventions and platforms, and the tabulated results of elections. But there was much less private correspondence than is available for the early history of our country; and, compared with the period of the Civil War and later, a scarcity of biographies and reminiscences, containing personal letters of high historical value. Since I wrote my first two volumes, much new matter concerning the decade of 1850 to 1860 has been published. The work of the American Historical Association, and of many historical societies, the monographs of advanced university students, have thrown light upon this, as they have upon other periods, with the result that future delvers in this field can hardly be so much struck with the paucity of material as I was twenty-one years ago.

Boy though I was during the decade of 1850 to 1860, I had a vivid remembrance of the part that the newspaper played in politics, and the thought came to me that the best way to arrive at the spirit of the times was to steep my mind in journalistic material; that there was the secret of living over again that decade, as the Abolitionist, the Republican, the Whig, and the Democrat had actually lived in it. In the critical use of such sources, I was helped by the example of von Holst, who employed them freely in his volumes covering the same period, and by the counsel and collaboration of my friend Edward G. Bourne, whose training was in the modern school. For whatever training I had beyond that of self came from the mastery, under the guidance of teachers, of certain general historians belonging to an epoch when power of expression was as much studied as the collecting and sifting of evidence.

While considering my materials, I was struck with a statement cited by Herbert Spencer as an illustration in his "Philosophy of Style": "A modern newspaper statement, though probably true, if quoted in a book as testimony, would be laughed at; but the letter of a court gossip, if written some centuries ago, is thought good historical evidence." At about the same time, I noticed that Motley used as one of his main authorities for the battle of St. Quentin the manuscript of an anonymous writer. From these two circumstances, it was a logical reflection that some historians might make an exaggerated estimate of the value of manuscript material because it reposed in dusty archives and could be utilized only by severe labor and long patience; and that, imbued with this idea, other historians for other periods might neglect the newspaper because of its ready accessibility.

These several considerations justified a belief, arrived at from my preliminary survey of the field, that the use of newspapers as sources for the decade of 1850 to 1860 was desirable. At each step of my pretty thorough study of them, I became more and more convinced that I was on the right track. I found facts in them which I could have found nowhere else. The public meeting is a great factor in the political life of this decade, and is most fully and graphically reported in the press. The newspaper, too, was a vehicle for personal accounts of a quasi-confidential nature, of which I can give a significant example. In an investigation that Edward Bourne made for me during the summer of 1889, he came across in the _Boston Courier_ an inside account of the Whig convention of 1852, showing, more conclusively than I have seen elsewhere, the reason of the failure to unite the conservative Whigs, who were apparently in a majority, on Webster. From collateral evidence we were convinced that it was written by a Massachusetts delegate; and the _Springfield Republican_, which copied the account, furnished a confirmation of it. It was an interesting story, and I incorporated it in my narrative.

I am well aware that Dr. Dryasdust may ask, What of it? The report of the convention shows that Webster received a very small vote and that Scott was nominated. Why waste time and words over the "might have been"? I can plead only the human interest in the great Daniel Webster ardently desiring that nomination, Rufus Choate advocating it in sublime oratory, the two antislavery delegates from Massachusetts refusing their votes for Webster, thus preventing a unanimous Massachusetts, and the delegates from Maine, among whom was Webster's godson William P. Fessenden, coldly refusing their much-needed aid.

General Scott, having received the nomination, made a stumping tour in the autumn through some of the Western States. No accurate account of it is possible without the newspapers, yet it was esteemed a factor in his overwhelming defeat, and the story of it is well worth preserving as data for a discussion of the question, Is it wise for a presidential candidate to make a stumping tour during his electoral campaign?