Francis O.J. Smith
March 8, 1861
Francis O. J. Smith had made his money, now he wanted to make some news.
In fact, he wanted to make the news.
Smith had been a partner with Samuel F. B. Morse in developing the electric telegraph, and he saw the business potential in owning the telegraph wires throughout Maine. He also saw a connection in owning a newspaper as a means to provide the news and influence public affairs.
An attorney, a two-term Congressman and a former Maine legislator – including serving as Senate President – Smith purchased the Portland Advertiser daily newspaper on January 1, 1861. The Advertiser was one of three morning newspapers in Maine’s largest city and, until Smith, had largely been considered a Republican-leaning publication.
Smith, a Democrat, intended to change that.
Just prior to buying the Advertiser, Smith attended a civic meeting in Portland and was quoted in rival newspapers, the Whig and the Argus, asserting that "coercion should not be used toward the Seceding states," and that "slaves were recognized as property by the Constitution, and therefore, Congress was bound to protect slaveholders in their property wherever it might be."
After President Abraham Lincoln’s March 4 inaugural address, Smith’s Advertiser noted on March 8 that Lincoln had said that he would "enforce the laws and ignore the secession of any State…This declaration will soon bring our present controversy to an issue; we shall know whether the Federal government has sufficient vital and inherent power to sustain itself against domestic foes."
The determination, according to Smith, made the future choice simple. If the government lacked the power to sustain itself, "the sooner a new Confederation is formed, the better." And, if the government has the power, "the sooner the fact is proved the nearer will be the restoration of peace and harmony between the sections."
Smith and the country did not have to wait long.
Four weeks later, Fort Sumter was bombarded.
- Why would the newspaper be influential?
- What did Smith perceive about the telegraph business and owning a newspaper?
(Portland) Advertiser, March 8, 1861
He intends to enforce the laws and to ignore the session of any State from the Confederacy (that is, the Union). This declaration will soon bring our controversy to an issue; we shall know whether the federal government has sufficient vital and inherent power to sustain itself against domestic foes; if it has not, the sooner a new Confederation is formed the better; if it has, the sooner the fact is proved the nearer will be the restoration of peace and harmony between the sections.