Unfit to Print: The Practice of Press Censorship During the American Civil War

Lund, Stefan, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Varon, Elizabeth, University of Virginia

Unfit to Print asks how and why Americans in the Union engaged in press censorship during the American Civil War, and how the actions of those engaged in censorship impacted the course of the war and the freedom of newspapers to report and print the news during the conflict. Americans employed by federal and state governments engaged in a wide variety of censorious behavior, usually on their own initiative, in an effort to defend the Union war effort. The unsystematic and ad hoc nature of Union censorship efforts did not mean they were ineffective. Instead, they were a new iteration of an established and effective American System of censorship that had been practiced for years, primarily against abolitionists. The lack of a coordinated approach to press censorship meant that those who acted as censors often behaved as they saw fit and left the journalists and papers they curtailed with little recourse. By examining case studies from throughout the war, Unfit to Print highlights several methods Americans used to curtail, suppress, and disrupt the freedom of the press, and examines how conceptions of loyalty, civic duty, and Union motivated Americans to curb the rights of their countrymen in the name of the greater good.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
American Civil War, civil war, newspaper, censorship, press, abolition, telegraph, mob, union soldiers, 1864 election, lincoln, Abraham Lincoln
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