IDAHO HISTORY: The radical Republican Tri-Weekly Statesman briefly had competition

SPECIAL TO THE STATESMANSeptember 29, 2013 

When James S. Reynolds began publishing the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman on July 26, 1864, the Civil War was in its last year. Reynolds was a Radical Republican in an Idaho Territory in which Democrats outnumbered Republicans two to one. Their sympathies were with the South, albeit a South they had left to look for gold and to avoid fighting in the war.

President Abraham Lincoln favored a generous post-war policy toward the Confederacy, now that it was all but certain that the bloody rebellion by the slave-holding states had been put down. He stated his views in his second inaugural address in these memorable words: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Many in his own party, however, were Radical Republicans like Reynolds who favored much harsher treatment of the defeated rebels. This led to an ongoing war of words between the Statesman and the Idaho World, the Democrat paper in Idaho City.

Things had calmed down considerably in Idaho Territory by 1870, although Democrats still held most elective offices and Republicans held those appointed by Republican presidents. When Reynolds heard in February that his paper might soon have political competition, his tone was conciliatory: “It is now pretty certain that we are to have a democratic paper in Boise City. Glad of it. There is no reason why democrats should not have a paper and support one in Boise City, and we know of no man in the democratic party we would prefer to see get that support than John McGonigle.”

That there was a kind of journalistic brotherhood among frontier editors, despite their political differences, is apparent from many examples reported in their newspapers. They could insult each other outrageously in print and have a friendly drink together next time they met. There were exceptions, of course — some editors really did hate each other. In the case of James Reynolds and John McGonigle, there seems to have been mutual respect. On March 10, 1870, Reynolds wrote: “John McGonigle, Esq. introduced his pleasant face in this office yesterday. He has just returned from Owyhee, and is wonderfully pleased with the encouragement he universally receives at the hands of the democrats on the establishment of a democratic paper in this valley.”

McGonigle started out with a semi-weekly edition of his Boise News, and briefly tried to match the Statesman with a tri-weekly edition. By August 1871, he had to cut back to a Boise Weekly News, by which time the rival editors were exchanging harsh words. Reynolds wrote on August 15th: “The News thinks the editor of the Statesman is better adapted to running a reaper than editing a newspaper. We don’t deny that, but will say that we have not yet made a failure of either. As to the editor of the News we think he is just about equally well adapted to editing a newspaper as to running a rot-gut gin mill, having failed at both.”

On September 14, 1871, the Statesman announced, with obvious relish, “Last Tuesday the News went into retirement in the cellar of Shepherd’s storage and auction house, where it will probably remain until some enterprising newspaper man, with a few thousands to squander, comes along and digs it up.”

A week later, with a suggestion of sympathy, the Statesman printed an item from California’s Humboldt Register, noting the failure of the Boise News: “McGonigle always turned out a spicy paper, deserving of a better fate. Democracy must be on the decline in Idaho.” Reynolds and his Radical Republican readers hoped that it was.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@mindspring.com.

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