By William Barlow Stevens
A newspaper’s centennial!
One hundred years of journalism, continuous from the first inspiration!
“The vestal fire” Joseph Charless called the Press. He started a tiny flame which flickered in St. Louis on the 12th of July, 1808. Through the century the fire has burned with not one lapse, but with growing strength, with increasing brightness.
“The most pure hands officiating for the whole community should be incessantly employed in keeping it alive,” Joseph Charless wrote, having in mind still his simile of the vestal fire for the Press.
Down the generations, bearing successfully the names of the Missouri Gazette, The Louisiana Gazette, the Missouri Gazette again, The Missouri Republican, The St. Louis Republican, The St. Louis Republic, has come this first newspaper of St. Louis, completing the record of a hundred years of clean-handed journalism.
In the record stand out, like marking monuments, the personalities of Joseph Charless, Edward Charless, Nathaniel Paschall, A.B. Chambers, George Knapp and John Knapp. Almost without radical change of ownership the paper has lived a century. Today possession and conduct are in the hands of descendants of the men who gave their lives to the paper.
Newspapers have come and newspapers have gone – two scores of them – in St. Louis. Some of them were started with much money and with powerful influences to encourage them. They passed into oblivion. This paper, founded by a printer without means, but with ideals, kept alive and developed by men who had been apprentices in its office, reaches the close of its century with a constituency such as few other newspapers in this country can claim. It had stamina.
Money and brains alone cannot make the enduring newspaper. The saving grace, in the vocation as in the man, is moral fiber.
The St. Louis Republic’s century is evidence that a newspaper is more than a commercial proposition. It goes to show that journalism is not to advocate one man’s purposes, not to serve one corporation’s ends, not to be one party’s mouthpiece. The St. Louis Republic has thrived one hundred years because it existed for the good of a community, of a State, of a nation. Undoubtedly it was not always right. To err is as journalistic as it is human. But the motive was good always. The ideal was kept in view as clearly as the light would permit. The effort was well-meant. The expression was sincere.
Three foreign wars, one civil war, two fires, tried the souls of the men who kept the faith of this newspaper. No one personality so dominated the others that when he dropped out the course became erratic. No straddling or wabbling policy marred the editorial page when great issues confronted. The Gazette was for Republicanism – Democratic Republicanism – as Thomas Jefferson defined it. The Missouri Republican stood four-square on Whig principles. It denounced Know-nothingism when Whigs wandered away on that heresy. It supported Democratic doctrine until the parting of the ways came on State Sovereignty, and then it was pronounced against Secession.
The Republic has been, from its beginning, for the settlement, for the town, for the city. It has sustained local government when correct. It has scourged wrong-doing in public officials. It has been consistently for good morals. It is one hundred years old because it deserved to be.
First Quarter – 1808-1833
Joseph Charless Founds Paper – First Issue on Sheet Size of Foolscap – Name Changed to Republican in 1822
In the north room of the Robidoux house, on the 12th of July, 1808, journalism in St. Louis was born. The lever of the old Ramage screw press was pulled, a dampened sheet of paper, only so large as a page of foolscap, was lifted off the type form and held up. The
had come into existence. The beginning was modest. From Lexington, Ky., Mr. Charless brought a limited outfit of a pioneering printing establishment. At Louisville he secured a printer, Jacob Hinkle. He drifted down the Ohio in a keelboat. He was hauled by the cordelle up the Mississippi to St. Louis. The settlement – it had as yet not so much as a town organization – was filling with newcomers from the States. In a single room of a house of posts, built years before by one of the early fur traders, the copy was written, the type was set and the paper was run off.
Joseph Charless was a man of moral and mental force. He had newspaper ideals. The first St. Louis newspaper was born with a character and never lost it.
After twelve years of strenuous editorial life, Joseph Charless sold the Gazette to James Cummins. Eighteen months thereafter, Edward Charless, the son of Joseph, the founder, bought the paper from Cummins. Successively men brought up in its atmosphere, trained in its traditions, have managed and edited the paper. Down through the generations The Republic has come to its present estate with a character. It developed distinctive qualities which gave it enduring quality in periods when the mortality of St. Louis newspaper interprises (sic) was great.
“A newspaper,” wrote Horace White, “which merely inks over a certain amount of white paper each day may be a good collector of news, it may be successful as a business venture, but it can leave no mark upon its time and can have no history.”
The Republic has left its mark continuously in this community. It has a history which cannot be separated from the history of St. Louis.
When the paper was fifty years old, Edwards, the historian, wrote of it:
“The Republican, in the various gradations of its advance, is as sure an index of the growth of St. Louis as is a mathematical calculation.”
A few weeks before the first issue of the Missouri Gazette Mr. Charless passed around a prospectus for the signatures of those who were willing to subscribe. Pierre Chouteau, then a young man just beginning a wonderful career which made him a national character, received a copy of the prospectus. It was a habit of Mr. Chouteau to preserve everything in print or in writing in which he was interested. He carefully put away this prospectus among his papers, where it was found nearly a century afterwards by his grandson and namesake, the Pierre Chouteau of this generation. Printed on good paper, with lettering as distinct as on the day it was sent out from the old Robidoux house to the people of St. Louis in the early summer of 1808, the prospectus was reproduced in fac simile as a feature of the centennial issue of The St. Louis Republic.
Joseph Charless brought from Kentucky the suggestion of the name he bestowed upon his paper. He had worked on the Lexington Gazette at Lexington. There was a brief period in which the acquired Province was divided into two territories by Congress and called Orleans and Louisiana. St. Louis was in Louisiana. Mr. Charless, in 1809, changed the name of the paper to Louisiana Gazette. When Congress created the Missouri Territory, the paper, in 1812, became again The Missouri Gazette. In 1822 Edward Charless changed the name to the Missouri Republican. He wanted to emphasize the paper’s devotion to Jeffersonian principles.
The Republicanism of The Missouri Republican of the [eighteen] twenties was the national Republicanism of that period – not the Republican party principles of today. Joseph Charless came well by his Jeffersonian Republicanism. He risked his neck for the principles in Ireland in 1795, when he was 23 years old. When he went to work in a Philadelphia printing office his fellow compositors did not pronounce his name with the proper Hibernian quota of syllables, and therefore he added the extra “s,” making the name which had been “Charles” in Ireland, “Charless” in America. As a printer, Joseph Charless set type for the first quarto edition of the Bible in this country. He married a widow, Mrs. Sarah McCloud, a devout woman, who was active in the organization of the first Presbyterian Church of St. Louis. Of the twelve years of his life in the United States before he came to St. Louis to start the first newspaper here, Joseph Charless passed six in Kentucky. To his mind his adopted country was the Republic, not a confederated group of States. And so, when he came to declare, in a prospectus, the principles The Missouri Gazette would advocate, he said:
“To extinguish party animosities and foster a cordial union among the people on the basis of toleration and equal government; to impress upon the mind that next to love of God the love of our country should be paramount in the human breast; to advocate that cause which placed Jefferson at the head of the magistracy, and, in tine (sic), to infuse and keep alive those principles which the test of experience has so evidently portrayed the merits – to these ends shall the labors of The Gazette be directed.”
The editors of papers on the Atlantic Coast were not of one mind about the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson’s acquisition of Louisiana. Some of them were very pessimistic. In Boston, the journalistic criticism was espeially (sic) harsh. Before he had been publishing The Gazette a year, Joseph Charless was thundering back at these seaboard scoffers with such editorials as this:
“Big Swamp of Louisiana! What citizen is there, who is in the smallest degree alive to the prosperity of our happy country, who does not feel indignant at the gross falsehoods and ignorant philippics published against the Jefferson administration concerning the purchase of Louisiana? We would recommend these incendiary editors to the study of geography, and they will discover that Louisiana possesses a soil equal to any other State or Territory in the Union. Rich in minerals, numerous navigable rivers and many other advantages place this desirable country far above the calumny of the miserable scribblers. Give us industrious planters and in a short period Louisiana will become the bright star in the Federal constellation.”
The Louisiana of which Charless wrote was not the Louisiana of today. The lower part of the territory acquired from France was called Orleans at that time. The Louisiana of 1805-12 was that which is now Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Colorado and the Dakotas.
When The Gazette was one year old Mr. Charless printed this explanatory assurance:
“He regrets that his paper, under the untoward circumstances under which he labored for the first year, did not come up to his calculations, and perhaps to the expectations of his patrons, but now, having disposed of his office in Lexington, Ky., and brought his family to St. Louis, together with a supply of good paper, trusts that he will henceforth meet the expectations of his friends,”
The first year was a trying one. When Mr. Charless in the early days of July, 1808, looked about the town for paper on which to print his initial issue to 170 subscribers, all he could find was of legal cap size. And so No. 1, Vol. 1, Missouri Gazette, made its appearance on paper twelve inches long by about eight inches wide.
The Gazette appeared in two languages. This was in accordance with the assurance given in the prospectus. That the paper might reach the whole community, Mr. Charless printed news and advertising in French as well as English.
When the Gazette had been running three years, the publisher found his list of delinquents required attention. He printed conspicuously and with italic emphasis on “word of honor” this note:
“Mr. Charless calls upon those of his subscribers who gave their notes or word of honor to pay in flour or corn to bring it in directly. Others who promised to pay in beef or pork, to deliver it as soon as possible, or their accounts will be placed in the magistrate’s hands.”
Indians were among the visitors to the office of the Missouri Gazette. With dignified politeness Mr. Charless would hand to each Indian a newspaper. The Indian received the paper and examined it with as much attention as if he could read and was interested. If there was a white man in The Gazette office reading, the Indians would imitate him, turning the page when he turned it. John Bradbury, the scientist, was one of Mr. Charless’ visitors while he was in St. Louis, between his expeditions into the surrounding country. When he went up the Missouri as the guest of Manuel Lisa, Bradbury was surprised to have two of the Omaha Indians approach and offer to shake hands with him, claiming to have met him in St. Louis. Bradbury had not the slightest recollection of the two Indians. The Indians pointed down the river toward St. Louis, took up a buffalo robe, held it before their faces and then turned the corner and looked at the other side. They imitates the action of a person reading a newspaper so well that Bradbury realized at once they had been visitors to The Gazette office and had seen him there.
The local column of The Gazette on the 14th of June, 1809, contained this item from the Illinois side of the river:
“Some straggling Ioway Indians have been infesting the country on the other side, between Cahokia and Wood River for several weeks, stealing pigs, etc., crawling on all fours and imitating the notes of the mudlark. One poor devil, being more successful than the rest in his imitations, and being obscured by the bushes, was fired upon and killed. This has put a stop for the present to their depredations.”
A few months after the establishment of The Gazette the following appeared:
“Doctor Saugrain gives notice of the first vaccine matter brought to St. Louis. Indigent persons vaccinated gratuitously.”
Nothing in the newspaper business of those days was quite so provoking as the nonarrival of the mails from the East. Here is one of Mr. Charless’ scorchers on the Postmasters of 1813:
“No news!!! We are tantalized with a defalcation in the mail department; the weather is too warm for these tender gentry to travel, and the Postmasters are too good-natured to tell tales at Washington. How the Shawneetown Postmaster can get over his oath is not an easy task to tell – for he swears he will faithfully perform his duties. The Post-Office law says he must employ a rider in case of failure in those who have the contract.”
To the upbuilding of St. Louis, Joseph Charless devoted The Gazette from its beginning. In July, 1816, he made this editorial appeal to his readers:
“In the year 1795 I first passed down the Ohio to the Falls, where a few stores and taverns constituted Louisville, a town. Cincinnati was a village and the residence of the soldiers that defended the Northwest Territory. The country between, to Pittsburg, a wilderness, the haunt of the savages. See it now in 1816; both banks of the Ohio sprinkled with farms, villages and towns, some with a population of 5,000 or more, with banks, steam mills and manufactories of leather, wool, cotton and flax, various metals; schools and seminaries and teachers in every village. The above is noticed as a contract to the opulent town of St. Louis, with a capital of $1,000,000. It has but few manufactories, no respectable seminaries, no place of worship for dissenters, no public edifices, no steam mills, no banks. Mr. Philipson has just established a brewery; Mr. Wilk a white and red lead factory; Mr. Hunt a tanning establishment, and lastly, Mr. Henderson’s soap and candle factory would be of great utility had it received the patronage that it so richly merits. Machinery of every description is needed here, and particularly a man of capital to erect a mill. He would soon realize a fortune. At least 5,000 barrels of whiskey are annually received from the Ohio and sold at 75 cents a gallon, while thousands of bushels of grain are offered at a very low price to any man who will establish a distillery.
“Private character is one of the possessions of civil society which should be held sacred,” Mr. Charless declared in his prospectus. “To follow a man into the circle of private life would be a very unfair and licentious act – therefore, the editor will invariably exclude any and every piece which might lead to disturb our public officers in the honest discharge of their duty or in the peaceful walk of the private citizen.”
Nevertheless, Mr. Charless did not shun wholly personal journalism. He became involved in a controversy with Major Berry. The latter couldn’t get satisfaction in the columns of The Gazette. There was no opposition paper. Major Berry resorted to distribution of a hand bill to set himself right. The hand bill is lost to history. The file of the Missouri Gazette preserves for posterity the editor’s side of the case. That there might be no mistake about the responsibility, Mr. Charless signed his editorial which was as follows:
“In a hand bill published by Major Berry, on Tuesday last, I have been severely censured, and charged with making ‘fallacious and disrespectful remarks’ in publishing an account of his mission to Rock River. The who may have read the last Gazette, and his handbill, will acquit me of fallacy; ‘tis true I did not give his report in full, because I always give preference to merit in the selections for my paper. On the charge of disrespect, I must plead want of information, for until the Major informed me that he ranked as a Major on the line, and was a Deputy Quartermaster General, I was ignorant of the matter. But should my pen of press be employed in recording any of his achievements in future, I will announce him. Major Taylor Berry, Deputy Quartermaster General.
The frank comments of Mr. Charless in The Gazette upon persons and acts gave offense in several directions. In the winter of 1815 a committee of citizens called upon the publisher to tell him another paper would be started if he persisted in a course which was deemed prejudicial to the interests of St. Louis. Mr. Charless was not only defiant in the interview, but he printed his own version of it. He said the gentlemen had notified him “of their subscription of $1,000 to start a new paper, and buy a printer of their own to conduct it as they should dictate.”
The action had followed a personal attack upon Mr. Charless about a year earlier. The editor had defended himself with a stick – some said it was “a shooting stick,” familiar in those days of hand composition and flat forms.
The group of citizens who disapproved The Gazette’s course bought press and type and imported a printer. The new venture was called The Western Journal. After trying two or three names the opposition settled on The St. Louis Inquirer. Thomas H. Benton took the editorship. That was before he had been elected a United States Senator.
The affair with Congressman John Scott was a newspaper sensation which continued some weeks in St. Louis. The Gazette printed several articles on Scott, who denounced them and demanded the name of the author. Threats were made, to which Mr. Charless replied:
“I may be threatened, but I will continue an independent course. If I am attacked for exercising the honest duties of my profession, I know how to repel injury.”
That was in 1816. Mr. Charless at length gave Mr. Scott the names of the writers of the articles. There were five highly respectable citizens involved. Scott challenged each of them. One of the challenged was Rufus Easton, who replied to the challenge:
I do not want to kill you, and if you were to kill me I would die as the fool dieth.”
No one of the five challenged met Mr. Scott on Bloody Island.
When the fatal duel between Benton and Lucas took place this comment on the result appeared in The Gazette:
“The infernal practice of dueling has taken off this morning one of the first characters in our country, Charles Lucas, Esq., attorney-at-law. His death has left a blank in society not easily filled up.”
At one time Mr. Charless was threatened with incendiatism, as the result of some vigorous editorials in The Gazette. Apparently as a result of the rumors that the editor was to be burned out, in 1819 The Gazette published this paragraph:
“D. Kimball requests the incendiaries of St. Louis to defer burning Mr. Charless’s establishment until his removal, which will be on the 20th of April next.”
While walking in his garden, Mr. Charless was fired upon. but was not hit.
The editor of The Gazette carried on the paper largely as a matter of public spirit and from love of the business. He depended, in large part, upon other sources for livelihood. The following appeared in The Gazette in 1810:
“Joseph Charless informs his friends that he receives boarders by the day, week or month. Travelers can be accommodated with as good fare as the town affords on moderate terms. Stabling for eight or ten horses. Subscribers to the paper are requested to pay up. Pork and flour received.”
Somewhat later the following notice appeared in The Gazette:
Joseph Charless will give out one bit a pound for old copper and brass and take it at that price for debts due the printer.”
Still later, in 1815, the following announcement was made:
“Joseph Charless, at the instance of a number of friends in Kentucky and Ohio, intending to remove to Missouri and Illinois Territories, has opened books for the registry and sale of lands, town lots and slaves. Every exertion will be made to render the institution worthy of patronage.”
In September, 1820, after twelve years of strenuous editorial life in St. Louis, Charles sold The Gazette to James C. Cummins, a recent arrival from Pittsburg. The valedictory of Colonel Charless reviewed the paper’s career.
“The paper was established when the population of the whole Territory, now the State, numbered 12,000 inhabitants; it had been ceded but four years. The original subscription was 170 (now increased to 1,000) and the advertising list small; my means were limited and the establishment supported with difficulty, but by perseverance in a straightforward course, assisted by kind friends and patrons, he is gratified to know that he transfers it to his successor in a prosperous and successful condition, and returns his grateful acknowledgements.”
An experience eighteen months later satisfied Cummins. Edward Charless, the oldest son of the founder, bought out Cummins and changed the name of the paper, in the spring of 1822, to The Missouri Republican.
In 1822 The Gazette attainted the dignity of an editor who did not have to concern himself with the business end of the paper. Joseph Spalding, of Connecticut birth, after graduating from Yale and tutoring at Columbia, came to St. Louis to engage in the practice of law. St. Louis had at the time more lawyers than litigants. Spalding became editor of The Gazette. Thomas H. Benton and his political associates were denounced as “vile excrescences on the community.”
In the first quarter of its century The Republican scored many successes, but the beat of the 15th of December, 1829, was the one most talked about. That day the paper astonished the city and overwhelmed its competitor by printing Andrew Jackson’s first message to Congress. It was enabled to do this, as was explained editorially, “through the unexampled exertion” of the mail contractors. The message had been conveyed from Washington to Cincinnati in fifty hours, and from Louisville to this place in forty-eight hours. The satisfaction of Edward Charless and Nathaniel Paschall over this scoop was not lessened by the fact that it was at the expense of Senator Thomas H. Benton and his organ, The Inquirer.
Two men who were to become impressive personalities in St. Louis journalism began as apprentice boys under the Charlesses. Nathaniel Paschall was a boy of twelve from Knoxville, Tenn., when the elder Charless took him into The Gazette office in 1812. He was regularly indentured a bound boy, as the apprentice was called in those days. Joseph Charless took an interest in the training of the apprentice, feeling that the youth was destined for something more than typesetting. Nathaniel Paschall was sent out to gather items of news. He wrote editorials. Edward Charless encouraged Paschall to remain with the paper when he bought it, and in 1828 took him into partnership and made him the editor.
In 1827 the other apprentice who was to become a striking figure in the newspaper making of St. Louis entered The Republican office. He was George Knapp. The family had come from Orange County, New York, seven years previously. The boy had been under the guardianship of Elihu H. Shepard, the schoolmaster of sterling traits to two generations of St. Louis lads. George Knapp’s beginning into his vocation was the delivery of the paper to subscribers. In the eight years of learning the trade he did everything from taking the proofs to making up the forms. As Nathaniel Paschall had developed the news-handling and the editorial-writing capacity, so George Knapp became an expert in the mechanical and business departments of the newspaper. At 20 years George Knapp graduated from apprenticeship and was given, instead of a diploma, “a Bible and a new suit of clothes.” He had become too valuable to the paper to be allowed to leave the office. Moreover, there had grown up a strong liking between the apprentice editor and the apprentice publisher. George Knapp was employed at a salary of $10 a week. In two years (1834) he was given an interest in the book and job department of the paper.
The first twenty-five years of the Republic’s century established the paper firmly with a character of its own and educated from 12-year-old apprentices the two men who during the half-century following were to make it a great moral and material force.
SECOND QUARTER – 1833-1858
A.B. Chambers Becomes Associated With The Republican – Nathaniel Paschall and George Knapp Also in Firm
Edward Charless and Nathaniel Paschall edited and published The Missouri Republican until 1837. Then two Pike County newspaper men, who had been successful at Bowling Green, came to St. Louis, seeking a larger field. They were A.B. Chambers and Oliver Harris. Their Pike County experience had been The Salt River Journal. Chambers and Harris formed a partnership with George Knapp and bought the paper of Charless and Paschall. Harris dropped out in 1839. Paschall, when he retired from the paper in 1837, believed he had acquired a competency. Unfortunate business relations reduced his estate. After a few years’ retirement Paschall came back to editorial duties as assistant to Chambers. The three men, Knapp, Chambers and Paschall made a strong team.
A.B. Chambers was an older man that Nathaniel Paschoff or George Knapp at the time he was associated with them. He headed the firm and was the responsible editor during a period of twenty years. He came to have great respect for the judgment of both Paschall and Knapp, and was guided often by their views.
Mr. Chambers was of Pennsylvania birth. He had 75 cents – “six bits” – to use the vernacular of the day – when at the age of 21 years he reached Pike County. He had studied law, but before he could practice in Missouri he must take out a license. To obtain a license, it was necessary for him to attend court, which sat at Fayette, in Howard County. One Pike County friend loaned Mr. Chambers a horse. Another advanced the money required for subsistence on the trip and at Fayette. Mr. Chambers made rapid headway. He became a Pike County leader among strong characters. He served in the Black Hawk War. He introduced good stock into Pike County. He was elected to the Legislature. He established a newspaper at Bowling Green. He did all these things in eight years. The he came to St. Louis and with George Knapp and Oliver Harris boldly entered the newspaper field where Charless and Paschall had already made a success of The Republican.
The people of St. Louis had an opportunity to recognize what kind of man A.B. Chambers was when, as a member of the Board of Health, he did duty without flinching in the terrifying cholera epidemic.
Tom Benton, whom the proprietors of The Republican, whether Charless and Paschall or Chambers, Knight and Pascahall, consistently fought, once began a speech something like this:
“A, B, C are not the whole alphabet and A.B. Chambers does not know everything.” This was a concession that the man whose initials stood for the foundation of knowledge did know a great deal. Chambers and Paschall were editors of a wide range of information.
The firm of Chambers, Harris & Knapp showed public spirit and business enterprise from the first. Before these newspapermen had been in possession of The Missouri Republican a year they opened what they called “The Exchange Room.” This was an exchange room in the public sense, not the newspaper sense. The purpose was to supply a gathering place for the business men of St. Louis. The Republican office was on Main street near Pine, then the commercial center of the city. Business men were made welcome in the Exchange Room.
Another feature of the Charless, Harris & Knapp police was “The News Room.” This was established by the new proprietors of the paper about the same time that they brought the Exchange Room into public notice and use. The News Room was for the benefit of subscribers to the paper and out-of-town visitors. It was a reading room. Here the papers received by The Republican were available to those who desired to see them. Both the Exchange Room, which was for conversation and business conference, and the News Room, which was for reading, became at once popular institutions of St. Louis. The city at that time had no institution which supplied such conveniences.
A few months before the proprietors of The Republican opened these rooms, twenty-five of the younger business men had organized the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce, with Edward Tracy as president. This was the beginning of the Merchants’ Exchange of today, the oldest organization of its kind in the country. The Chamber of Commerce, as formed in 1837, met once a month and considered subjects suggested by the business interests of St. Louis. The original meeting place was the office of the Missouri Insurance Company. The Exchange Room of The Missouri Republican was offered to the Chamber of Commerce for its sessions, and was accepted. The enterprise of the newspaper management was warmly commended. The Exchange Room was much frequented, being open to the public, except when the Chamber of Commerce was in session. Thirty-five years later George Knapp took up and carried through the movement which gave St. Louis the present $2,000,000 Chamber of Commerce.
In 1840 The Missouri Republican supported Old Tippecanoe – William Henry Harrison. It did so with such effectiveness and zeal that in the midst of that Hard Cider campaign an emblem, a symbol as it were, was bestowed upon the paper by the admiring Whigs. The Republican was called “The Old Coon.” The name was accepted promptly. The emblem, a metallic figure of a coon couchant, was hoisted high above the building. Perched over the towering smokestack the coon was visible from all parts of the city. Thirty years afterwards people coming up from the boats and ferry landings – for there was no bridge at that time – saw still on duty above The Republican building the coon couchant. The emblem had survived two disastrous fires. When the paper was moved to Third and Chestnut streets, occupying a new building which ranked with the best architecture of the city in its day, the coon found a place in the iron arch of the main entrance. The figure was also carried above the building. Through two quarters of The Missouri Republican’s century the device was proudly acknowledged.
Getting the message of the President of the United States before competitors was the occasional test of newspaper enterprise in the first half century of The Republican. In December, 1844, President Tyler’s message was printed seven days after delivery. It reached Cincinnati by special express three days out from Washington and was put into type there. Copies were sent to Louisville by steamboat. From Louisville the precious document was brought by stage coach express to St. Louis, arriving on the sixth day after delivery in Washington.
The printing of President Polk’s message of 1846 by The Missouri Republican broke the record again. The message reached St. Louis in four days. The next year, 1847, The Republican knocked a day off the record and printed the message in three days after delivery. For the first time the telegraph was used in partial transmission. The copy of the message was carried by express from Washington to Philadelphia, thence was wired to Vincennes, Ind. From there it was brought to St. Louis by special arrangement with Eastman’s line of stages. “The most magnificent enterprise of the age,” this newspaper feat was called. The message, immediately on its receipt in St. Louis, was printed as an extra of The Missouri Republican, and was mailed to all parts of Missouri and Illinois.
On the 20th of September, 1836, The Republican became a daily paper, with six issues a week. In 1837 The Republican advertised for a city editor and began to run regularly a local department, distinct from editorial expressions. That was an innovation. One of the first things the local editor did was to publish an elaborate account of the races which were going on at the St. Louis track.
In September, 1848, The Republican startled the conservative elements of the city by publishing a Sunday paper. A protest was promptly circulated for signatures. It expressed regret “that a journal of such deservedly high standing should lend its influence, not by arguments but by something far more powerful, its example, against the proper keeping of that holy day.” The editors replied courteously, expressing their appreciation of the interest taken by the subscribers to the protest, but declined to recede from the publication of a Sunday issue.
The sensible attitude of the Missouri Republican upon Sunday observance was well illustrated by the editorial course it pursued when the question was before the community in two distinct forms. Mayor O.D. Filley was elected by the Free Soil party at a time when The Republican was the leading Democratic paper in the city. In August, 1859, the people of St. Louis voted 7,544 to 5,543 against the sale of intoxicating liquors on Sunday. The Republican, commenting on the result, said:
“The triumphant vote by which the people of St. Louis declared their opposition to the sale of intoxicating liquors on Sunday is a matter of sincere congratulation to all our citizens. It was not a party vote; it had nothing to do with party, but was the free declaration of mind by all parties and nationalities against the excesses which have been superinduced by a special law of the Legislature passed two years ago in effect giving unlimited license in the absence of a proper police to these houses being kept open on Sunday. *** Not only the beer gardens in the suburbs, to which men retire as a place of pleasure and relaxation on Sunday, but all the beer saloons and dancehouses and five or six theaters have been opened on Sunday night on every prominent street in the city. This is the evil that is mainly complained about by our citizens.”
In defiance of the vote against the sale of intoxicating liquors on Sunday, a Common Council on August 9, 1859, passed an ordinance legalizing and keeping open saloons on Sunday until 9 o’clock in the morning and after 3 o’clock in the afternoon. The Missouri Republican, commenting editorially on this action, said:
“When it is considered that it is scarcely a week since the people of this city by a majority of 2,000 votes declared their opposition to the very practice which this law seeks to justify and to carry out the effrontery of the Council may well be the subject of special wonder.”
The Whig party in St. Louis went to pieces and the Native American idea became popular about 1846. A Sunday law was passed by the Common Council. The city government was under control of the Native American party. The new law prohibited the running of the omnibuses “on Sunday after the hour of 2 o’clock in the afternoon for the purpose of carrying passengers from point to point.” This ordinance applied to any “omnibus or vehicle capable of containing more than four persons.”
Although the Native American party included a great many Whigs, and although The Republican had been the leading Whig paper, this Sunday ordinance upon omnibus services was denounced editorially. The Republican said:
“The above is a fair specimen of the legislation of the Native American City Council. The distinction drawn between the morning and the evening of Sunday, making an act lawful if done before 2 p.m. and unlawful if done after that hour, the distinction between carriages that hold four and those that will hold five persons, the allowing the rich and prodigal who can own or hire a carriage an unbounded latitude to ride and drive through the streets at all hours, while the laboring and less prodigal must not enjoy a ride, although it only costs a dime, is worthy of the enlightened age and spirit of the board that can sanction it.”
The fire of May 18, 1849, swept fifteen blocks of houses in the business portion of the city and twenty-three steamboats. The loss was in the millions of dollars. The recovery of the city and The Missouri Republican from this disaster was characteristic of the vitality of both. On the ruins of the business district arose more costly and splendid buildings. In a short time the blocks were entirely rebuilt with structures far better than those destroyed.
The Missouri Republican suffered in loss of type, presses and other portions of the plant. The blow was a heavy one, and yet within less than two years, The Missouri Republican was established in a new six-story building. It was also increased to a sheet measuring 31½ inches in width by 52 inches in length.
From 1856, when it supported Buchanan for President, The Missouri Republican was a democratic newspaper. It reserved the right to criticize candidates and platforms, and it exercised that right. From the same year, when it supported Fremont, The Missouri Democrat, predecessor of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, was a Republican newspaper. Neither of these great papers was a party organ, but consistently supported, in the main, the measures of the respective parties. Probably the names of no two newspapers in the country have been so extensively commented upon as the Missouri Republican and The Missouri Democrat were in the years when they represented the parties of opposite political faith. When the late John Hay visited the World’s Fair at St. Louis in 1904 he told a Lincoln story on the names of the two St. Louis newspapers as they were in Lincoln’s time. Lincoln said to Mr. Hat, during the campaign before the Civil War, That the Missouri Republican and The Missouri Democrat reminded him of a desperate fight he once witnessed in the Courthouse yard at Springfield. Two men engaged in a rough-and-tumble bout. They clinched and struggled and rolled and tumbled all over the Courthouse yard, Lincoln said. It was such an evenly matched fight that the circle of bystanders could not tell which man was getting the worst of it. Finally the combatants separated when both were completely worn out. The spectators looked them over carefully and tried to determine which one had won the honors. They were unable to decide, but they did make an astonishing discovery that each combatant had on the other’s coat, but was wholly unhurt.
The first two years Joseph Charless ran The Gazette in the old Robidoux house, the entire cost of publication was $20 a week. That included Jacob Hinkle’s stipend. About the end of the second quarter of the newspaper’s century, Hinkle made a visit to St. Louis, coming from his home in Indiana. He found The Republican occupying the six-story building, with a weekly expense account of $4,000 and a payroll of nearly 200 names. That was fifty years ago.
When The Republican celebrated its semi-centennial Mr. Paschall had a staff of nine. Some years later a St. Louis editor walked about the brain department of his paper, reading the signs above the desks. “I see,” he commented, “we have a city editor, a society editor, a sporting editor, a river editor, a night editor, exchange editor, a railroad editor and several other editors. Where are the reporters?”
It was not so before the Civil War. Mr. Paschall had an associate editor, a commercial editor, a monetary editor, a river reporter, several local reporters, one stenographer and two assistants.
The paper had its special correspondents in London, New York, Springfield, Ill., Independence, Mo., and San Francisco. It was the outfitting point for the Santa Fe Trail.
Nathaniel Paschall’s active connection with The Republican was forty-five years. In the fifty-seven years of his association with the paper George Knapp had a proprietary interest during forty-nine of them. John Knapp was in charge of the publication office more than thirty years.
Neither George Knapp nor Nathaniel Paschall supplied that attention to business detail which is essential to success in a metropolitan newspaper. John Knapp came in as a partner in 1854, after the death of Mr. Chambers. He bought a considerable interest for cash and was the publisher.
The association of the brothers Knapp in the management extended over a continuous period of twenty-nine years. It was a more intimate association than is often the case even with brothers, and the paper took distinctive impress from the marked personality of each, both being men of strong character and positive convictions. The firm as reorganized, was “George Knapp & Com,” and that remains the corporate title under which business is now conducted, fifty-three years later.
With two years after John Knapp took charge of the business office the paper was making money at a rate that astonished George Knapp and Nathaniel Paschall, the other partners. The circulation was greatly increased. The advertising patronage was doubled.
The first inclination of Mrs. Chambers, after the death of her husband in 1854, was to retain a one-fourth interest in the paper. After a few months she decided that she preferred to sell that interest. George Knapp bought Mrs. Chambers’s interest and held the paper in trust until the partnership was arranged in such a manner that George Knapp, John Knapp and Nathaniel Paschall each held one-third interest.
Then it was that the paper attained blanket-sheet proportions, larger than any other paper west of the Alleghenies, and larger than any of the Eastern papers, with two exceptions. To the national political influence was added the phenomenal business prosperity of the paper.
How carefully Nathaniel Paschall edited The Republican was illustrated when William Hyde , the city editor, brought in his account of the funeral of Thomas H. Benton in the spring of 1858. The obsequies were attended by an immense number of people. Inspired by the occasion, Mr. Hyde used some adjectives. He wrote of the ex-senator as “eminent.” Mr. Paschall ran his pencil through “eminent” and interlined “distinguished.” Some time afterwards Mr. Hyde asked Mr. Paschall why he made the change. The editor replied:
“Benton was a distinguished, a conspicuous, or a noted man, but not an eminent one, towering above men of his station. He was not learned, not eloquent, not profound.”
Then followed an offhand analysis and review of Benton’s public life as Paschall had known it from the time he was an apprentice under Joseph Charless and receiving his initiation into journalism.
“Yes, sir,” said the editor, as he concluded his analysis. “Benton was a prominent man, a noted man, but not what should be meant when we say ‘eminent.’”
Modesty was a trait of Nathaniel Paschall, so strong that it amounted to diffidence. He was never heard to boast of what he had accomplished. Yet his course in breaking with the Buchanan administration on the Kansas policy, in supporting Douglas with all of his editorial might, in checkmating Claiborne F. Jackson’s secession plan, in overcoming the personal influence of Senator Green, did a great deal more than history has given credit toward holding Missouri in the Union.
When The Missouri Republican reached the half century mark, July 12, 1858, the editor wrote:
“Fifty years ago today this paper came into existence. The cycle of fifty years is a rare event in human life – it is an epoch in the history of the country – it is a miracle in journalism.”
All of this was true. In 1808 the paper was a little sheet about twelve inches one way and fourteen and one-half inches the other. The 170 subscribers represented a community of fewer than 2,000 people. A journey to New Orleans and back was ninety days by keelboat. When Congress created Missouri Territory, in 1813, the news was forty-three days coming from Washington to St. Louis. The mail went from St. Louis to Shawneetown once a week and was carried in a small bag ponyback.
Recalling the beginning in the single room of the Robidoux house and that little sheet about the size of a letter, the editor thought of a community grown to 150,000. He looked at a newspaper the largest in the West, with only two larger sheets in the entire country. He recalled the single printer who helped Editor Charless get out The Gazette, he compared the weekly cost of $20 in 1808 with the weekly expenditure of $4,000 in 1858. Truly he could pen – there was no typewriter – “It is a miracle in journalism.”
While The Republican was growing from fourteen and one-half inches to fifty-six inches and from twelve inches to thirty-three inches, more than twenty other newspapers were started in St. Louis, existed through varying periods and died. Looking backward, the editor wrote, in the semicentennial issue:
“The success of the Republican originated with its constant efforts to promote all departments of business in their diversified channels and to identify itself with the whole interest of St. Louis; it has been the firm friend of the city by being for half a century the faithful and reliable organ of every class of business. The Republican looks to the people for its success by devoting a portion of its columns to all the various ramifications of commerce, trade and professional pursuits which make the life and being of St. Louis. Its destiny is linked with that of the city.”