whenever the history of Journalism shall be truly written, one of its most interesting chapters will be that which traces the infancy and growth of that potent creation of our century, the Leader — that is, of the most important and conspicuous Editorial or Editorials, printed in the largest type, and occupying the most prominent position.
I say occupying, though the axiom that “Where MacDONALDonald
sits is the head of the table,” applies here as well as elsewhere.
Since the Electric Telegraph
obtained its full development, the more prominent and interesting dispatches, or the Editorial summary thereof, will probably attract the first glance of a majority of readers; but the Leader soon commands and fixes the attention of all.
The Editor is he whose fiat decides what shall and what shall not appear, and in what garb, with what sanction, complete or qualified, that which does appear shall be presented: he, in many cases, writes but sparingly — in some, it is said, not at all. Probably, no person likely to be intrusted with the conduct of an influential journal ever supposed himself qualified, even if he had time, to discuss all
the topics which require elucidation in its columns; hence, the engagement of able, intelligent writers to treat of the various themes which, from time to time, invite discussion, aside from those who, in the various departments-Literary, Commercial, Legal, Dramatic, Musical, etc., etc.-hold a more responsible and semiindependent position.
The writer of a leading article is often a statesman of wide experience, or a scholar of ripe culture, who volunteers, or, on solicitation, consents, to elucidate a subject of which he is master; sometimes accepting, at others declining, compensation therefore.
More commonly, however, leading Editorials are written by those who have given their youth to study and their earlier prime to service in the humbler walks of the profession, in which they have developed and perfected the capacities which they now exemplify.
They are scarcely a tithe of the number who aspired to the position they have achieved — the vast majority having failed in the attempt.
Liberally compensated and accorded a just and wide consideration, they are raised above servility or unworthy complaisance by the consciousness that their widely-recognized talents ensure them employment elsewhere, if that now accorded them should ever be withdrawn.
The Republic of Letters has few citizens more eligibly placed or more honorably regarded than they.
Some members of this class are men of all work — ready, at the word of command, to review the most ponderous tome that embodies the latest and least intelligible speculations in German theology or Scotch metaphysics — to report a masquerade-ball, or to chronicle the latest Paris
fashions; but the better, if not more numerous, class do that work only (or mainly) for which they are specially qualified, and to which they are attracted by their studies, or their tastes — often by both.
In the protracted, arduous struggle which resulted in the overthrow and extinction of American Slavery, many were honorably conspicuous: some by eloquence; more by diligence; others by fearless, absorbing, single-eyed devotion to the great end; but he who most skillfully, effectively, persistently wielded the trenchant blade of Satire was the writer of the following essays.
's “Hosea Biglow
” and “Birdofredum Sawin
,” ) were admirable in their way, and did good service to the anti-Slavery cause; but the essays herewith presented, appearing at intervals throughout the later acts of the great drama, and holding up to scorn and ridicule the current phases of pro-Slavery unreason and absurdity, being widely circulated and eagerly read, exerted a vast, resistless influence on the side of Freedom and Humanity.
There are reprobates so hardened in iniquity as to defy exposure, scout reproof, and meet malediction with contempt; but there was never yet a wrongdoer so callous as to feel indifferent to being laughed at. No tyranny, no outrage, was ever yet panoplied in mail so strong or so close, that the shafts of Satire would not pierce it, and leave their barbs fixed in the quivering flesh beneath.
The papers which follow are a part of the political and social history of the last twelve eventful years which ought to be preserved in a convenient, accessible form — a part which will be found livelier reading than most History, and hardly less instructive and profitable.
It has been widely asserted that the Editorials of The Tribune
were among the chief incitements to the late Civil War
. It is well, therefore, that many of the most pungent and exasperating of those Editorials should be collected and published in this volume, so that our children may judge of the provocation they afforded to Secession, and the consequent desperate, bloody struggle for the lasting dismemberment of our Union.
Wit has oftener sped its arrows in the service of Despotism and Oppression than in that of Liberty and Humanity.
The Negro has long been its favorite target; his repulsive color, his uncouth features, his shambling gait, his idiotic merriment, and his grotesque politeness, have all been portrayed and exaggerated in defense of his enslavement, or in ridicule of any attempt to excite sympathy for his sufferings and invoke effort for his deliverance.
“How can you feel, or even affect, interest in such a caricature of the human form?”
was the burden of pro-Slavery logic throughout the last generation.
Our author met, the traducers of the Black
race on their own ground, and vanquished them with their own chosen weapon.
Never compromising a principle nor truckling to a prejudice, he turned the laugh on the jesters and set the public to mocking the mockers.
While others demonstrated the injustice of manselling, he portrayed its intense meanness, its unspeakable baseness, its monstrous unreason, in colors that even the blind must perceive.
He drew two figures which no one could help abhorring, and, when all had evinced their irrepressible loathing, he showed the less repulsive to be the Slaveholder, and the other his Northern ally, apologist and champion.
Such was the work to which he devoted his time and talents; to what purpose the following pages will attest.