The Press Gang

Newspapers and Politics, 1865-1878

By Mark Wahlgren Summers

424 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 18 illus.

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4446-5
    Published: June 1994
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-4422-6
    Published: August 2018

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Relations between the press and politicians in modern America have always been contentious. In The Press Gang, Mark Summers tells the story of the first skirmishes in this ongoing battle. Following the Civil War, independent newspapers began to separate themselves from partisan control and assert direct political influence. The first investigative journalists uncovered genuine scandals such as those involving the Tweed Ring, but their standard practices were often sensational, as editors and reporters made their reputations by destroying political figures, not by carefully uncovering the facts. Objectivity as a professional standard scarcely existed. Considering more than ninety different papers, Summers analyzes not only what the press wrote but also what they chose not to write, and he details both how they got the stories and what mistakes they made in reporting them. He exposes the peculiarly ambivalent relationship of dependence and distaste among reporters and politicians. In exploring the shifting ground between writing the stories and making the news, Summers offers an important contribution to the history of journalism and mid-nineteenth-century politics and uncovers a story that has come to dominate our understanding of government and the media.

About the Author

Mark Wahlgren Summers, professor of history at the University of Kentucky, is author of many books, including The Era of Good Stealings.
For more information about Mark Wahlgren Summers, visit the Author Page.


"The Press Gang is by far the best book yet produced on the 19th-century press and is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the politics of this period."--Virginia Quarterly Review

"In this tantalizing and complex study, the author has skillfully interwoven milestones in the evolution of journalism as a profession and portraits of celebrated members of the press gang with grand and small crises in our national life. Mark Summers's work commands that we never think of nineteenth-century newspaper sources in quite the same way again."--Journal of Southern History

"This extremely readable account of the role of the press as American democracy was redefined in the wake of the Civil War strengthens the belief that history does not repeat itself."--Illinois Historical Journal

"The Press Gang is a fresh narrative of party strife of the Gilded Age. . . . Persuasive and wonderfully readable."--Reviews in American History

"Exceptionally well written. The narrative is fast-paced and absorbing."--Journal of American History

"Insightful and full of interesting characters and entertaining anecdotes. [The book] makes an important contribution to our knowledge of nineteenth-century American History."--Michael Les Benedict, Ohio State University