Here is the second in a two part series about the Loyal Publication Society of New York, which is part of a larger project I am working on about William E. Dodge Jr. and Theodore Roosevelt. Part one can be found here.
Soon after the founding of the Union League in February 1863 its Loyal Publication Society opened headquarters at 863 Broadway. Its mission was to counteract secessionist and Copperhead propaganda, bolster support in and for the Federal Army, and promote the Union cause among voters in the 1863 and 1864 elections. The reason it was necessary was because the Administration was not up to the task. Public outreach was a staple of the First and Second World Wars in the form of the Committee on Public Information and Office of War Information, but no such agencies existed during the War of the Rebellion. The Administration was just too overwhelmed with military and political matters to take on the added responsibility. Bolstering Union support was crucial in the early months of 1863, when the North was reeling from a string of military defeats and political crises, and the LPS wasted no time in getting down to business. The New York Loyal Publication Society was structured into three committees: a Publication committee that selected documents, an Executive that distributed them to the Army down south and to local communities in the north and west, and a Finance that collected the funds necessary to carry out these endeavors. Charles King was the Society’s first president but its driving force was Francis Lieber, the Society’s initial Publication Committee chairman, eventual chief executive, and overall driving force.
A great champion of human liberty, Lieber was born in Germany and had fought in the Prussian army against Napoleon at Waterloo. In 1829, after emigrating to the United States, the jurist became editor of the Encyclopedia Americana. Lieber had a deep understanding of the American South, having served as Professor of History and Political Economy at South Carolina College for twenty-two years before moving to Columbia University. In the months prior to the founding of the Union League and its Publication Society Lieber had authored General Order Number 100, or Instruction for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field, the code that established laws for American soldiers during time of war. President Lincoln approved the Lieber Code on April 24, 1863.
The Publication Committee met thirty-nine times and considered just over one hundred publications in the Society’s first year. The Executive Committee eventually chose forty three pamphlets and twelve broadsides for distribution. The Society printed and distributed 400,000 copies of these items. Subjects were chosen to focus on the concerns of soldiers, women, immigrants, working-class men, Democrats, Catholics, abolitionists, and Southern Unionists. A representative sampling of titles includes: “A few words in behalf of Loyal Women of the United States,” by One of Themselves; “No Party now, but all for our Country,” by Francis Lieber; “Address to King Cotton,” by Eugene Pelletan; “Emancipation is Peace,” by Robert Dale Owen; and “Letters on our National Struggle,” by Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher.” The Meagher pamphlet is especially noteworthy. Like Lieber, Meagher was an immigrant who had been active in European affairs as a young man before settling in the United States. Meagher was a well-known Irish nationalist who eventually became a high-ranking officer in the Union Army. He appealed to religious and ethnic constituencies in both the Union Army and public-at-large, and his inclusion was quite intentional.
The New York Loyal Publication Society existed for three years and published eighty-nine pamphlets, broadsides, and reports during its lifetime. It collaborated closely with similar organization in Boston and Philadelphia as well, and together they distributed hundreds of thousands of publications to soldiers in the field and civilians on the home front.. The Society was instrumental in the 1863 re-election of Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin, a key Lincoln supporter. In 1864 the Publication Society worked rigorously on behalf of Lincoln’s re-election. As the war wound down in 1865 the Society began publishing less and less. Lieber and his colleagues declared victory soon thereafter. At the annual meeting on February 27, 1866 the Society members voted to disband, secure in the knowledge that they had done their part for Union and Emancipation.
(image/Brady Studio, Library of Congress)