Abe Lincoln's Campaign Newspaper
R. J. Brown
In any election it is highly important that the candidate's name, image and platform be widely spread. Lacking the mass-media opportunities of today, though not the first, Abe Lincoln supporters issued two weekly newspapers expressly for the purpose of supporting their candidate. Sale of issues of the paper not only helped "get the word out," it also helped raise much-need money to run the campaign. Herein is background information on the two Lincoln campaign newspapers -- The Railsplitter.
In the presidential election year of 1860 Charles Leib, 63 Randolph Street, Upstairs, Chicago, Illinois, launched Volume 1, Number 1, (June 23, 1860) of The Rail Splitter In the introductory number Editor Leib stated on the editorial page that "we will earnestly advocate the principles of Republicanism because they are founded in right, and will give to the National, State, and County ticket, (when formed) a hearty support." The editor promised his readers "a warm and exciting campaign, in which there will be a great deal of crimination and recrimination."
The first issue was sent out to prospective Republican subscribers with the following sales promotional plea: "Every Republican who received this number of The Rail Splitter, if he has not already done so, will, we hope, send us his subscription, and interest himself in getting up a good club of subscribers. It will be a live paper, and will handle the slave driving Democracy without gloves. The terms of subscription are only fifty cents a copy during the campaign."
To encourage subscribers, a supplement to The Rail Splitter, in the form of a broadside, was published which featured four woodcut cartoons (three caricatured Stephen A. Douglas) that were to appear in future issues. A special appeal was made to Wide Awakes to subscribe. True to the publisher's promise, a cartoon was published in all but one of the eighteen issues. Of the seventeen cartoons published, fifteen ridiculed Douglas. One issue (No. 17) carried a drawing of the Republican Wigwam in Chicago.
Lincoln's formal portrait did not appear in the newspaper series. However, the portrait of Hannibal Hamlin, the vice presidential candidate and running mate of the "Rail Splitter" did appear in the October 13, 1860 (No. 17) issue.
On Monday, September 3, 1860, Charles Leib issued a large special edition of his newspaper called The Pictorial Rail Splitter using the same nameplate as the regular issue but without volume number or issue number. The four page newspaper measures 24 by 19 inches and is eight columns wide. Single copies were five cents and quantity lots could be had for $4 per hundred. This special number carried portraits of Lincoln and Hamlin, the Chicago Wigwam, and miscellaneous cartoons. No clue is found in this pictorial issue why the special number was published unless it was to gain new subscribers and to whip up a more intense fervor among Republicans and for the Lincoln-Hamlin ticket.
The pictorial issue did carry one article of unusual interest. A prediction was made that Lincoln would receive 179 electoral votes, Bell 58, Breckenridge 57 and Douglas 9. This was a fairly accurate prediction as Lincoln received 180 electoral votes, Breckenridge 72, Bell 39, and Douglas 12.
The file of the Chicago Rail Splitter ran to 18 issues and all appearing on Saturdays from June 23, 1860 to October 27, 1860. Each issue measures approximately 26 by 14 1/2 inches and contains four printed pages with six columns on each page.
The "Prospectus" of The Rail Splitter stated that the newspaper would "be continued weekly, until after the results of the Presidential Election shall be ascertained and announced in its columns." This promise was not fulfilled as no issue appeared on Saturday, November 3, 1860 and the results of the election held on Tuesday, November 6, were not reported in the issue dated Saturday, November 10. Perhaps as a device to influence the voter in the presidential contest this newspaper had served its purpose.
J.H. Jordan and J.B. McKeehan were the editors of the Cincinnati newspaper The Rail Splitter. Working entirely independent of the Chicago editor, this newspaper was published every Wednesday during the presidential campaign. It was to be a "PICTORIAL PAPER devoted to facts, arguments, and incidents, which will be of great service to the Republican cause throughout the United States. Each number of the RAIL SPLITTER will be ILLUSTRATED with ORIGINAL CUTS designed to take the 'starch' out of the 'Little Giant' and other Democratic 'Dough Faces,' and show them in their true colors."
With a conservatively drawn Lincoln nameplate this four page newspaper, 18 by 13 inches, was published from August 1, 1860 to October 27, 1860 in thirteen issues. Wednesday was the day of publication but the last number (No. 13, Vol. 1) dated October 27, 1860 appeared on Saturday.
Each number, except one, featured a cartoon with Douglas bearing the brunt of the ridicule. The newspaper was apparently financed by an "Association of Republicans" and single copies sold for fifty cents. Purchased in quantities of 25 or more and bundled to be shipped to one address, copies could be purchased for twenty-five cents.
The publishers of this Cincinnati newspaper hoped to achieve nationwide circulation thinking that their paper would be the only Republican pictorial in the United States. They hoped to publish many articles of Republican correspondents from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and New York. They also advertised for good "Republican political designs for illustrative purposes. However, The Rail Splitter never carried sufficient illustrations to merit the claim of being a pictorial newspaper.
The association of publishers unfurled their newspaper rather timidly and not until the fourth issue of August 22, 1860 did they reveal the names of Jordan and McKeehan as editors. Finally, in the seventh issue of September 12, 1860 the publishers' name was disclosed as Dory, Spring &c Co. This firm is not listed in the Cincinnati directory for 1860 but P. Dory, a bookseller at 60 W. 4th (upstairs) is listed and that address was given as the location of the newspaper business office.
The Cincinnati publishers, like those in Chicago, failed to provide a paper that "will be issued every Wednesday during the campaign, and the last number to contain the results of the election." The last issue, dated October 27, 1860, fell nine days short of election day and, thus, the subscribers were deprived of the final chapters of the "illustrated pictorial history" which the publishers had so faithfully promised.
While elaborate claims were made by both the Chicago and Cincinnati papers as to circulation, it is believed that these newspapers had a very limited distribution. Very few files or even single issues are found in research libraries.
It should be pointed out that in 1950 Ralph G. Newman published a facsimile of the complete file of the Cincinnati issues in an edition of 150 sets which were offered for sale by the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in Chicago, Illinois. When being offered any issue of the Cincinnati Rail Splitter take this into account to double check if it is an original or 1950 reprint.