John Hodgson

Online Work

Online Etymology Dictionary
The Sciolist
Slavery in the North
Civil War Writing

Civil War Causes

It's often said that the American Civil War was entirely and only about slavery. Is there another view?

Yankee Canards
Was the ante-bellum South a primitive, backwards, illiterate, violent culture?

Numbers and significance of the Southern mulatto population

Northern Racism
De Tocqueville observed that "race prejudice seems stronger in those states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists, and nowhere is it more intolerant than in those states where slavery was never known"

Slavery as History
How can you make an honest inquiry into American slavery without understanding the mindset of slave-owners? How can you do that without being yourself a racist?

Rebel View
Early 19th century American politics and political culture as it was seen by many Southerners

Abraham Lincoln was perhaps the greatest writer in American political history. Writers are great, in part, because of their ability to disguise what they really intend.

Lincoln and Race
"You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races."

Thaddeus Stevens
The life and times of Pennsylvania's fiery anti-Southern Congressman

Sidelights on Christiana
The Christiana Riot of 1851 is sometimes described at the first skirmish of the Civil War

1860 Election
Even if all the Democrats had united behind one candidate, the Northern regional ticket would have won

The wire-pulling over the Morrill tariff bill in 1860 showed the party of the abolitionists cynically using a legitimate government mechanism to gain power in a presidential election.

Legal Issues
Secession was legal under the Constitution, based on its ratification by the states in 1787 and 1788

Cornerstone Speech
Alexander Stephens "Cornerstone Speech" in context.

Upper South
"States rights" is dismissed as a red herring argument, yet the Upper South states seem to have left the Union for this reason.

What Cost Union?
Lincoln saved the union, but at a terrible cost to America's democracy and culture of freedom.


Up from History
The evolving historical view of the American Civil War.

Soldiers and War
Responding to the slander against Southern military effort.

Why the South Lost
Was Northern victory inevitable?

War Effort
The South put forth a tremendous effort for independence.

The Southern Press
Journalism and Southern civil liberties.

An examination of the myth of massive Southern desertion.

A Closer Look
Desertion by the numbers; case studies North and South.

Ella Lonn
The original study of desertion in the Civil War.

Southern conscription was the first attempt to create a modern military system.

Draft of 1862
An overlooked draft in the North that was underway almost simultaneously with the first rebel conscription.

Albert B. Moore
An important source for the "South against the South" thesis.

The Lincoln Administration's crackdown on Maryland.

Occupied Maryland
A sampling of federal documents dealing with martial law in Maryland.

Maryland Peace Party
A pamphlet from the anti-government forces in Maryland.

Habeas Corpus
The suspension of Habeas Corpus in the North by the Lincoln administration during the war.

A Northern newspaper editor fights the administration after it closes down his press in response to anti-government articles.

"Keystone Confederates"
Some Pennsylvanians fought for the South during the Civil War.


Southern Populists
"You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars you both."

Coatesville Lynching
Zach Walker was burned alive by a white mob in Coatesville, Pennsylvania.

York Riots
A little-known but violent 1960s race riot in York, Pennsylvania.

New South
Slavery, racism, and segregation were national experiences.

New Lost Cause
A native-born Southern white woman worked with native-born Southerners, black and white, with a shared sense of decency, to accomplishing the work of desegregation in Mississippi.

Flag dispute
From 1879 to 1956, the Georgia state flag was essentially the "Stars and Bars." If you were going to link any state flag with slavery, that would be the one.

Jonathan Kozol
"So two-tenths of 1 percent marks the difference between legally enforced apartheid in the South 50 years ago, and socially and economically enforced apartheid in New York today"


sources consulted


The American press was as querulous about the government in 1861 as it is now, and the attitudes of editors did not always agree with that of the administration. Only five of New York City's 17 daily newspapers were firmly behind the Lincoln Administration's war effort. But perhaps the most important free press case of the Civil War played out, not in New York, but in the small town of West Chester, Pennsylvania.

The town at the time had barely 4,000 citizens, but it was the seat of prosperous Chester County, which explains how it supported four weekly newspapers. Two were Republican -- the Village Record, an old, conservative Whig sheet and the most-read newspaper in Chester County; and the Chester County Times, which represented the more radical elements in the new Republican Party. The American Republican was the conservative Democratic newspaper, and the Jeffersonian was the blazing, unabashed standard-bearer of the Democratic Party of 1860.

Its editor since 1843 was John Hodgson, a strikingly handsome man who inherited his mother's fine features and his father's slimness. Hodgson turned the Jeffersonian into the voice of the pro-southern and pro-slavery wing of the Democratic Party. When the northern Democratic Party began to warp and splinter in the 1850s under the stress of supporting slavery, Hodgson rivaled George W. Pearce, editor of the older American Republican, for control of the local organization. Whether measured by newspaper circulation or voter tallies, Hodgson buried Pearce.

With his arrogant, beautiful head, he must have cut quite a figure in the uniforms he wore in the (largely ceremonial) state militia, an appointment that enabled him to claim the title “Major Hodgson.” Hodgson had been born in Yorkshire, and had come to America with his family as a child. Apprenticed to Charles Miner at the Village Record, he had finished his training at 17 and gone to work as a compositor, then had bought the old-fashioned Norristown Herald newspaper. But he couldn’t make any money with it and gave it up after a few years to open a dry-goods store on Market Street in Philadelphia. He hated mercantile life, however, and longed for the rough-and-tumble of political editorship. After his wife died and left him with five young children, he had returned to West Chester and got back into newspapering.

His father had been a Methodist preacher and his brother Francis was a Methodist minister. John chose the paper, not the pulpit, but he went about his work for the Democratic Party with a missionary zeal, and he was an active leader in the West Chester Methodist Church. Hodgson doesn’t seem to have felt that politics sullied religion, and he was the ideal opposition editor during the years the Whigs held sway in West Chester, asking pointed questions about the conduct of the men they elected, whether on the West Chester borough council or the state Assembly. On national questions, he backed the party’s position unquestioningly, with a faith in its essential righteousness that was remarkable, even for a partisan newspaper editor. The Methodists in those years were the church of the American workers and a bastion of the Democratic Party. Methodists increasingly identified themselves with political causes, even more so than other faiths. As an active Odd Fellow, Hodgson would have opposed the Anti-Masonic strain in the Whig Party, and as an immigrant himself -- though he was only 9 when his family came to America, his enemies never let him forget his English birth -- he despised the anti-foreigner activities of the “Know-Nothing” Republicans in West Chester in the 1850s.

But Hodgson carried on his politics more than anything else, as a Christian. He seems to have held a personal dislike for the philosophy and politics of the abolitionists. He was deeply alarmed by the atheist and freethinking tendencies of the religious liberals who made up much of the abolitionist societies, and when those men and women entered the political mainstream as the core of the local Republican party, Hodgson saw it as nothing short of satanic. He fought them with every weapon he could muster, in the name of saving America’s soul. He was a racist, but perhaps no more so than more moderate Democrats or even many Whigs. That he chose to express his racism in the bluntest terms was a political decision, not a personal one. His political rivals, who attacked him at every opportunity, never said he went too far in his anti-black rhetoric. They evidently felt no need to distance themselves from it. Hodgson was a Christian politician first, and his Jeffersonian embraced the racist justification of slavery with an ardent, yet purely political, passion.

Many lifelong Democrats in West Chester joined the war for the Union, or lent it their support, with unfeigned enthusiasm; Harry Guss, who led the National Guards militia into the 97th Pa. Infantry, and Henry McIntire, who led the Brandywine Guards into the 1st Pa. Reserves, were both Democrats. However, some of the party’s older leaders -- Hodgson, Nimrod Strickland, Robert E. Monaghan, and John M. Brinton -- persisted in seeing the war as a partisan sham, an inevitable effect of electing a man like Lincoln to the White House, and a national tragedy caused by the abolitionists who had perverted the government and rabidly driven the South to desperate measures in its own defense and in defense of the intent of America’s founders. The South may have broken the compact of the Constitution, but these men felt the blame rested with Lincoln and the fanatical Northern abolitionists who ran the Republican Party. They said so in party meetings, on the streets of West Chester, and in the columns of the Jeffersonian. West Chester, panicked by fear, furious over the rending of the Union, and with a pent-up war lust that had been brewing for almost a decade, was in an intolerant mood.

Under the headline “Traitors in West Chester,” the Chester County Times of April 27, 1861, carried this communication from an anonymous reader: “Every man who will not give his money to support the brave boys who have gone to the field to defend their country against the most diabolical and wicked attempt to overthrow the best government in the world is a traitor. There is some loud talk about certain men at home. IF THEY PREFER THE WAR SOUTH THAT IS WAGED BY THE CONSPIRATORS, THEY MUST BE MADE TO LEAVE FOR THAT CAMP. We cannot and will not have spies and enemies in our camp. The law of treason must strike down and put down all babbling traitors.”

Three weeks later, the American Republican printed an inflammatory, rambling column by a correspondent signed “Wayne” (the name of the county's Revolutionary War hero), describing a public meeting at the Courthouse during which “Major! Hodgson was given to understand pretty plainly that his secession paper would not be endured much longer.” “Wayne” also thundered against the anti-war faction in West Chester in a column in the Chester County Times, threatening that a “day of retribution will come.” A private letter written the day after Fort Sumter surrendered put the matter more precisely: “Hodson [sic] & Monaghan & one or two others have been talking pretty strong here within a few days for Secession; Now as war has begun if they don’t come out for the Union or at least keep quiet they will be -- hung I was going to say -- mobbed I will. The Jeffersonian building will not stand long unless Jno. Hodson dries up.”

From the distance of more than a century, the “traitors” of West Chester seem a harmless lot. Brinton was “a unique figure, big-headed, big-bodied, full of blood, iron and Democracy.” Muscular and eccentric, he kept boxing gloves in his law office, and when he felt he needed a workout, he pulled them on for sparring matches with his black janitor. He also had a habit of offering to duke it out with country farmers who refused to pay his fees. Monaghan, the moon-faced lawyer who headed the Democratic flock, was overly proud of his distant Irish ancestry. Strickland, with his crippled leg and pursed lips, squinted at the world through rectangular spectacles from under a broad-brimmed low-crowned hat. His squashed look was made the more ridiculous by tall collars and a billy goat beard under his chin. A proud member of the Odd Fellows society, he made his living by artfully dancing from one political appointment to another. If the Democrats had ever gone totally out of power on the state and national levels, he would have starved. A West Chester writer explained Strickland to Philadelphia readers by saying he had “acquired some little position as the former editor of the ‘Republican and Democrat’ at this place, but, as you very well know, is ever running after small offices.”

At their annual party convention in Horticultural Hall on Aug. 13, 1861, the hard core of the local Democrats opposed the war and bid defiance to the government, but even as they affirmed their radicalism, the ranks of the hard-core shrank. Among the approved resolutions Strickland offered was:

That the American democratic government is founded not upon the sword, but upon the intelligence and virtue of the people. Public measures are to be brought to the test of the Constitution and finally settled by the appropriate civil tribunals. To resort to armies is a fundamental error, and must result in establishing a military despotism. This meeting is opposed to war movements whether by popular assemblies, state legislatures, or Congress. The People are competent for self-government, and if a Convention of the States be called, under the Constitution, we feel assured that our difficulties can be peacefully and satisfactorily adjusted.

Longtime Democrat Joseph Hemphill led the moderates, and he put forth a different preamble and a set of alternate resolutions. He blamed the war on “the disunionists of the Southern States,” sustained the administration, and called on the party “to maintain and perpetuate our union, Constitution and laws at all hazards of toil, treasure and blood.” Hemphill tried to bring these to a vote late in the meeting, but was hissed and defeated. The Jeffersonian supported the resolutions that had passed: “The resolutions of Mr. Hemphill ... express no condemnation of, but, by their silence and general tenor, would be construed to endorse, the unconstitutional and corrupt doings of Lincoln, Curtin, and the Legislature.”

Hodgson found himself the brunt of most of the backlash. As editor of the Jeffersonian, his was the most public position among the anti-war Democrats. After the word "copperheads" came into vogue to describe them, Hodgson relished it (“There is an applicability about it which speaks out boldly and has a palpable meaning,” he wrote), but his life in the town became increasingly difficult. Not long after Fort Sumter he was chased from a local oyster cellar after an altercation with one besotted Unionist. The old nativist charges were flung against him again, with redoubled fury. The Chester County Times of May 15 printed a letter from a correspondent, scolding the Jeffersonian’s editor as “The Tory Hodgson true to his English tory instincts.” The Times still carried Know Nothing venom in its veins from its nativist days.

Hodgson also occupied an awkward position as the enthusiastic head of the county militia. Hodgson, “although holding a military office in the militia, is sneaking about West Chester, grinning occasionally a ghastly smile over news he may hear unfavorable to the war for the Union!” the Times correspondent wrote. “If he has any soul or heart in favor of his adopted country that has fed and clothed him, why is he not found now where his holiday profession as a soldier should place him -- in the ranks?”

Hodgson’s rivals did their part in whipping up popular furor. “There is an impudent boldness in the highwayman, who presents you the alternative, ‘your money or your life,’ which, at least, commands a kind of admiration for frankness;” the Chester County Times wrote of Hodgson, “but the Spanish stilletto, stabbing by masked traitors, the ‘masked batteries’ of cowardly tories, are as far beneath the bold bandit, as the vilest reptile that crawls on the earth is beneath the glories of the noonday sun.” A month later, the Times wrote, “The last number of the Tory organ in this place was filled with illy concealed treason. The leniency of the people has emboldened the traitor editor and the frequent meetings of the small coterie of Tories who almost daily meet for mutual sympathy and mutual plotting, keep him in countenance .... Let them be constantly exposed to public gaze, and when they have their secret conclave, for rejoicing over the defeat of national arms, let them be treated as enemies of the community.”

Yet the Jeffersonian’s tone had been basically positive through the first three months of the conflict. Hodgson had printed some criticisms of the administrations and some poetry lamenting the destructiveness of war, but he also ran enthusiastic reports of the military work being done, and upbeat, patriotic letters from soldiers. The newspaper turned negative in July, however. On July 27 the entire front page was given over to the text of a speech by Clement Vallandingham, the copperhead congressman from Ohio. A week later Hodgson devoted the front page to a reprint of an address by John C. Breckenridge, the radical Democrat who had run against Lincoln in 1860. The full account of the Bull Run disaster appeared in his August 10 edition, while in the same issue on inside pages devoted to political news he ran strident anti-administration editorials with headlines like: “WAR! WAR! WAR! TAXATION AND POVERTY!” and letters bearing titles like “THE FOLLY OF THIS WAR.”

The Hodgson editorial that most inflamed the loyal citizens of West Chester (or so they said later) appeared in his July 27 edition, and was titled “The Purpose of the War.” It claimed that “Abolition demagogues” had steered the country into war, “not to restore harmony and peace, and consequent union, between the two sections of the country, but to subjugate the South and ‘wipe out’ Slavery. In brief, ITS PURPOSE IS TO BENEFIT THE NEGRO AT THE EXPENSE OF THE WHITE MAN.” As proof of this, the Jeffersonian cited resolutions that had been introduced in the Senate calling for an emancipation of Southern slaves. “To effect this object -- or rather to attempt to effect it -- thousands, and tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Northern lives are to be destroyed, and millions of dollars of weighty and crushing debt, with its never-ending taxation, are to be fastened upon Northern citizens and Northern property.”

Published immediately after the Northern military disaster at Bull Run, with the government menaced and the people expecting to hear any day of Washington in flames, the claim that the war was about slavery was just too much for people to swallow. “An editor who would coin as many lies as is embodied in that one short article, and published it with the criminal purpose of making his readers believe that the war was an abolition war, got up to benefit the nigger at the expense of the white man, was saying that our army deserved their defeat, and that he rejoiced over the victory of the rebels at Bull’s Run,” replied an American Republican correspondent who signed himself “Westtown” (the name of a nearby township). “The English scoundrel did, I have no doubt, rejoice. If the doctrine of his editorial is right, our army ought to be defeated.” Hodgson’s offensive predictions ultimately proved correct; it wasn’t yet a war about slavery, but it would have to become one before it could be won. In any case, Northern loyalists in 1861 still rejected the notion that the conflict had anything to do with slavery or blacks.

The editorial had a more immediate consequence, however. The three-month troops had been discharged and were back in town, forming new regiments to go off for three years’ service. Before they did this, however, they showed their feelings against the Jeffersonian. By the moonlight at about 1 a.m. on the morning of August 20, a few hours before the Jeffersonian was to go to print again, a gang of men quietly and efficiently destroyed the office. The newspaper’s building on High Street was broken into, “and the newspaper press broken, the hand press pitched out of the window and the type knocked into pi and thrown into an adjoining sink,” the Village Record reported. “On Tuesday morning the office presented a desolate looking spectacle. Nothing but a few bundles of paper was to be seen in either the first or second stories of the office.” Henry S. Evans, the Record's editor, said he had no idea who had done this, but “it is believed they came from the country.”

A historical account of the incident written in the 1930s by a professor from Philadelphia reported, “While no public revelations were ever made as to the personal identity of any of the members of the mob, the townspeople knew that the participants were connected with a newly formed secret Republican organization in West Chester.” This information he ascribed, in a footnote, to a “statement to the writer by Squire Paxson who lived in West Chester at the time,” and it has often been said that the inspiration for the vandalism was Congressman John Hickman. Hickman was a devotee of the theater, and a friend and fan of Edwin Forrest, the great American actor. There is something theatrical and appropriate in the image of Hickman as Henry II, discovering that his minions had taken him at his word in attacking the man who was his Becket.

"Mobbing" of unpopular groups or institutions was a fact of life in American communities in the mid-19th century. Philadelphia, a mere 26 miles from West Chester, was notorious for it. In the 1830s and 1840s, Philadelphia's anarchic wards were ruled by vicious bosses and utterly corrupt police. Notorious street gangs like the Killers, the Rats, the Blood Tubs, and (unaccountably) the Dock Street Philosophers terrorized the city, killing citizens and destroying property. At the same time, the city was wracked by ethnic violence. Irish mobs sacked whole neighborhoods that were home to African-Americans. Protestant “nativists” attacked immigrant Irish Catholics and burned their churches. There were nine major mob attacks against blacks in Philadelphia between 1834 and 1849. During the Kensington and Southwark anti-Catholic riots in 1844, twenty people had been killed. It got so bad that newspapers like the Philadelphia Bulletin of May 3, 1847, contained the news item, “no rioting yesterday.”

Generally it was a phenomenon of the big cities, but it could hit small towns like West Chester, too. The first big abolitionist meeting in the town, in 1837, was driven out of the courthouse by a mob attack, and thereafter the abolitionists had to meet in the open, or under the eaves of the market house, because no one would rent them space. The townsfolk were acutely aware of the dangers of mobs. The borough had no police, just a constable and a night watchman or two, and it would be helpless in the face of a major civil disorder.

West Chester's Horticultural Hall was built in 1848 as a public meeting place. It was designed by the architect Thomas U. Walter, who was known for Greek Revival buildings. The Greek Revival style was more than just a fashion; it was an aesthetic that reflected the values that America’s founders wanted it to absorb: the qualities of civic responsibility, reason, and enlightened discourse represented by classical figures like Cicero. They tried to inculcate these values in the fledgling democracy.

Walter was a Philadelphian, born and raised in the city. He would almost certainly have felt deeply discouraged by the breakdown of civic life in his hometown. Perhaps he had seen the smouldering ruin of Pennsylvania Hall, burned by the anti-abolitionist mob a decade before. In West Chester, his design for Horticultural Hall (right) harked back to the Dark Ages, the realm of brutality, barbarism, and the death of classical culture under waves of Viking marauders. Nothing bespeaks the concept of culture under siege more than the windowless building’s recessed doorway that (falsely) advertised the thickness of the walls. Horticultural Hall was not only Walter’s last commission in West Chester; it was the only one without a hint of Greek revival style. It is a statement about a fragile culture with classical aspirations under siege by “mobocracy.”

In 1861, the Village Record, so far from being chilled by the image of a mob attack on a newspaper, expressed only the mildest disapproval, and was inclined to blame the Jeffersonian for its own troubles. “It is lamentable that the settled law of the land should be violated in a manner so calculated to produce violence -- or rather, that the imperfections of the law should be such that the offenses against society, or calculated to effect its very existence, should not be punished by due process of law.” At the American Republican, in the days after the attack, editor George Pearce took pains to point out that when people had asked him what should be done about the Jeffersonian, he had “counseled patience, and deprecated in the strongest language all resorts to violence.” He seemed to have forgotten that in his issue just before the attack, he had pointed out to the public that the Jeffersonian “only maintained its existence by the forbearance of those whose loyal opinions it outraged in every one of its pestiferous issues."

In the wake of Bull Run, the mood across the North had changed. The big battle was over, the Confederacy had not crumbled, and Washington had not fallen. The giddy excitement of the first three months dissipated, as the seriousness of the conflict became apparent. It was time to take stock and prepare --militarily, politically, and psychologically -- for a war that was going to take a few more months at least. The defeat left the North more united, more grimly determined, and the critics of the war found themselves very much on the outside. The Jeffersonian was not alone in suffering for its Southern sympathies. On August 8 the office of the Concord, N.H., Democratic Standard had been mobbed by soldiers who didn’t like what had been written about them. The same day the Jeffersonian was sacked, a secessionist newspaper in Easton was mobbed, and a publisher in Haverhill, Massachusetts, was tarred and feathered by a mob.

“Can we wonder,” Henry S. Evans wrote, “that a proud and patriotic people, jealous of their country’s honor, burning at the defeat of her armies, incensed at the vile conduct of traitors, and trembling for the safety, not only of their government but of their fire-sides, should chafe at an opposition in their midst which is calculated, however honest its motives, or whatever specious pretenses may veil it, to defeat all their efforts and sacrifices?”

What happened next, however, was certainly attributable to John Hickman. Hodgson missed his Tuesday edition, but the attempt to shut him down only inspired him to greater effort, and he prepared to print up his next edition Friday evening, come hell or high water, to have it to readers as usual on Saturday. Hodgson was “busy during the week running up and down to Philadelphia,” where another pro-secession newspaper, the Christian Observer, had offered him the use of its presses. However, on Friday, Aug. 23, 1861, United States marshals seized the office of the Christian Observer, along with what was left of the Jeffersonian. “Two officers arrived by the train at 4:00 p.m., who proceeded at once to the establishment on High street, and took the secession concern out of the hands of its treasonable conductors.” John Jenkins and William Schuyler -- two assistant marshals sent by U.S. Marshal William Millward -- padlocked the office under a warrant from George A. Coffey, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District. They also seized Hodgson’s types, presses, and books.

Hodgson and his son visited Coffey in Philadelphia on September 10, and again about a week later. “I told him that if he would agree not to oppose the war ... I certainly would not oppose the restoration of the paper,” Coffey recalled in later testimony. Hodgson’s reply was, “I would die rather than give my pledge to a paper of that kind in order to get my property back.”

Hodgson was not alone in this, either. In August the federal government had begun to crack down on the opposition press. Court martials were authorized in the cases of newspapers that printed information considered to have aided the enemy. Telegraph wires out of Washington, which the major daily newspapers relied on for their news of the war and the government, were subject to State Department censorship. On August 16 charges of disloyalty for alleged pro-Southernism had been brought in United States Circuit Court against the New York Journal of Commerce, Daily News, Day Book, Freeman’s Journal, and the Brooklyn Eagle. On August 21 the federal government ordered that copies of the New York newspapers that had been suppressed should not be carried by the mails. Suppressions continued August 22 in New York, New York; Canton, Ohio; and Philadelphia. On September 18 the Louisville, Kentucky Courier was banned from the mails, and its offices were seized the next day by federal authorities. Among the newspapers suppressed by the government were the Philadelphia Evening Journal and the Chicago Times. Despite claims in the North of tit for tat, there were relatively few instances of press suppression by the South.

Once again, Hodgson’s fellow editors rejoiced, this time at the sight of their government curbing a free press. “The suppression of this infamous paper gives great joy to all loyal men in our Borough, and we are sure this energetic movement on the part of the government will be hailed with the liveliest satisfaction elsewhere,” Pearce wrote. “Hodgson will realize the great truth, ‘that the way of the transgressor is hard.’ It will scarcely be a tall feather in the cap of his children, and children’s children, that their ancestor was a traitor, and that his newspaper was seized for promulgating sedition against a government that gave him ample and generous protection. There is no doubt that some men were very mad at this proceeding, but they will cool off and get in a good humor. Let the maddest of them beware, for there is a bolt in the cloud that might light on their heads before they are many days older.” Pearce was prepared to deflect some of the attention from the defeated Hodgson, but only to prepare West Chester for the next set of targets:

Hodgson, every one in this community knew, was the merest cat’s paw of other men. Characterless as he is and always has been, we do not believe he would have wrapped himself in the cloak of infamy that now hangs upon him in enduring disgrace, but for the madness and desperation of the disappointed politicians who wrote his editorials and culled the treasonable articles that offended and insulted every good man in the community. Nimrod Strickland, John H. Brinton, and their supple tool, Monaghan, are the guilty parties in this case. ... When these men play the bully on our streets, and impudently try to fix the charge of violence on those who stand by the country and its old and honored flag, fling the truth in their faces, that they are the instigators and the authors of these infractions of law and order.

The next week, the Chester County Times noted that the pugilistic John H. Brinton had been bound over on charge of assault and battery on the Times’ editor. “John’s wrath was all about the Jeffersonian,” he wrote. “He said the influence of the Times had caused its sudden suspension, and he wanted to get up a kind of wake over its dead carcass. We hope he is satisfied with his attempt. If Toryism had continued as rampart [sic] as it was a few weeks ago, we are not sure that other suspensions would not have taken place, more disagreeable and causing worse contortions than the newspaper’s demise.”

The Philadelphia Bulletin, meanwhile, laid out the best possible case for why the Jeffersonian’s anti-government editorials were dangerous to the national safety:

The principal circulation of the Jeffersonian was in the lower part of Chester County and along the Maryland line. Many of the people even upon this side of the line are touched with Secession sentiment. They take but one newspaper, frequently, and they are, of course, greatly influenced by its statements and opinions. The mischief that can be accomplished by a persistent enemy of the Government, under such circumstances, will be appreciated.

If the press failed to appreciate the need to protect itself, the justice system did so in its behalf. The Jeffersonian matter became a test case for the government’s authority to shut down any newspaper it didn’t like. A congressional act of Aug. 6, 1861, had authorized the President to direct the seizure of anyone who was “aiding, or abetting, or promoting ... insurrection.” The Jeffersonian seizure failed to meet the terms of this act in its two essential qualities; Hodgson had printed no government secrets or committed any espionage for the Confederacy, and the President had never authorized the seizure of the paper. Lincoln had hesitated before signing the August 6 order, and he likely never meant it as an instrument to suppress unfriendly newspapers.

Hodgson finally got a hearing on October 7, in Philadelphia, before an U.S. Circuit Court judge. The legal discussion centered on whether Coffey, the district attorney, had had the authority to issue the order he signed, dated Aug. 23, 1861, to Millward: “According to the provisions of the Act of 6th of August, 1861, I hereby request you to seize upon all copies of ‘The Jeffersonian’ newspaper, published in the borough of West Chester, Chester county, Pennsylvania, as well as all property of every kind whatsoever in and about the publication of said newspaper, that may be found in your bailiwick, for confiscation and condemnation, according to law -- I being authorized by the President of the United States.” It transpired that Wayne McVeagh, Chester County’s district attorney, had sent Coffey copies of the paper, asking if the government could put a stop to it, and the two men apparently had corresponded about it.

Coffey admitted under cross-examination that before he had issued this warrant, he had sent telegraphs to the president and to the Secretary of War, requesting authority to seize the Christian Observer and the Jeffersonian. “I spoke of the Jeffersonian as publishing articles inflaming or disturbing the minds of the people.” He had gotten a reply only from the War Department, saying, as he recalled, “Your action is approved -- be temperate and firm.” But there was no warrant or affidavit from the government authorizing the seizure. Coffey had acted on his own, and his order to Millward was the first paperwork in the case. Coffey explained, rather lamely, that he had wanted to test whether the act applied to such cases.

In the absence of the necessary authority, and with the failure to produce any specific charges against the Jeffersonian except printing opinions unfavorable to the government, Coffey eventually abandoned the case. The matter was formally dropped through a terse notice from Coffey to the court, dated Oct. 14, 1861. The Jeffersonian resumed publication with a notice to readers on October 17, but when Hodgson took his stacks of fliers to the West Chester post office for the Philadelphia mails, he was told they would not be handled. U.S. Postmaster General Blair had put him on the list of papers that the government would not move. Other Democratic newspapers around the state and in New York expressed sympathy and watched the case with interest. The mail privileges were restored, evidently without a word of explanation, on Jan. 18, 1862.

Hodgson, meanwhile, pressed his point. In late October he filed a lawsuit against Millward and his assistants for lost profits. Hodgson was represented by two sympathetic Philadelphia attorneys, George W. Biddle and William B. Reed. (Reed distinguished himself after the war as the lawyer who represented Jefferson Davis at his trial.) On Feb. 3, 1863, case of Hodgson v. Millward et al was called for trial in U.S. Circuit Court, and the jury returned an award of $512. It was retried on a technicality on Oct. 29, 1864, and the jury reached the same verdict, though the reward this time was $504.33.

In both cases, the judges made strong statements to the jury about the government’s lack of authority to clamp down on dissent in this way. In the second trial, Supreme Court Justice Robert C. Grier (right), who presided over the circuit, charged the jury that there was no justification for the seizure, and that the DA had no power to issue a writ ordering the seizure. The power to issue writs, he told them, belongs to the courts alone. None of the evidence submitted suggested that the President or a member of the cabinet had authorized the seizure, and it wouldn’t have made any difference had there been:

No one can pretend that our law was changed by the mere fact of the rebellion. The very purpose of law is to set a rule that may remain fixed and immovable among the disturbances of society, and that shall be the standard of judging them. ... If it yielded to excitements it would be judged by them, instead of being their judge.

When Chester County's emergency militias of 1862 passed through West Chester on their way to stem Lee's threatened invasion of the state (they arrived much too late), they smashed the windows of the county's most pro-administration newspaper, the Chester County Times. "There was a great time in W. Chester today," Southern sympathizer Jennie Sellers wrote in her diary for Sept. 7, 1862. "Before the soldiers left, they run most all the niggers out of W. Chester. ... The office of the Times was riddled last six day night by the soldiers. The editor of the Times wanted the soldiers to break up the office of the Jeffersonian, but instead of that they broke up his own."

The South Compared

Partial bibliography:

Abrams, Ray H., "The Jeffersonian, Copperhead Newspaper," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 57 (1933), p.260.
Harper, Douglas R., "If Thee Must Fight:" A Civil War History of Chester County, Pa. West Chester, Pa.: Chester County Historical Society, 1990.
------------------, West Chester to 1865: That Elegant & Notorious Place. West Chester, Pa.: Chester County Historical Society, 1999.

©2002Douglas Harper "When misunderstanding serves others as an advantage, one is helpless to make oneself understood." -Lionel Trilling