Monitor Turns 150: Part 3, The paper’s origins
Franklin Pierce Statue in front of the New Hampshire State House.
Asa McFarland marker at Blossom Hill cemetery.
Although the first edition of the Concord Daily Monitor was published 150 years ago, the events that laid the groundwork for the paper began in 1845, when a few brave politicians could no longer stomach the spread of slavery.
This revolution took root in Concord and involved three leading political figures, all Democrats: Franklin Pierce of Concord, John Parker Hale of Dover and Amos Tuck of Exeter.
The storm began with Hale.
The state Democratic Party rammed a resolution through the Legislature instructing the state’s members of Congress to vote for the annexation of Texas. Because Texas would then enter the Union as a slave state, the resolution was a favor to the South.
Hale, a U.S. representative, was fed up with appeasing the South. He wrote a public letter making two points: The party had no right to tell members of Congress how to vote, and he opposed the extension of slavery.
Pierce, the party chairman, struck back with fury. In the Patriot, the chief party organ, he accused his friend Hale of seeking to split the party for selfish motives. He wrote to Hale breaking off a personal friendship formed when they were students at Bowdoin College in Maine. He demanded that local party organizations strike Hale’s name from the ballot for re-election and nominate another Democrat. The party complied.
But Hale had his supporters. Tuck, a prominent lawyer and state representative, was one of them. He wrote the Democratic Portsmouth Mercury backing Hale’s position. When the Mercury’s editor refused to print his letter, two big ideas flashed in Tuck’s mind.
One was to call a meeting in Exeter of Democrats opposed to the extension of slavery. The meeting, on Feb. 22, 1845, George Washington’s birthday, resulted in the birth of a splinter party, the Independent Democrats.
The second idea was a weekly newspaper to push the new party’s point of view. This notion bore immediate fruit, and 19 years later the Concord Daily Monitor sprouted from the same seed.
‘Shall we have a paper?’
Two weeks after the Exeter meeting, Tuck wrote Hale to ask, “Shall we have a paper under our control?”
Their movement’s success so far boosted Tuck’s confidence. “There is no danger of making our appeal in vain,” he wrote. “Heart answers to heart, and deep cries unto deep. Our cause is just, and that accounts for the fact that without any of the ordinary appliances or means of exercising power we have accomplished more than the Conservatives could with a powerful press.”
On April 1, leaders of the movement circulated a prospectus for their new “appliance,” a weekly to be published in Manchester as the Independent Democrat. The prospectus said the newspaper would oppose “all dictation, monopoly and oppression.” It would look upon slavery “as a moral, social and political evil, but yet such an one as our forefathers, in a spirit of compromise, consented to recognize in the formation of our Constitution.”
This was a crucial distinction. While the Independent Democrats considered slavery an evil, they were seeking to stop its spread, not abolish it where the Constitution allowed it. Abolitionists were still viewed as dangerous extremists, and the new party sought to avoid this taint.
The paper vowed to “oppose any further concessions to an admitted evil than are required by the existing obligations imposed on us by the Constitution.” The slavery issue “must be joined, and we have determined to meet it.”
Several prominent men who opposed slavery’s extension balked at the paper’s location. Dudley Palmer, a prominent Concord Whig, asked Hale why Manchester, “the resort of speculators and manufacturers,” had been chosen over Concord, “the place to do business with the political men of the State.”
“An editor here can do more for his paper in June while the Legislature is in session than he can in Manchester the year round,” Palmer wrote. He also wanted the paper published in the city where Pierce and the Patriot operated. “Virtue never looks more lovely than when contrasted with vice,” Palmer wrote.
James Peverly, another supporter, sent Hale a list of people who might be useful to the Independent Democrat. George Gilman Fogg topped his list. A lawyer from Gilmanton Iron Works with a sharp pen but little newspaper experience, Fogg had been a loyal Democrat. But recent events had made him “an uncompromising enemy of party dictation (who) sustains your course,” Peverly wrote.
Fogg caught Hale’s eye through a few articles he wrote for the paper, and Hale offered him the editorship. Fogg raised two issues. He worried that the movement might fizzle out and expressed reluctance to give up a promising legal career. But he also described how he would edit the paper and keep it focused on the anti-slavery cause.
“I view it all important that no blunder be committed,” Fogg wrote Hale, “that everything be done just in the right time and place – neither too much or too little – the paper speak on the right subject in the right tone – and that for the present it remain true and wholly devoted to the main object for which it was started. While it may take advantage of collateral issues, it should be subject to none of them.”
The Independent Democrat soon moved to Concord, and Fogg became its editor in January of 1846 at the age of 32. Isaac Hill, the former U.S. senator and governor, took notice. In Hill’s Patriot, he accused his new rival of “rank abolitionism.”
Apostasy from the party in power in New Hampshire might have doomed Hale, Tuck and Fogg, but the opposite happened. That very year, over the yelps of Pierce and Hill, Hale won a U.S. Senate seat as a Free Soil candidate, and Tuck was elected to the U.S. House. In the pages of the Independent Democrat, Fogg became an articulate and powerful voice for the antislavery movement.
In coming years, the old party system disintegrated as Whigs and Independent Democrats, though wary of each other, formed the core of the Republican Party. Fogg rose in the new party, attending its 1856 and ’60 national nominating conventions and serving as secretary of a congressional mission to investigate violence in Kansas.
Although he attended the 1860 Chicago convention as a journalist rather than a delegate, Fogg joined Tuck in the official party that went to Springfield, Ill., to inform Abraham Lincoln of his nomination. He was tapped to be secretary of Lincoln’s national campaign. Then, in the months leading to the inauguration, he lobbied Lincoln on Cabinet choices and other matters.
Lincoln rewarded Fogg with appointment as minister to Switzerland. Fogg left the Independent Democrat in the capable hands of his partner, Amos Hadley. Hadley occasionally printed a letter from Fogg in Europe, but his main task was to defend the war despite Union army reverses and defend Lincoln come what may. Although he lacked Fogg’s gift for incisive language and instinct for the jugular, Hadley did the job in reliable, solid prose.
A tie to bind
In 1863 and ’64, the Independent Democrat supported Republican Gov. Joseph A. Gilmore, as did the Whig weekly, the Statesman. The continued existence of the two papers hinted at the lingering distrust between former Democrats and former Whigs. A daily newspaper in New Hampshire’s capital might close this rift, while creating a more powerful voice for the party.
Gilmore set out to make this happen. Almost every specific of his plan for the Concord Daily Monitor went awry. A promised written contract with the two publishers, P. Brainard Cogswell and George H. Sturtevant, never materialized. Costs for paper, supplies and print-work exceeded estimates. The men hired from Boston for the editorial work headed home.
The editor, William S. Robinson, was gone after a month. “Massachusetts is the place for ideas, and the place to which men look for ideas,” he explained when he reached home. “The men of ideas ought to stay here, I think; and I, as one of the men who write, ought to stay here also and express their ideas.”
After the Monitor’s debut on May 23, 1864, the content remained strong, but advertising limped along. Investors who promised money for the daily reneged. And Gilmore couldn’t pay Cogswell and Sturtevant what he owed them for the printing. In August of 1865, he gave them the paper as partial payment. His son, J. Henry Gilmore, became the editor but lasted only a year. Cogswell took on the local editing chores.
But the two publishers persevered, and salvation, or at least a foothold, came in 1867. The Monitor merged with the Independent Democrat that year. Home from Switzerland, Fogg came back as political editor, joining Cogswell, Sturtevant and Hadley as principals of the company.
The Statesman came into the fold in 1871 under the auspices of the Republican Press Association. The Monitor, which had bounced around among downtown buildings before then, found a home in the Statesman Building at 18 N. Main St.
One by one during the next half-century, Concord’s other newspapers faded away. The Union victory in the Civil War had made New Hampshire a Republican state for generations to come. In a world of partisan journalism, the Monitor rose and prospered with its party. By the mid-1920s, it was the only game in town.