All the news that’s fit to denigrate

nastcartoon

Mainstream media takes its fair share of abuse, not all unwarranted, but one need only pick up a newspaper from the 19th century to see how much different – and better – journalism is today.

While it’s no secret that it was accepted practice for newspapers in the 1800s to exist to blatantly promote a single candidate or party – something that would be unheard of today (despite the bleating of conspiracy theorists) – it seems old-time scribes had no issue with laying their biases out in other areas, as well.

Consider the following “article” taken from a South Carolina newspaper in 1864:

Thaddeus W. Saunders was executed for Burglary in Col’a So. Ca. June 24, 1864. He had been convicted of breaking into the residence of a female, who kept a house for Prostitution, on Bridge Street in Cola. She was known as “Dutch Rosa,” so the writer understands.

In the commission of this offence, there was also an appalling and additional monstrous crime. In order to carry out the theft, which was intended by the House Breaking, the committal of a murder was necessary. This man, therefore with the assistance of a brutal companion, destroyed the life of the woman, by using Cloroform (sic) copiously. This effected, and her room and trunks were then robbed of money, jewels, and other valuables, to a large amount.

The two robbers and murderers then left the city, but were ultimately arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, and brought to Col’a So. Ca. for trial.

First off, one gathers from the article that Saunders was executed for burglary, rather than being an accomplice to murder. However, one might have thought the reporter would have wanted to include the bit about the killing in the lead paragraph.

The story continues:

At the March Term of the Court of General Sessions and Common Pleas, held in Columbia, the man Saunders was convicted of the charge of Burglary, but by his attorney, appealed to the Higher Court for a new trial (and by the way, who is the murdered, villain, robber, cut-throat, or scoundrel, that cannot for money, find a Lawyer to plead his cause).

A new trial was refused by the Appeal Court, and Saunders was sentenced to be hanged. After a short respite by the Governor, he was at last executed on the 24th June 1864.

Having insulted the legal process, the reporter now proceeds to lay on some major anti-Catholicism:

(Saunders) had the attention of Catholic priests, and after his execution, his body was transferred from the Gallows, to the Holy Catholic Church, a very proper receptacle for such, as comit (sic) offences, both against the laws of God and man. Here in St. Peters Tabarnacle (sic), his body lay in State, until the morning of the 25th of June, when it was put under ground, with the usual paraphernalia and forms, of a Holy Catholic burial.

It would seem, that this outrage on a Christian Community was not sufficient to satisfy Catholic insolence and Proselytism, for this is notorious, the wide world over; but as an addenda, to the conversion of the convicted, and executed felon, the following funeral invitation published in the “Carolinian” (believed to a rival Columbia newspaper) of the 25th June 1864, was tendered to a respectable and religious people. Here it is, cut from the paper, and placed before the reader, who cannot now doubt the truth of the writer.

[clipping:] “FUNERAL INVITATION. The friends and acquaintances of Rev. J. A. McNeale, of Rev. J. J. O’Connell, of Sheriff Dent and of Mr. Jerome M. Miller, are respectfully invited to attend the funeral of THADDEUS W. SAUNDERS, at the Catholic Church, THIS MORNING, at 9 o’clock, without further notice.”

Lest there be some reader who had not yet picked up on the fact that the reporter had issue with the Catholic church in question and Catholicism in general, said scribe proceeded to lay it out in no uncertain terms:

The writer has lived to almost three score and ten years, has witnessed many public executions of abandoned and wicked men, yet never has he seen before this, an invitation to the funeral of an infamous Felon. But it did not require much effort with the priests of the Church of St. Peter, to perpetrate an insult so gross and revolting; but, that there should be found an editor and proprietor of a Protestant Journal, who whould (sic) thus pander to the Catholic religious appetite, is rather a matter of wonder. Filthy lucre could not have obatined (sic) with De Fontaine, the Editor and proprietor of the Carolinian, for the expence (sic) (if any at all) was insignificant, and therefore, the most charitable conclusion to award, is, the influence of Tody-ism (sic), for which that Journal has long been, most justly celebrated. Well, alack! an invitation to the “friends and acquaintance” of two Catholic Priests; Mr. Sheriff Dent, and Mr. Jailer Miller, to attend what? Why, the funeral of an executed felon. Where, At the Holy Catholic Church in the city of Columbia – the Capital of South Carolina.

O! Tempores. O! Mores. This man Saunders was only tried for Burglary, together with his accomplice. An indictment for murder, is yet in the Court of Sessions, against both, and will be prosecuted in due season against the Murderer, who yet lives, and is now in the Columbia Jail, no doubt, if convicted and executed, will be taken in charge, by the same priests, and have the same Catholic honors and rites, and be smuggled first, into, and then out of Purgatory, and thence on the wings of Catholic faith, and Catholic prestiage (sic) , to Fiddler’s Green, or some other noted place of deposit, known only to the Holy Mother Church, and the Pope and his Sattellites (sic) .

A bit of explanation for those of you unfamiliar with South Carolina history. Many of the Catholics residing in Columbia in the mid-19th century were Irish who’d come over to help build the Columbia Canal in the 1820s, or their descendants.

As in much of the rest of the nation at the time, neither the Irish nor Catholics weren’t looked too favorably upon in the Palmetto State.

St. Peter’s Church was founded specifically to minister to the Irish who came to build the canal. The Irish, interestingly, were “imported” because the work was considered too dangerous for slaves, who represented a valuable commodity.

St. Peter’s is still in existence. It was the church that Cardinal Joseph Bernardin attended at a youth, and Pope John Paul II held a mass there in 1987. It also happens to be the church I attend upon occasion.

I have searched the graveyard out behind the church but have not found a marker for Thaddeus Saunders. It’s likely that he was buried elsewhere by church officials.

Say what you will about the modern media in terms of its flaws, and they are plenty, but anyone who doubts today’s journalism is light years ahead of what it was in the past hasn’t scrolled through microfilm at the local library and come across screeds such as that above.

(Above: 19th century cartoon showing how nativists believed Irish-Catholic immigrants would bring unwanted influence to United States.)

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10 thoughts on “All the news that’s fit to denigrate

  1. The Irish, interestingly, were “imported” because the work was considered too dangerous for slaves, who represented a valuable commodity.

    A similar thought was sometimes expressed here in Texas regarding work on steamboats. Slave labor on the boats was ubiquitous, but I recall seeing an argument made (1850s) that it would be better to hire poor German immigrants to do the work, because when one fell overboard and drowned, or was scalded to death in a boiler accident, the steamboat owner would not be liable for the loss of someone else’s property.

    • Interesting and sad. I understand that when the Irish working on the canal died, there were often simply interred in the canal bank and work continued.

      That probably would run counter to OSHA to guidelines today, I suppose.

      Unfortunately, when the German immigrant went overboard, no one probably bothered to notify his kin, if they even knew his name or where he was from. No wonder everyone hit the bottle back then.

  2. “accepted practice for newspapers in the 1800s to exist to blatantly promote a single candidate or party – something that would be unheard of today” – Really? FOXNews is actually Fair and Balanced? That’s news!

  3. A most interesting post ….as a ‘foreigner’ I think that nothing much has changed in USA down the centuries. On my first trip – pre 9/11- I was just horrified at the blatant unchallenged bias on TV news programmes – I recall at the time that it was Palestinians who were being shamelessly attacked and ridiculed by the programme ‘anchors’. On following trips, – post 9/11 – it’s very much a no-holds-barred approach against anyone who is non -American and who may have a different ethic. My reading of this excellent post is that the ‘roots’ of such blatant partisanship appear to be rooted in the ‘norms’ of centuries ago and are not after all an invention of Fox News or the Tea Party.

    • Unfortunately, you’re probably correct. Living in the South, I’ve come to believe that whites’ prejudice toward blacks was driven by a need to find a scapegoat. After the War Between the States and Reconstruction, things were pretty lousy in the South economically speaking. Few people had much of anything. Well, everybody wants to feel superior to someone – anyone – so poor whites were more than happy to take out their frustration on blacks. And rich whites were happy to let poor whites do their bidding.

      Of course, ultimately the reason was that blacks were different. It’s the same reason the Indians were killed or driven off their land, the Irish were discriminated against, and numerous other people who didn’t fit the WASP profile found life pretty hard once they’d arrived.

      I’d imagine the same thing happened in Europe and other parts of the world, just much earlier, only it happened before a lot of it could be documented.

      In half-jest, I once noted that the only thing that will truly bring all the different people on Earth together will be an invasion from outer space. Then we can focus our prejudices on someone, or something, else together.

      • “Few people had much of anything. Well, everybody wants to feel superior to someone – anyone – so poor whites were more than happy to take out their frustration on blacks. And rich whites were happy to let poor whites do their bidding.”

        How unlike today. Well said.

    • “My reading of this excellent post is that the ‘roots’ of such blatant partisanship appear to be rooted in the ‘norms’ of centuries ago . . .”

      Maybe closer to just 110 years ago based on Cotton Boll Conspiracy:

      “by 1876 Radical rule had ended in the South and by 1890 blacks were disenfranchised just about everywhere in the South, if not earlier”

      Or, does media, by its socially binding nature, provide fertile ground for rumor, opportunity to multiply force and rascalism?

  4. After the war between the states life was extremely bad for rich or poor white people in the south. If your uncle had fought in the southern army you could not vote. Politicans installed in the south were either carpet baggers, scala-wag’s or black’s This went on for years after the war and whites have never forgot.

    • All of that is true, but by 1876 Radical rule had ended in the South and by 1890 blacks were disenfranchised just about everywhere in the South, if not earlier.

      My point was not that white Southerners, especially poor white Southerners, were intrinsically bad, but that they, like dispirited people pretty much throughout history, look for scapegoats, someone to whom they can feel superior.

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