The editor who tried to stop the Civil War

By Bill Kovarik

Baltimore editor Hezekiah Niles was a peacemaker who tried to avert the Civil War. Although his ideas were rejected by Southerners in the 1830s, they would become the basis of Atlanta editor Henry Grady’s famous “New South” program in the late 1880s. That program, in turn, because the basis of Atlanta editor Ralph McGill’s  “civil rights” news paradigm, which was (in the 1950s) a departure from the then-common “race war” approach.

Originally published as: “To Avoid the Coming Storm: Hezekiah Niles Weekly Register as a Voice of North-South Moderation, 1811 – 1836,” American Journalism, Summer, 1992.

Niles the Peacemaker

We know a great deal about the many people and forces pulling the nation apart in the decades before the Civil War; but more attention is certainly due those who searched, as did Baltimore magazine editor Hezekiah Niles, for ways to “avoid the coming storm.”

As the editor of Niles Weekly Register, Hezekiah Niles was among the most influential journalists of the 1820s and early ’30s. While he has been profiled as a figure of national importance in both journalism and economics, scholars have not examined his attempt to use his nationally circulated magazine to mediate the North-South crisis during its critical formative stages.This article shows how Niles attempted to mediate the national dialogue through the Register, explicitly writing “for” Southerners by using the Register to present a multi-faceted plan for changing the plantation economy.

In hundreds of editorials and in his selection of thousands of factual news items, Niles envisioned the South with a strong middle class, diversified agriculture, protection for new manufacturing, and universal education of African Americans leading towards eventual emancipation.

This program was an extension of the “American System” supported by Niles and two other prominent figures of the era, Kentucky Sen. Henry Clay and economist Mathew Carey, and later carried on as the “activist government” thread by Abraham Lincoln, the Republican Progressive movement of 1900 – 1912, and picked up by Democrats Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson.

Public dialogue and private convictions

There is a contrast between Niles published editorials and his private correspondence. The sometimes striking difference between public dialogue and private conviction shows Niles to be pragmatic in an attempt to build the public spirit of compromise that might avoid civil war, which he began to fear as early as 1820.While Niles was admired in the North, his views were rejected in the South. His diplomatic language and search for compromise seem admirable in retrospect, but at the time many Southerners ridiculed him. South Carolina and Georgia editors labelled him the “great enemy of the South” and an “orang-outang” with a “monkey system.” Mobs of Southerners found in Niles a convenient effigy to hang or tar and feather during the clamor over the “tariff of abominations” of 1828 and the nullification crisis of 1833.

Niles’ ideas on the South are interesting today in that understanding alternatives and “roads not taken” helps broaden the contextual understanding of history. But his ideas are also important since the central concepts of the American System would be revived 60 years later, when Progressives led by Henry Grady advocated a “New South.” Today, Niles can be appreciated for his insights into the eventual transformation of the South from a slave system to a free economy.

Background: Niles Weekly Register as a resource for historians

Niles Weekly Register was the prototype of a modern news magazine, conceived with a broad view of the mission of the press and the publication’s future value to historians. Noted historians such as Frederick Jackson Turner, Albert Beveredge and Frederick Hudson have put it in a class by itself as a valuable part of the historic record. Footnote 1. Thomas Jefferson called it a “valuable repository of facts and documents.” 2

Two hundred years after the first issues of the Register rolled off a flatbed press in Baltimore, most editions are accessible in their original form in many public libraries, carefully bound by volume and indexed by topic. The pages are made of rag paper, which has preserved the Register as Niles intended. Generally sixteen pages a week, it contained no advertising; readers got more news from the book-sized magazine than from most broadsheet dailies of the era.News items were incisive, frequently humorous and always compelling, and Niles’ concept of news took in the broad scope of human life. The Register kept close track of economics, technology, science, medicine, geography, archaeology, the weather, and stories of human interest, such as a dog who rescued another dog from a river or the case of a blind woman restored to sight.

Niles printed many items about ballooning and predicted that someday man would build machines to fly, although he doubted that steam engines could propel them. Balloon and steam engine disasters were not ignored; early accounts were short on facts and long on adjectives, but between 1816 and 1820, Niles would begin stressing facts over emotions. 3The Register also reproduced historical documents, not for their news value, but rather to preserve and circulate them. These included a memoir by Daniel Boone about the opening of the Kentucky frontier, a 1791 report on manufacturing by Alexander Hamilton, and an 1808 Treasury Department report on roads, canals and public works known as “internal improvements.” The documents, the wide variety of guest essays and the carefully reported facts from many walks of life give the Register an intrinsic historical value. 4

The Baltimore Editor

Hezekiah Niles combined the influences of a Quaker upbringing, a merchant’s pragmatism, a revolutionary’s idealism and a politician’s love of close debate. He was born in 1777 in Chester County, Pennsylvania as his mother fled from Wilmington, Delaware just ahead of the British army. Although his family were Quakers, his father quit the church to fight in the Revolutionary army (and later rejoined the church).

Niles’ family moved back to Wilmington, and Niles studied in a Quaker school. The influence would later tell in his personal hatred of slavery and his distress over the need for moderation in the face of what he saw as evil.When he was 12 years old, as Niles later told the story, his father took him to see a procession in Wilmington of men who were dressed entirely in American-made clothes. The point of the procession, said his father, was that American manufactures would help “render the country independent.” 5 The widespread sentiment toward economic independence as the next step in the American Revolution deeply influenced Niles, fueling his later quest for protection for American manufacturers. 6

Niles was apprenticed to a Philadelphia printer at age 17 and gained a reputation as fast, accurate typesetter. He frequently took advantage of Philadelphia’s position as the nation’s capitol to listen to debates at the House of Representatives. He also wrote several items for the Jeffersonian Aurora, especially on the Jay treaty, believing that the Federalists had been too easy with the British. 7Along with his father’s soldierly hatred of the British, Niles had inherited another reason for Anglophobia. As he noted in at least six instances in the Register, his mother, while pregnant with him in 1777, narrowly escaped death at the hands of a bayonet-wielding British grenadier who proposed “to kill two rebels at once…” 8 His Anglophobia was significant because in later years he was suspicious of British motives in attempts to stop the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In addition, he deeply feared British intervention on behalf of the South in a civil war.

By 1799, Niles started a printing business in Wilmington, Delaware with a partner, but by 1801 the business went bankrupt. He served as a local politician for several years and by 1805 he began a weekly magazine called the Apollo. Like the Register, it contained no advertising; unlike the Register, it avoided political or religious controversy. It failed that same year. Niles moved to Baltimore in 1805 to become editor of the Evening Post, a mediocre daily broadsheet closely tied to the Democratic-Republican party. Niles used the 1805-1811 period to develop as a writer, to learn more about national affairs and to earn money to pay old debts. 9

In June 1811 Niles sold the Evening Post and issued a prospectus for the Register. Before the first issue left the press the magazine had 1,500 subscribers. Circulation grew to about 4,000 and leveled off there for 25 years. It was perhaps the most widely circulated magazine of the era.10 Niles never took a vacation from the Register, and finished 50 volumes in 25 years without a break. He was sick when he retired in 1836, at the end of volume 50, and died three years later. His son took over as editor for a few years, but sold the Register soon after Niles died in 1839. The publication struggled on until 1849, without strong editorial leadership and against the tide of competition from the penny press.

Assessing Hezekiah Niles

Niles is a fascinating editor who tried most of all to give an accurate picture of “The Past, The Present, For the Future,” as the motto of the Register said each week. He is known as a forerunner of objectivity, an anomaly in the bitterly partisan press of the era. 11 He was “a man with a sterling reputation”12 and his Register has been called “the most important newspaper of the era.”13 Surprisingly, only one journalism historian, Norval Luxon in a 1947 dissertation, has written about Niles in depth.Historian Albert J. Beveredge said Niles “was the prototype of Horace Greeley,” and that the Register had “much the same hold on its readers that the Tribune had 30 years later.”14 Ida Tarbell, in Tariff in our Times, quoted Horace Greeley as saying he “sat at the feet of Niles …” 15 His national reputation even led settlers in Ohio and Michigan to name towns for him.

Niles had a unique reputation for unswerving accuracy and fairness. In one major dispute, his opponents questioned the accuracy of Niles’ reporting of an 1816 Parliamentary speech concerning England’s desire to keep America economically dependent. Historians later checked the speech against Parliamentary records and found it was correctly transcribed. 16Fairness played a large part in his code of conduct as well. “He was the most magnanimous of disputants, incapable of garbling the language of his opponents in the smallest degree,” said historian Edward Stanwood. “In selecting speeches to illustrate debates, he invariably chose for insertion in the Register the strongest on each side, and he made it a point to give an equal number of them, or at least an equal space, to friends and opponents. His guileless frankness, conspicuous fairness … added immensely to the weight of his opinions on public questions.” 17

As an editorialist, Niles employed tactics of firm but friendly reasoning against Philistine prejudice in many areas, usually taking pains to seek the middle ground. Science occupied his attention early on. “Some very learned men have suspected,” Niles said in 1812, “that comets were occasionally made the angry messengers of our Divine Father to teach his unbelieving children.” But humans cannot know divine will, he said. “The proper study of mankind is man.” 18 Similarly, in 1816 he argued against a superstitious view of the severely cold summer, which was not then known to have been caused by a Pacific volcano flinging ash into the atmosphere. “One class of philosophers calls every extraordinary appearance a judgement or a sign; another class views everything as the working of matter and motion. These two sets are at war with each other. The one denounces the other as superstitious or atheistical.” 19 Clearly, Niles had a talent for diplomatic debate; but the talent would be stretched beyond its limit in his search for alternatives to an impending civil war.

PART II: Winning Economic Independence

Tariffs and the Agrarian South

Around 1816, as peace treaties were signed between Britain and the US, as well as many countries in Europe, intense international trade competition sprang up. American factories, which had been built quickly in a trade vacuum during the war years, were suddenly overwhelmed by competition with cheap British goods. Many went bankrupt, and the survivors clamored for relief. Tariffs to raise the price of cheap British goods were the answer, according to the manufacturers. But many people doubted not only the efficacy of tariffs but also the wisdom of supporting manufacturing over agriculture. Should the government help factories get started? Would that violate the basic agrarian values were at the heart of American revolutionary philosophy?This classical American dichotomy was represented, in the 1780s and ’90s, by Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.

Jefferson’s 1785 Notes on Virginia extolled the concept of the yeoman farmer as the backbone of democracy. With regard to the tariff, the Jeffersonian creed of the era was clear: “The work shops of Europe are the most proper to furnish the supplies of manufactures in the United States.” Jefferson detested the huge, dirty European factories and considered them sores on the body politic. In 1791, on the other hand, Federalists led by Alexander Hamilton called for tariffs and tax incentives to help manufacturing.20.The political situation was entirely reversed by 1816. The Federalists, now the party of New England merchants, advocated free trade and scorned tariffs. Democratic Republicans begin seeing tariffs as a way to help start manufacturing for the Middle Atlantic states. James W. Carey notes that a view began to crystallize in this era of a distinctly American industry, cleaner, more moral and more humane than the sweat shops of Europe. 21

Around this time, ex-president Jefferson, while still upholding the agrarian vision of America, began to see wisdom in economic independence. To show this important shift in views, Niles reprinted an April, 1816 letter to the Boston Chronicle in which Jefferson noted recent problems between the U.S., the British and the Barbary Pirates as a reason for economic independence. But Jefferson’s views and the need to pay the large war deficit boosted support for a moderately protective tariff, which Congress passed in 1816:

We must now place the manufacturer beside the agriculturalist… The grand inquiry now is, shall we manufacture our own comforts, or go without them at the will of a foreign nation. He, therefore, who is now against domestic manufacturers must be for reducing us to dependence on that nation, or to be clothed in skins and live like wild beasts in dens and caverns. I am proud to say I am not one of these….”A year later, Niles reprinted a similar letter from Jefferson:”I was once a doubter whether the labor of the cultivator, aided by the creative powers of the earth itself, would not produce more than that of the manufacturer alone, and unassisted by the dead subject on which he acted … But the invention of the latter times, by labor saving machines, do as much now for the manufacturer as the earth does for the cultivator… I much fear the effect on our infant establishments of the policy [of no tariffs] … British commerce and manufacturing will gain by beating down the competition of ours in our own markets.” (Thomas Jefferson – Register 10:98, April 13, 1816)

Despite Jefferson’s letters, Southerners continued to defend an exclusive agrarian ideal. Although the first reaction to the tariff of 1816 was muted, tariff proposals of the 1820s and ’30s elicited wild outrage.In outline, the argument ran something like this: Many Southerners believed nothing could be manufactured in the plantation system, and they feared a diversion of capital to Northern factories. The competition between two economic systems and ideals has often been cast by Southerners as that between, on the one hand, an independent yeomanry of farmers and small shopkeepers and, on the other, a commercial and financial oligarchy. Slavery, according to this view, provided a pretext for an imperial conquest of the South in the Civil War. 22 The view was championed by the Southern Agrarian literary movement in the 1930s and is not uncommon to this day.

Niles, on the other hand, championed the Northern view that the free, middle class people of the Mid-Atlantic and Northern states, where the majority of the population preferred to settle, should be the ones to set trade and industrial policy for the new nation — and not a minority of plantation owners. Niles tried to find a middle ground by explaining that while it was in the interests of the Northern majority to build manufacturing, this would not hurt farmers or Southern interests. Once established in a home market, Niles argued, American goods would be just as cheap as imports had been before a tariff. One section’s prosperity would not be a threat to another, he argued. Indeed, the South could prosper as easily as the North by building factories and roads and schools. If it chose not to change, then at least it should not hold back the rest of the country. 23

Niles could not allow the South to retain unchallenged the moral high ground of a virtuous agrarian society. He frequently used examples of the social value of manufacturing that were typical of the early techno-utopian idealists. In one very early essay, the argument was used that the government should invest in manufacturing because it leaves men free for national defense. 24 Since most factory workers were women and children, Niles said later, they added value to the economy and did not divert labor from agriculture.25 By the 1820s, Francis Lowell’s social experiment at a Massachusetts textile mill added to the moral arguments for manufacturing. The mill owners contended that the work fostered discipline and moral management for young women by requiring them to do repetitive tasks. 26 Niles supported this view, commented that only a few years before, these young women had been “running through the woods nearly as wild and ignorant as Indians, with uncombed locks and clothing in rags.”27

“Quieting Foreign Intrigues”

The War of 1812 had given “new direction to wealth and industry in the U.S., and manufacturers grew up as if by magic,” Niles noted in 1816. In support of a proposed new tariff, he said: “We must creep before we can walk. Protect the manufacturers for the present, and in a little time, they will protect themselves and us.” They had the potential, he said, of “releasing us from our dependence on foreigners and quieting their intrigues.”28It was the British who were most to blame for America’s economic ills, Niles felt. One important document which added weight to the protectionist cause in the U.S. was a speech by British Member of Parliament Henry Brougham. “… it was well worth while to incur a loss upon the first exportation in order by the glut to stifle in the cradle those rising manufacturers in the U.S. which the war had forced into existence contrary to the usual course of things.” In other words, the British were dumping goods in the express hope of ruining American businesses. 29By 1819, the British “dumping” which Brougham praised cost 150,000 American jobs and a total of $31 million, Niles calculated.30 Even worse, American cloth was getting a bad reputation because the British had been sending “miserably bad” cloth to the market mislabelled as made in America. 31What Niles and other protectionists wanted was reciprocity, at least. They noted that while the door was open to free trade in cotton, British duties on wheat and other crops of the Mid-Atlantic and Ohio Valley effectively cut those areas off. 32

The British relationship with the South was deeply troubling to Niles. He warned that the British “would encourage civil war” if given half a chance, and he reminded Southerners that one of the reasons South Carolina patriot William Drayton pushed for revolution in 1776 was the British laws forbidding some types of manufacturing in the colonies.33Southerner farmers disagreed with this interpretation of history, and saw the American Revolution as a victory over privilege and monopoly. An early resolution from the Fredericksburg (Va.) Agricultural Society (printed in the Register) laid out the points of opposition to tariffs. The resolution quoted Benjamin Franklin, who said that most regulation of trade was “by artful men for private advantage under the pretense of public good.” It continued: The tariff is a tax “to be levied principally on the great body of agriculturalists who constitute a large majority of the American people and who are the chief consumers of foreign imports… Instead of struggling against the dictates of reason and nature, and madly trying to produce everything at home, countries should study to direct their labors …[to things for which] they are best adapted. … We ask no tax on manufacturers for our benefit.” 34

Niles responded diplomatically: “If manufacturers are to be protected at the cost of agriculture, we say let them remain unprotected. Our best affections are with the tillers of the soil. But believing it advantageous to all the agriculturalists in the U.S. … We must dissent from the opinions of those gentlemen of Virginia…”In any event, the philosophy of agriculture itself was changing, becoming systematized and mechanized, Niles suggested in a separate editorial. “Men of virtue and talents … [were] bringing science to the aid [of agriculture] and introducing method and management to the dull monotony of a farmers life…” 35 This idea was well ahead of its time, and is usually linked to mechanization of farm equipment in the 1830s and ’40s. 36

Niles used dozens of occasions to make his point that tariffs would help the American economy. Paper makers, he noted in one editorial, could produce paper of the same price and quality as European, but with competition from cut-rate imports “there is a depressing effect of a small surplus on the price of the entire commodity.” 37But by 1820, Southerners were united in opposition to a new protective tariff bill, and Niles recorded the defeat of the 1820 tariff in the Register. He waited two months to write an editorial in which he noted that some of the rates may have been too high, and that perhaps a gradual approach would be wiser next time. 38 Privately, he was seething. “Your bill has indeed been butchered … ” he wrote his friend Congressman William Darlington. “I fear that I shall become disgusted. ” 39 A few days later he wrote Darlington again: “I begin to despair of the republic and look to a thing which I always shrink from, as an event that cannot be avoided. The thought is dreadful.” The “thing” to which he referred was civil war.

In the fall of 1820, the question of whether to admit Missouri as a slave state was paramount. Niles believed there was “no doubt as to the right of Congress to prohibit … slaves in the territories,” but also said: “We would adhere to the bond of union at almost any sacrifice.” 40 Niles eventually agreed that the Missouri compromise was necessary “for the unity of the Republic.” 41 Again, privately, Niles expressed deep fears. A compromise over the Missouri affair would be necessary until the 1820 and 1830 census gave Northern states the ascendency, he wrote. A recognition of the Missouri constitution would “compromise with both parties and avoid the coming storm.” 42A year later, in a letter to his friend Philadelphia economist Mathew Carey, Niles was even more pessimistic. “I am rather discouraged, but frightened not. The Southern influence rules, and that is hostile to free white labor. It is great in its means, indefatigable in its exertions and united. It must be put down, or in my honest opinion, the country will literally be beggared.” 43


Niles and Thomas Ritchie

Congressional debates over the tariff and the Missouri compromise sparked an extensive public dialogue between Northern and Southern newspaper editors over issues which would be in play for the next half a century — Infrastructure, equity, population distribution and representation, and most of all, slavery.Editors applauded and denounced each other with the fervor of revivalists, thundering back and forth through issues of their newspapers, issuing personal rejoinders as if they were writing private correspondence. The Register during this period was full of arguments between editors; Niles took pains to print both sides and keep the debate amicable.Niles’ dialogue with Thomas Ritchie, publisher of the Richmond Enquirer, was perhaps the most voluminous public correspondence, and the two editors loved to catch each other in contradictions. Niles also used the occasions to boost his ideas of alternatives for the South.

In June of 1820, Niles reprinted an article from the Enquirer where Ritchie evoked a theme frequently heard in the South today: “Let us alone,” he said, congratulating Congress on stopping the tariff bill of 1820. “Government is at best a rude, unwieldy and bungling machine; it is an evil, although a necessary evil…” Niles responded that Ritchie’s article “presents a beautiful contrast with the facts.” He said the tariff would not hurt the South, and claimed that U.S. manufacturers made less money than it cost to keep the U.S. fleet in the Mediterranean. 44In November of the same year, Niles and Ritchie accused each other of flogging the dead issue of the Missouri compromise. Niles once again warned against civil war: “Shall we open the door to what may become the foulest proscription: state against state?” 45

Niles and Ritchie also exchanged polite barbs over internal improvements. “It is our (Virginia’s) public works that Mr. Niles sees to be most at fault. He asks, where are our schools, our canals, etc.? He seems to be ignorant that … we have solid funds appropriated for these purposes.” Niles responded with hard facts: Maryland, with a fraction of the population, spent $25 million for schools in 1820, while Virginia spent only $45 million. “Virginia might rightfully aspire to lead in whatever improves a country or benefits a free people,” Niles said, adding that Virginia of all states had his “first love.” But Virginia’s slide from pre-eminence, he said, was “from the errors of her legislation.” 46After Congress passed the tariff of 1824, a Ritchie editorial said that the law plundered planters for the benefit of manufacturers.

Niles challenged Ritchie to name one article whose price had gone up because of the tariff. He noted that other predicted impacts had not taken place: revenues to the government had not gone down, and trade had not diminished, because of the tariff.At one point, Ritchie asked, why not build factories in the South and take advantage of the new tariff? Exactly, Niles encouraged. “Establish factories [in the South] and enjoy [their] bounties.”47 When a large cotton mill was built in Petersburg, Va. in 1827, Niles’ delivered a strong warning about civil war veiled in thick rhetoric :[Projects like the cotton mill] “speak a language to our Southern brethren that would put down many declamations against the tariff in causing people to see what that law has produced, and not permit their reason to be led captive by political aspirants or persons rendered unwise because of apprehended loss of power, by which they weaken themselves and hasten that which they so much fear.” 48But Niles also used pointed humor.

When the Enquirer reported copper, tin and zinc mines discovered in Western Virginia, he said: “Though they may be worked to great advantage, will it not be better that we should receive all such articles from abroad lest the possessors of the mines may become ‘monopolists’ and the people … turned into manufacturers?” 49In the same issue, he went directly to the point: “Virginia was at the head of this [U.S.] confederacy,” Niles said, “and if her natural advantages had been improved, and if she had encouraged free labor … she might still have held, if not the first, perhaps the second rank among states. And she will yet have to give way to other new states if her essay makers [meaning Ritchie] … shall cause a perseverance in her present system of policies.” “The system is supported,” Niles said in a memorable barb, “with something of the sort of feeling which leads a man to hold on to a bottle.” 50

Slavery and a lack of internal improvements had indeed had been a root cause of trouble for Virginia, according to an anonymous Enquirer article some years earlier reprinted in the Register. In “The Effects of Slavery,” the author admitted that slavery was “unfavorable to [Virginia’s] speedy advancement in those political and internal improvements which have elevated some of our Northern states to a pitch of enviable eminence. There can be no doubt that slavery, that inert mass of our population, is the one great cause of all our misfortunes… Slavery, even in its mildest forms, is a kind of civil warfare.” The anonymous author, possibly Ritchie, suggested setting a firm date for emancipation which could be as as distant as January 1, 2000. 51In May of 1826, Niles winged another good-humored barb at Ritchie. Under the headline of “Terrible Crisis,” he noted that a ship’s cargo of American made cloth was being exported to Mexico. “On account of the ‘abominable tariff,’ we furnish coarse cotton goods far cheaper than the British… As my friend from the Richmond Enquirer has not found a crisis for the last two months… he will no doubt feel obliged.” 52

Dialogue with other editors and writers

Niles kept tabs on many other Southern publications and frequently reprinted minor but telling items in his efforts to keep track of “the coming storm.” For example, he noted without comment the South Carolina legislature’s resolution on the tariff bill of 1820: The bill, said the legislature, was “a wretched expedient to repair the losses in some commercial districts [caused by] speculation… and to make the most important interests of the country subservient to the most inconsiderable.” 53When Georgians wanted some of Florida’s territory in 1821, Niles reprinted an item from the Georgia Chronicle warning against it because “In the present struggle for sectional preponderance” every bit of influence is needed, and Florida could provide two more senate seats for the South. 54 The same week Niles even took note of a toast, made at a private party in Charleston, to “the firm union of the South.” Hinting at treason, he said any good citizen would have turned his glass upside down as surely as if a toast to “the nation of New England” had been proposed. 55Niles followed events in Charleston closely, and when the Charleston Patriot noted that a canal from Charleston to Columbia, S.C. would “make [the town] a place of commercial importance equal to New York,” Niles added the comment that he “was not prepared to admit the reasonableness of this speculation … [but] We are glad to see the effect of internal improvement anywhere and everywhere.” 56

Niles also took noted that a Patriot letter writer worried about a decline in the population of South Carolina and advocated canal building. “We must be aware that not only our political existence, but also our individual existence, and certainly all the prosperity in the lower part of the state depends on equalling or surpassing if possible the exertions now made in the Northern and Middle states … We were fully awakened to the dangers [by the] Missouri question, and it is our duty to ourselves and our future posterity to exert all our energy to ward off such a state of things.” Niles comment was simple: “The dearest interests [of the Southern states] are involved in the adoption of measures for the support and encouragement of free laboring whites.” 57

In another revealing exchange, Niles tried to show how both sides could rise above partisanship. A “distinguished gentleman from Charleston,” wrote Niles to disagree on the need for a tariff but conceded that the nation might have an interest in establishing some particular types of manufacturing. Niles said he and the writer were “in perfect accord,” and that proponents of protection “do not require any sacrifices.” Niles also pointed to the tariff on sugar. “Look at this seriously,” he asked. Louisiana, with very little population, with one crop raised by only a few individuals, got tariff protection to the tune of $1.2 million a year. “The wildest enthusiasts in support of manufacturing never dreamed of such a high degree of protection,” he said. He supported the sugar tariff — not as a way to protect planters, but rather “as a means of advancing the prosperity of the United States.” 58One only has to open a copy of the Register to find examples of Niles conciliatory and moderate tone on the tariff question in the 1820 – 1828 period. Northern states seek a home market, Niles said, while Southern states have a foreign one. “But a home market for the former will not in the least degree affect the foreign demand for the product of the latter.”

In another conciliatory statement, he said: “I do not wish to press this subject to its full extent, and I pray to Heaven there may never be a necessity for it, for I would that the United States should be preserved.” 59Noting that a Southern editor had once called him “the great enemy of the South,” Niles said he did not believe he would be remembered that way once Southern planters realized that the American System was as much in their interests as the manufacturers .60 Niles persisted despite increasing cancellations of Southern subscriptions. He wrote Darlington: “There is a violent getting up about that matter that rivals days long past & which I hoped would never return.” 61 He also wrote to Gideon Welles on Dec. 3, 1827, that his thoughts “will give fresh vigor to persecution from the South that is seemingly not willing to stop short of extermination…I will not make any compromise.. ” 62

The Balance of Conscience: Moderation and Slavery

As a Quaker, Hezekiah Niles grew up hating slavery. Luxon notes that Niles had been a member of an abolitionist society in 1803, but had not maintained his membership. 63 Even so, throughout his life he was repulsed by the “peculiar institution.” In a private letter Jan., 1820 to Congressman Darlington Niles said that the Missouri issue was that of the “white freeman” versus the “slave holder… Perhaps a safe compromise may be affected. Yet tis bad to compromise with him.” 64 And in 1830, Niles privately wrote that the conflict between North and South “is the battle of Americans against the holders of slaves.” 65Despite his private feelings, his Register editorials recognized the danger of extremism. “Slavery is more easily reasoned against than removed, however sincerely and honestly desired,” he wrote in 1816. 66

He frequently confessed to his readers his own dilemma reconciling the rights and safety of the master and the slave. In one series of articles, he proposed a three-point plan of gradual emancipation, movement to the North, and checks on the black population. 67 While Niles did not suggest integration, he did believe that black families isolated in white communities would become white over a period of years. 68Niles believed that new thinking would have to be applied to the problem. Economics and population growth statistics showed that colonies of freed slaves in Liberia and the Caribbean could not be the answer, he argued. He tried to be a model of compromise and conciliation.”If it can be shown that it is in the interest of the master to treat his slave kindly and bring his mind to act as well as his person, those unfortunate beings may be prepared for a much better period than they are in now, though the period of their entire emancipation may be very distant,” he wrote. 69 This kind of program contrasted radically with the abolitionist call for immediate and total emancipation, and Niles was denounced by abolitionists.

Niles used several tactics to placate Southerners and draw them into his perspective. One tactic was a diversionary focus to the related issue of the slave trade. Every volume of the Register between 1817 and 1835 contained dozens of factual items on the horrors of the slave trade, but almost none of the stories involved ill treatment at the hands of slave owners despite the abundance of such news material.”There is an immense difference between those who hold slaves, and such as [those who] introduce them from Africa,” he said. In a footnote, Niles said he made this remark “because I have seen some observations on this subject which I consider as exceedingly ungenerous and unjust — calculated to do harm rather than to answer any good purpose to the cause of emancipation.”70

Of the horrors of the slave trade, one typical example among hundreds given was that of a British ship which captured a slave trader off the coast of Africa. In the hold the British found 34 women in a box nine feet long, five feet wide and three feet high and 37 men in a hold only slightly bigger. Each had about four cubic feet of space. 71Items abounded in the Register on the widespread sickness, high death rates and even the deliberate drowning of sick and injured slaves before ships reached market.72 The Register also carried stories about the cruelty and butchery going on in Africa, such as one tale from Botswana of the killing of thousands of villagers so their children could be taken to the slave ships. 73 Another illustration of the horror of the slave trade was an item under the headline: “Liberation!””A miserable black man, brought from one of the lower counties of Maryland to Baltimore and sold to a dealer in human flesh for transportation, cut his own throat and died at the moment he was to be delivered over to the blood merchant, through his agent, a peace officer!” 74

Niles once castigated the Telescope of Columbia, S.C. for its defense of the slave trade. “Everyone who was believed to traffic in a certain biped lately gone so much in request in the South has seemingly gone to the d—l [sic] even in this world, before his time.”And yet, typical of Niles’ reticence in offending moderate Southerners, harsh items about domestic slavery were not common in the 1820s. For example, Niles printed an item on the Charleston city council’s decision to enforce laws against teaching slaves to read without any comment. 75 He also noted slaves escaping from Louisiana to Texas (then part of Mexico) were “fortunately captured.” 76An important test of Niles’ diplomacy and a strain on his sense of fairness involved the Denmark Vessey plot, which rocked Charleston in the summer of 1822 and is remembered there to this day. In early dispatches, Niles reported three factual items concerning the discovery of a plot and the hanging of six black conspirators.

A few weeks later, in September, Niles ran without comment a full statement on the plot from the governor of South Carolina as well as a speech by the judge sentencing “Gullah Jack,” one of Vessey’s alleged conspirators. The tone of both is virtually hysterical. “All the powers of darkness cannot rescue you from your coming fate,” the judge told Gullah Jack. Of Denmark Vessey, the governor said: “His artful and insidious delusions were kept in perpetual exercise … Seditious pamphlets [and] speeches of oppositionists in Congress gave serious and imposing effect to his machinations.” 77

A week later, Niles disclosed his own carefully measured views in editorial: “Unpleasant as the fact may appear, we must admit that slaves have a natural right to obtain their liberty if they can.” He compared the plight of the slaves to American heros of Tripoli who, had they been able to acquire their liberty even “by conflagration of the city and slaughter of every one who opposed them … we would say they had covered themselves in glory.” While Niles could not approve of the violence apparently plotted by the slaves, neither could he approve of the violence inherent in the system of slavery. 78In order to help people envision the positive side of liberation for slaves, Niles frequently used a diverting tactic of referring to emancipation in Latin America: “One great good will at least grow out of the revolutions in Mexico and Columbia, for slavery is abolished in all of them, and, after a few years, the road to honor and respectability and wealth being open to all, distinctions on account of color will be lost, and the whole mass of society will have a common interest and feeling.” 79

A few years later, he asked: “Why is the liberation of this small portion of people so much reprobated? Their color, if it is that which offends, will soon be dissipated in the mass of population.” 80The diversion to related issues and the appearance of moderation were attempts to preserve a margin of credibility among Southern moderates. One reason Niles was reluctant to publish his own ideas was his increasing fear of British interference.Originally, in 1818, Niles said the world should be grateful for the way Britain had moved against the slave trade, whatever the motives. But after the Missouri debates, when he realized the possibility of civil war in America, Niles warned that Britain had ulterior motives. “It is not in the character of that government to spare human life or lessen human miser,” he wrote. The real reason they suppressed the slave trade was to maintain the sugar plantation monopoly in the West Indies. 81.

A year later, he said of British efforts against slavery: “All this is as nothing. The British have 120 millions of slaves in Asia alone. White, brown, or black — all is the same to them, if profit is made by the proceeding… I believe the whole secret [of stopping] the African slave trade was a regard for the price of sugar and the support of the West India colonies, well stocked with this miserable class [of slaves].” 82Niles maintained some hope of persuading the South to change its peculiar system. For example, in 1828, he noted that slave labor was being used in cotton manufacturing plants in Georgia and South Carolina, and manufacturing was “as profitable in the South [as] the North.” He observed: “If individuals and enterprises are properly directed in new establishments, they will greatly tend to do away with the prejudice of the South, let the motives which prompted their erection be what they may.” 83He also hoped the South would realize how great an albatross slavery had become.”The checks to population in the slave states are more severe than any which [Rev. Thomas] Malthus thought of. Free white labor is not honored. The education of the poor is neglected. A desire to excel is not stimulated. Manufacturing establishments are not encouraged. The mechanical class is degraded. And internal improvements is — ‘Let Alone.’ [A reference to Ritchie’s plea to be “let alone,” noted above]. Hence the productive classes, the bone and the sinew of every country, have but a small rate of increase. They reject labor by the side of slaves, and seek new homes where the owner of the soil also guides a plough, or holds a spade.”84


Niles and the “Tariff of Abominations”

By 1828, divisive sectional issues came to a head around the tariff debate. Middle Atlantic and Western protectionists, including Niles, insisted on strengthening the weak 1824 tariff (which already imposed 20 to 25 percent duties) arguing that even higher duties on foreign imports would complete the nation’s independence from Britain and allow young industries to grow. The South saw no reason to distance itself from Britain, which remained its major export market and source of imports. Southerners argued that a strong tariff would be a direct tax on the South. 85 The bill that passed in May, 1828 boosted tariffs to an average of 45 percent, and was labelled by Southerners the “tariff of abominations.”An important feature of the crisis, in one economic historian’s view, was the outpouring of literature on protectionism, especially by Niles and his friend Mathew Carey, who were “leaders in a propaganda unlike any other in our history.” According to the historian, Edward Stanwood, “Free traders did not begin their ‘campaign of education’ until it was too late to prevent tariff of 1828… [Free trade papers] had no more than local influence. Even the National Intelligencer and the NY Evening Post had far less power than Niles Weekly Register and Carey’s pamphlets.” 86Niles continued to be diplomatic in the Register while privately seething with anxiety. For example, the main thrust of an editorial just before the tariff passed was that the South was intent on protecting slave labor while ignoring the needs of free laborers in the North. 87 But as he wrote to Congressman Darlington, their opponents were “dirty men [with] dirty deeds to fulfill the bargain… I am almost getting out of patience with human nature — but must take my part in one other battle. The American System depends on its issue, and my anxiety is almost intolerable.” 88Niles played a role beyond that of an editor in lobbying for the “tariff of abominations.”

He wrote to Sen. Henry Clay that circumstances “have made me a prominent man in this matter, and I shall have to take a large share in the battle that is to be fought. It is expected of me– and I cannot disappoint my friends.” 89 Historian Phillip Schmidt believes this shows Niles deriving “a great deal of ego gratification” and that he overrated his own influence.90 But this view does not take into account Stanwood’s view of the unprecedented nature of Niles propaganda campaign; or the fact that Niles prominently participated in a variety of industry committees aimed at promoting protection which did expect him to fulfill his promise to be very much involved; or the possibility that as an editor he may well have been reluctant to actually lobby Congress.

One of the abiding controversies surrounding the “tariff of abominations,” and an insight into Niles’ vantage point of a Congressional observer, involves the way political interests lined up with various purposes before the bill passed. Niles said he was “pretty familiar with what might be called the private history” of the tariff bill, and had “no hesitation in saying that its passage was owing to the acts of some who had resolved to defeat the entire project.” 91 As he saw it, Southerners in Congress had stumbled into a legislative trap of their own design; they had created a bill in committee which they thought would be unacceptable to New England and all but the most ardent protectionists. But the bill “unexpectedly” passed. 92 “They became entangled in the meshes of their own nets. May such ever be the fate of left handed legislation.” 93

Two other versions of the machinations behind the passage of the “tariff of abominations” are given credit by historians. In one, Northern factions, who were led by Martin Van Buren and who favored Andrew Jackson for president in 1828, introduced a tariff bill so strong it would not be acceptable, especially to New Englanders with a major interest in trans-Atlantic shipping. The bill would be defeated. They could then hold the anti-tariff South in the Jackson camp and win the pro-tariff West by making it appear that Jackson forces had at least tried. Van Buren made the best of it, according to this interpretation, portraying Jackson to Westerners as their benefactor and to Southerners as their champion who had been betrayed by the wickedness of John Quincy Adams’ administration men in Congress. 94

According to the second version, Van Buren intended all along that the bill pass, since that was the only way to bring the protectionist votes of the Middle Atlantic from the “Whig” camp of Henry Clay into the Democratic camp of Andrew Jackson. Only by passing the bill would Jackson win the presidency that fall. 95 In support of this view, it is noted that the South would not have opposed Jackson, a slave-owner from Tennessee, under any circumstances in the coming 1828 election. And while Southerners led the committee, Northern factions had the obvious preponderance of votes.The latter two views seem to have the benefit of historical hindsight. Yet Niles’ view has something of the ring of truth to it in that accidental developments, as often as grand designs, may explain Congressional activity.

Southern Reaction

When word reached Charleston that President John Quincy Adams signed the “tariff of abominations” in May 1828, ships in Charleston harbor lowered their flags to half-mast. Niles could not fail to note that among the mourners with flags at half-mast were the British. 96 Bitter Southern reaction to the new tariff took the form of mass meetings, legislative resolutions and newspaper articles throughout the summer of 1828. Niles kept track of it all, and said Southern papers were beginning “to abound with articles of a violent cast.”97Most alarming was an editorial in the Charleston Courier: “Fear nothing,” it said. “Foreign nations will protect us. We have commerce and production to tempt them and they have men and ships to defend us. Congress can do nothing but blockade us, and that may soon be obviated.” 98

Niles said: “It would seem that nothing will satisfy the wild politicians of that country (the South) but an abandonment of principles which have prevailed since the Constitution was adopted.” 99I n the same issue Niles reprinted a Georgia Journal editorial calling the tariff “an abominable scheme of legalized plunder.. We love this union… and nothing but your unkindnesses and injustices can drive us out of it.” He also reprinted an item from the Southron of Georgia (which Niles called a “detestable badge of slavery and degradation”) which trumpeted “resistance to the very bounds of the Constitution.”

Niles noted that the Columbia, S.C. Telegraph said “if other states can exclude slaves we can exclude their products,” and that the “object of every agriculturalist should be in the first place to devise a means for the destruction of the manufacturing mania.”Searching for moderate voices, Niles noted a Georgia Statesman editorial reminding Southerners that the 8th Article of the Constitution specifically gives Congress the power to lay and collect taxes, duties and imposts and to regulate commerce with foreign nations. “With these provisions of the great charter staring them in the face, how dare the editors of the Southron?” asked the Statesman.100 Niles noted a Greenville, S.C. newspaper’s editorial expressing fears that the “fire eaters” (as secessionists were then called) had the “worst of purposes — to bring on a conflict with the general government that certain men may rise in the storm of civil commotion.” 101 In the hope of encouraging moderation, Niles wrote: “There are enough solid thinking men in South Carolina to allay [the excitement] … The ills prophesized of the tariff of 1824 yet remain visions of nightmare-ridden men.”

Predicting that only real economic pressures would precipitate a true crisis, he said: “They will feel some of the oppression talked of before they will … produce a civil war,” he said, predicting that the effect of the tariff would not be felt. 102Opinion took an ironic turn, Niles observed, in that Southern leaders were encouraging citizens to wear homespun clothing and not to submit to the unjust burden of the new tariff. Various newspapers, such as the Yorkville S.C. paper, noted that “many parts [of the South] are well calculated for manufacturing purposes; why not avail ourselves of these advantages?” 103 Similarly, the Pendleton, S.C. Messenger advocated manufacturing as many of the taxed items as possible.104

The Macon, Ga. Telegraph opined that if instead of “violent and useless ranting against the tariff… we were to set to work actively manufacturing our own articles … we would more effectively shield [ourselves] against the ill effects [of the tariff] than all the newspaper rant and seditious resolutions that would fill the most ponderous folio.” 105 One paper, the Georgia Journal, warned that if investments were made in manufacturing, and if the tariff were to be repealed, “where would Southern manufacturers find themselves?” Niles responded this was exactly the situation faced by manufacturers following the embargo and non-intercourse acts of 1809-1815 — and the reason for tariff legislation in the first place. 106.Perhaps one of the most memorable articles reprinted during this debate was from former South Carolina Governor Williams. “Is there a citizen in this state who will prefer to take his musket and shoot down 23 yankees (and the destruction of life must be in that proportion, or it will go against us) rather than make his own coarse woolen cloth?” 107 Niles was encouraged by this moderation, and noted that there was “good sense enough in the South to compel agitators to feel their own insignificance.” 108 But he felt compelled to issue warnings which drew the line for the South.

His editorial of August 16 stands out as a model of eloquence and dignity: “There is a Holiness about the Constitution; and we would … wither every hand extended to treat it rudely. The peace and prosperity of this Republic, the world’s last best hope, must not be haphazarded, much less destroyed, that certain men may rule.” 109

In response to his conciliatory but principled views, Niles received many “coarsely written” anonymous crank letters, some of them coming with postage due.110 He also said he was frequently burned, hung and tarred and feathered in effigy.111 And he noted several times that he lost many Southern subscribers because of his stand on tariff and nullification. “In South Carolina and Georgia a spirit of persecution seems to have been raised against us,” he wrote in 1829. “We have been denounced as ‘enemies of the South’ and our patronage is one-third of what it was prior” to the tariff controversy. But, Niles said, many new subscribers in Virginia and North Carolina offset losses in the deep South. 112A toast at a South Carolina banquet hailed “Hezekiah Niles and Mathew Carey–the big orang-outang and baboon of the ‘monkey system. We blush for our humanity when they dictate to 12 millions of freemen.” By this point, Niles was losing all sense of diplomacy; the man who gave the toast, Niles said, should “deduct from his 12 millions two millions of black … slaves, including any of his own children, if subjected to the lash of his own negro driver…” 113

Niles attitude was hardening, although he reserved his severest comments for his correspondence. Niles wrote a friend in August 1830: “I will offer up no sacrifices to appease the devils of that state– I will not build an altar to Fear … I would grapple them as I would a nettle– firmly; neither trifle with nor coax them. Give way–and the masters of the negroes are ours also.” 114 In the same letter, Niles showed how extensively and consciously he had been tailoring his comments on divisive sectional issues in order to encourage moderation. “All that we can write has no effect on them,” Niles said. “I will write for others, that they may see the baseness of the would-be traitors.” (emphasis added). Here Niles explicitly stated the pragmatic approach underlying his editorial policies which he felt, at that point, he might as well abandon. 115

Around this time, Niles friendly competition with Ritchie of the Richmond Enquirer also turned sour, as Ritchie accused Niles of seeking personal glory and money by distributing tariff literature. 116But Niles’ interest in economics was far more academic than personal. In fact, more historians have focused on his economic abilities than his editorial talents. His interest in economics grew with age, and after 1830, he began casting many questions in more modern economic terms. In an 1830 essay on the “Circulation of Values,” he analyzed differences between Northern and Southern economies. As he saw it, the major difference was that free labor was encouraged in North, and as a result, a diversified home market economy existed where money turned over many times each year. The economy was dynamic. In contrast, the South had no home market, depended on foreign markets, and capital turned over only once per year at harvest. Thus, the planter class would eventually face economic dissolution. 117

During this time, it is important to note, Niles was as widely celebrated in the North as he was reviled in the South. He was an honored speaker at many banquets in Philadelphia, New York and Wilmington, and served on several important commissions with industrialists such as E.I DuPont and Charles J. Ingersoll. 118 Virginia may have had his “first love” in the 1820s, but the Baltimore editor’s orientation was increasingly toward the North by the 1830s.

“The Union is Now Dissolved”

As enmity increased, Niles abandoned editorial restraint and began filling the Register with endless arguments and debates in favor of retaining and expanding the 1828 “tariff of abominations.” In a typically flamboyant editorial, he wrote: “The glorious flag of the American System which mantles the comforts of the industrious poor and cheers the working man… shall never be struck…” 119It is difficult not to be struck by the bitter tone in a comment on what he saw as the lack of Southern flexibility. Niles said if the South had honestly sought adjustment there would be no problem:”But the ‘gods’ demanded that the principle should be abandoned — the few said to the many, YOU SHALL. Bah! The shall will be found on the other side, when nullification reaches the fullness of its time, and foreign aid is obtained by presumptuous traitors. .. The wishes of the minority should be respected, but the majority must rule. Aye, KING NUMBERS rather than KING GEORGE. .. Let them rebel, then — and let rebellion have its perfect work, if so they will have it. LET NULLIFICATION BECOME COMPLETE IN NULLIFYING ITSELF.”120

In 1832, Congress eased the extremely high tariff rates of 1828, but the compromise did not satisfy Southerners. Shortly after Andrew Jackson won the 1832 election, the South Carolina legislature passed a nullification law, declaring that customs would not collect tariff duties in the ports there. Niles wrote: “We have only a poor opinion of that man’s intellect who believes that the excitement in [South Carolina] really prevails because of the oppressions of the tariff law. It has grown out of other causes, which dare not yet be avowed.” 121On December 10, Jackson warned that he would see that laws were obeyed, and if South Carolinians pursued that course they would be guilty of treason. Niles published his proclamation and commended it. “As we said in a former dark period of our history, we say now — Live the Constitution.”122

Two weeks later he said the question was whether the union would be preserved or whether we should “let it be given up, with a frank but debasing confession, that the people are not capable of self-government, but must have emperors and kings, established priesthoods and large standing armies, to preserve them from themselves.” 123But the “nullification crisis” continued to mount. On the pages of the Register, debate over a new bill accommodating to Southern demands boiled for next two months. “It is impossible that … the value of the labor of a free white citizen of the U.S. shall be regulated by that of a black slave at home or a white slave abroad.” 124The crisis was resolved when John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay worked out a compromise tariff bill. All protective tariffs over 20 percent were to be gradually reduced until 1842, then reduced to a flat 20 percent rate. Niles was stunned. “It may be that our favorite systems are all to be destroyed. If so the majority determines, so be it.” 125The compromise was deeply distressing to Niles, as it represented the victory of a small number of Southerners over the large number of Northerners. Even worse, it represented victory through the threat of nullification and secession. “If its practice is sustained, the union is now dissolved. It has no more adhesion than … a shovelfull of sand.” 126


History, as Barbara Tuchman once said, has a way of failing to fulfill the expectations of those who think they have learned its lessons.127 Niles certainly fell prey to this trap. He believed that the U.S. manufacturing boom during the 1809 to 1816 war years, and the depression in post-war years when free trade again flourished, proved the need for protection. But American industry took off much faster than he could predict.Protection was logical for the Philadelphia revolutionaries who advocated homespun cloth in 1787 and for the industry of the war of 1812. But by the 1830s, cheap resources, immigration and inventive power had allowed the U.S. to outstrip the need for protection from Europe.”Incredibly, the newborn United States was more successful than any other nation in assuming the attitude of mind required … to take over the most advanced technology in the world,” wrote noted historian of technology Brooke Hindle.128 The “American System” had already taken hold, and would remain a folk icon and cultural fixation for at least another century. Henry Ford, for example, invoked the idea in the 1930s. 129

Essentially, Niles misjudged America’s ability to surpass European industries. The ideas he expressed were far more successful than he realized, but they were part of a cultural development that did not always emerge, or need to emerge, on the political level.


1 Phillip R. Schmidt, Hezekiah Niles and American Economic Nationalism: A Political Biography, (NY: Arno Press, 1982), Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Kansas.
2 Norval Neil Luxon, Niles Weekly Register: News Magazine of the Ninteenth Century (Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press, 1947), p. 294.
3 It is possible to trace a remarkable transformation toward objectivity in the technique of spot news coverage in Niles Register — a transformation which occurred later in other newspapers and which has often been ascribed to the influence of telegraphy. (See, for example, Michael Schudson, Discovering the News, New York: Basic Books, 1978 ). In one of the earliest accounts of a riverboat steam boiler explosion, for example, no date or number of dead or injured was given. The accident was “terrible beyond conception.” (Register 10:265, Jun 15, 1816) But in an 1821 account, details of a riverboat accident were given factually — the name of the boat, the number killed and injured, the description of the force of the explosion. (Register 19:250, June 2 1821; also 30:200, May 13, 1826).
4 Luxon, p. 299.
5 Register 39:252, Dec. 11, 1830
6 Sentiment toward increasing American economic independence was widespread around this time, particularly among Quakers; for example, the Pennsylvania Society for Manufactures, a group with many Quaker members, financed Samuel Slater’s efforts to smuggle textile machinery from Britain to the U.S. See F.W. Taussig, The Tariff History of the United States (NY: Putnam, 1910).
7 Schmidt, p.13
8 Register, 39:250, Dec. 11, 1830
9 Richard G. Stone, Hezekiah Niles as an Economist, Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, Series L1 No. 5, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1933) p. 43
10 Luxon, p. 4.
11 Edwin Emery and Michael Emery, The Press and America (NY: Prentice Hall, 1982); Sidney Kobre, Development of American Journalism, (Dubuque, Iowa: William C. Brown, 1972).
12 Frank Luther Mott, American Journalism (NY: Manville, 1941).
13 James Melvin Lee, History of American Journalism, (Garden City, N.J., Garden City Publishing Co., 1923).
14 Luxon, p. 299.
15 Ida Tarbell, Tariff in Our Times,
16 Edward Stanwood, American Tariff Controversies in the 19th Century (NY: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1903), p. 168.
17 Ibid, p. 248.
18 Register, 2:10, September 1812.
19 Register, 11:42, Sept. 14, 1816.
20 Alen Marcus and Howard Segal, Technology in America, (NY: Harcourt Brace, 1989) p. 45
21 James W. Carey, Communication as Culture (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989, p. 119.
22 Paul K. Conkin, The Southern Agrarians, (Knoxville, Tenn: University of Tennessee Press, 1988), p. 85.
23 Schmidt, p. 184.
24 Register 10:98, April 13, 1816
25 Register 15:296, Jan 30, 1819
26 Marcus & Segal, p.75
27 Register 34:313, July 12, 1828
28 Register 9:365, Jan 27, 1816
29 Register, 9:283, Dec. 28, 1816.
30 These kinds of calculations are one of the reasons why Niles is remembered more as an economist than a journalist. The Register not only printed statistics from others, but Niles himself kept close track of population and employment statistics through surveys and other primary sources.
31 Register, 15:418, Jan. 30, 1819
32 Register 29:50, Oct. 24, 1825
33 Register, 34: 249, 410, June 14 and Aug. 23, 1828.
34 Register, 16:354, Jan. 22, 1820
35 Register 17:113, Oct. 23, 1819
36 Marcus & Segal, p. 115.
37 Register 16:331, Jan. 15, 1820
38 Register, 28:241, June 3, 1820
39 Niles to Darlington, William Darling MSS, Library of Congress, May 5, 1820
40 Register, 17:362, Jan. 29, 1820
41 Register, 19:145, Nov. 4, 1820
42 Niles to Darlington, Darlington MSS, Library of Congress, Nov. 20, 1820
43 Niles to Carey, Dec. 11, 1821; cited in Schmidt, p. 144.
44 Register, 18:297, June 24, 1820
45 Register 19:145, Nov. 4, 1820
46 Register 21:228, Dec. 8, 1821
47 Register 29:193, December, 1925. Stanwood said that Niles’ pleasure at proposal to build factories in the South is “quite compatible” with his wish that the factories already erected should be put beyond reach of injurious foreign competition. “It is not compatible with the motive usually imputed to protectionists by free traders, assumed to be purely desire to increase profits manufacturers.” One premise of this paper, that Niles’ outlook had a public interest rationale, is thus in accord with an early historian of tariffs. (Stanwood, p. 252).
48 Register, 30:417, Aug. 25, 1827
49 Register, 29:3, Sept. 3, 1825
50 Register, 29:50, Oct. 24, 1825
51 Register, 21:28, Sept., 1821
52 Register, 30:201, May 20, 1826
53 Register, 19:346, Jan 20, 1821
54 Register, 21:392, Feb. 16, 1822
55 Ibid.
56 Register, 21:244, Dec. 15, 1821
57 Register, 21:244, Dec. 15, 1821. Note that canals were considered the most important internal improvements at the time; railroads were not feasible until the 1830s.
58 Note that sugar tariffs and price guarantees are still among the most expensive items on the federal farm budget.
59 Register 23:339, Feb. 1, 1823
60 Register, 32:49, March 27, 1827. Schmidt (p. 189) says Niles prediction of Southern support for the American System was “either naive, founded on wishful thinking, or both.” In fact, Southerners would support Henry Grady’s modified American System a few decades later.
61 Niles to Darlington, Darlington MSS, Library of Congress, March 31, 1828.
62 Schmidt, p. 197.
63 Luxon, p. 264.
64 Niles to Darlington, Darlington MSS, Library of Congress, Jan. 21, 1820
65 Niles to Darlington, Darlington MSS, Library of Congress, Sept. 10, 1830
66 Register 11:86, Dec. 21, 1816
67 Register 13:164, Nov. 8, 1817
68 Register, 16:343, July 17, 1819. He also said, strangely enough, that he believed this would occur without physical contact, although this may not have been meant literally.
69 Register, 15:477, Feb. 20, 1819
70 Register, 10:334, July 13, 1816
71 Register, 20:48, March 17, April 21, 1821
72 See Luxon, p. 265 .
73 Register, 24:322, July, 1823
74 Register, 20:192, May 19, 1821
75 Register, 20: 108, April 21, 1821)
76 Register, 23:96, Oct. 19, 1822
77 Register, 23:22, Sept. 7, 1822
78 Register, 22:20, Sept. 14, 1822
79 Register 43:81, Oct 12 1822
80 Register 30: 169, May 6, 1827
81 Register, 21:82, Oct 6, 1821
82 Register 23:53, Sept. 28, 1822
83 Register, 34:379, Aug. 9, 1828
84 Register, 35:333, January, 1829.
85 Also see Stanwood, p. 261
86 Stanwood, p. 249.
87 Register 34:97, April 5, 1828
88 Niles to Darlington, Darlington MSS, Library of Congress, March 31, 1828.
89 Niles to Clay, Henry Clay MSS, Library of Congress, April 2, 1828.
90 Schmidt, p. 202.
91 Register, 34:265, June 21, 1828
92 Register 34:135, May 17, 1828
93 Register, 34:265, June 21, 1828
94 Schmidt, p. 203
95 Robert V. Rimini, Martin Van Buren and the Making of the Democratic Party (NY: 1959) .
96 Register, 34:249, June 14, 1828. Charleston newspapers were not happy with the British that day; the Charleston Gazette said it was “an insult” to the U.S.
97 Register, 34:300, July 5, 1828
98 Ibid.
99 Ibid.
100 Ibid.
101 Register, 34:353, July 26, 1828
102 Register, 34:328, July 19, 1828
103 Ibid.
104 Ibid., 34:340
105 Register, 35:20, Sept. 6, 1828
106 Register 34:410, August 23, 1828
107 Parenthesis from Gov. Williams, as printed, Register 35:34, Sept. 13, 1828
108 Register 34:416, Aug. 23, 1828
109 Register 34:393, August 16, 1828
110 Register 43:2, Sept. 1, 1832
111 Luxon, 1947, p. 63; see also Register 47:409, Feb. 14, 1835
112 Register 39:65, also page 209, Sept. 26, 1829
113 Register, 37:398, July 31, 1830
114 Schmidt, p. 206
115 Ibid.
116 Register, 37:65, March 1830; see also Stone, p. 74
117 Register, 39: 233, Dec. 4,1830
118 Schmidt, p. 181.
119 Register 41:412, Feb. 4, 1832
120 Register 42:321, June 30, 1832
121 Register 43:168, November 1832
122 Register 43, 249, Dec. 15, 1832
123 Register 43:285, Dec 29, 1832
124 Register 43:371, Feb 2. 1833
125 Register, 43:401, Feb. 16, 1832
126 Register 44:113, April 30 1833
127 Barbara Tuchman, Practicing History (New York: Knopf, 1981) p. 247.
128 Brooke Hindle, Emulation and Invention (New York: Norton & Co., 1981), p. 3.
129 “The Only Real Security: An Interview with Henry Ford,” The Deserted Village series, No. 7, (New York: Chemical Foundation, 1936) Speaking on behalf of national self-sufficiency, Ford said: “We know that the American System includes every social benefit that men have desired…”
130 Robert Kuttner, “Something Wondrous for Eastern Europe,” Washington Post, Jan. 2, 1990.
131 Harold Davis, Henry Grady’s New South: Atlanta, a Brave and Beautiful City, University of Alabama Press, 2002.
132 Paul K. Conkin, The Southern Agrarians, (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1988)
133 See Wendell Barry, The Gift of Good Land, (Berkeley: North Point Press, 1981).

Note: The Baltimore Sun commemorated the 200th anniversary of  the founding of Niles Register on Sept. 7, 2011 with this article.

Originally published as: “To Avoid the Coming Storm: Hezekiah Niles Weekly Register as a Voice of North-South Moderation, 1811 – 1836,” American Journalism, Summer, 1992.