Historicizing the Free Speech Debate: Harold Holzer on Lincoln and Censorship

By Annika Jensen ’18

Before attending Harold Holzer’s Lincoln Lyceum lecture entitled “Lincoln and the Press: Master or Monster?” I really believed that today’s media presence was the craziest this nation had ever seen. Mr. Holzer insisted otherwise.


Harold Holzer spoke on February 23 at Gettysburg College. Photograph by the author.
Harold Holzer spoke on February 23 at Gettysburg College. Photograph by the author.

“I invite you to imagine the press culture of the mid-19th century,” the scholar told his audience, proceeding to illustrate the world of partisan journalism of the Civil War era: newspapers had no shame; they were open about their opinions and their agendas, and every aspect of the news was opinionated. Moreover, they were omnipresent, as nearly every major city had a paper for each political party. In the years preceding the war, the press particularly had fun with the Lincoln-Douglas debates, opposing newspapers disputing whether, when Lincoln was carried away by his supporters after one debate, he was lifted up out of the excitement of his followers or his own exhaustion and defeat.

Before getting into the meat of the lecture, Holzer specified that Congress never made or passed any law during the Civil War that acted against the First Amendment. However, President Lincoln and his administration took considerable measures against anti-war and anti-government newspapers that threatened to incite Americans against Lincoln, measures which are still debated on moral grounds today. Throughout the war, the Lincoln Administration and the Union Army initiated the suppression of about 200 newspapers in the North and in border states. Continue reading “Historicizing the Free Speech Debate: Harold Holzer on Lincoln and Censorship”

Lincoln Scholar Harold Holzer Teases His Upcoming Lecture at Gettysburg College

By Alex Andrioli ’17

2016 Lincoln Lyceum speaker Harold Holzer. Photograph courtesy of the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities.

Harold Holzerwinner of the 2015 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize, will be delivering the 2016 Lincoln Lyceum lecture entitled Lincoln and the Press:  Master or Monster? 

Harold Holzer is one of the country’s leading authorities on Abraham Lincoln and the political culture of the Civil War era. A prolific writer and lecturer, and frequent guest on television and radio, Holzer has authored, co-authored, and edited more than 45 previous books on Lincoln and the Civil War. He recently retired from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York where he was senior vice president for public affairs. He joined Roosevelt House in September 2015, where he directs academic programs for Hunter College undergraduates in public policy and human rights, and hosts public programs on history and current events.

The lecture, which is free and open to the public, will be held on February 23, 2016 at 7:30 p.m. in CUB 260 at Gettysburg College. We hope to see you there!

ANDRIOLI:  As you discuss in your prize-winning Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion, Lincoln was not the beloved president that he is today. Many Northerners despised him as much as Southerners did. Based on your research for Lincoln and the Power of the Press, do you think Lincoln really earned the reputation of “Honest Abe”?

HOLZER:  Here is one Lincoln legend that I think is true.  Impressed by stories of George Washington’s unassailable honesty from his own boyhood on, Lincoln really did try to live up to the example so dramatically retold by Parson Weems in his early life of Washington.  Moreover, Lincoln worked off the debt he incurred when that book was damaged while in his possession! And we do have testimony from Lincoln’s early friends, relatives, and neighbors that he too was meticulously, almost obsessively honest—his wife said honesty was almost a “mania” with him (she should know!).  So the young man who always got asked to be the judge at tugs-of-war or wrestling matches, earned his way to the sobriquet that followed him through the 1860 presidential campaign—and while many of his unique traits were criticized during his White House years (including his love of humor and the theater), I don’t think anyone seriously questioned his honesty.  It was a virtue he wore proudly and a mantle he deserved. Continue reading “Lincoln Scholar Harold Holzer Teases His Upcoming Lecture at Gettysburg College”

“A Foe as Dangerous as Armed Rebels”: A Review of Harold Holzer’s "Abraham Lincoln and the Power of the Press"

By Alex Andrioli ’18

The beauty of the history field is that we can build upon the foundations of our predecessors and continually improve how we remember and explore the past. This allows for historians to delve deep into a particular subject that is often overlooked, but still has powerful significance. Harold Holzer, the winner of the 2015 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize, accomplishes such a task in his book, “Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion.”

Holzer pairs the familiar subject of Abraham Lincoln with the relatively unexplored relationship Lincoln possessed with the social media of the nineteenth century: the newspaper. Journalism was, and still is, a force to be reckoned with that could make or break a politician’s career. Politics and the press walk hand-in-hand, and Lincoln realized this. “Our government rests in public opinion,” Lincoln claimed. “Whoever can change public opinion can change the government.”

Beginning in the 1700’s, improved printing techniques and “political enthusiasm” brought about the wide popularity of newspapers. Politicians harnessed the “power of the press” to reach a larger audience and spread political beliefs. Papers that sided more with a particular politician or ideology attracted loyal readership and the funds of political parties. Holzer’s work illustrates the “vigorous, often vicious” world of the nineteenth century press that could “distort” the lens through which the public accessed and viewed politics. Continue reading ““A Foe as Dangerous as Armed Rebels”: A Review of Harold Holzer’s "Abraham Lincoln and the Power of the Press"”