Place of publication: Wheeling, VA [W. Va.]
The Civil War, the abolition of slavery, economic expansion, and industrial revolution contributed to political, social, and economic transformations that fundamentally changed America in the mid-nineteenth century. During this tumultuous era, the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer emerged as the most important newspaper in western Virginia.
The four-page, six-column daily newspaper played a pivotal role in the changes that characterized the era, especially the establishment of the state of West Virginia on June 20, 1863. The newspaper’s rise to prominence was attributable to a skillful balancing of commercial concerns, patronage, and political idealism. Its influence and sustainability were aided by Wheeling’s status as the new state’s capital city from 1863 to 1870 and again from 1875 to 1885.
Eli B. Swearingen and Oliver Taylor founded the Intelligencer in August 1852 to rally support for Winfield Scott’s Whig Party presidential campaign. Ownership changed several times before Archibald W. Campbell and John F. McDermot purchased the paper in 1856. They shortened its name to the Daily Intelligencer from 1859 to 1865. Aiming to establish “a liberal and independent journal,” Campbell took advantage of recent advancements in printing technology, marketing, and the availability of news by telegraph. These innovations, in concert with a new seven-column format and a policy of representing diverse viewpoints, garnered for the Intelligencer both a wide circulation and increased advertising revenue.
The newspaper’s stability and broad appeal convinced the nascent Republican Party that it was well-suited to advance the party’s platform in northwestern Virginia. Prominent Republicans began offering financial assistance to the Intelligencer by 1858, hoping to capitalize on the paper’s commercial success. Campbell’s political sympathies and policy of free speech provided a vehicle through which Republican ideas reached a regional population that was largely disillusioned with Virginia’s Southern Democratic leaders. Although Republicans remained a minority in northwestern Virginia, the Intelligencer was one of a handful of Virginia newspapers that supported Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 Presidential election.
The Intelligencer benefited from support by the Lincoln administration in the months that followed the election. This symbiotic relationship continued throughout the Civil War. The Intelligencer consistently advocated the establishment of a new, non-slave, state in western Virginia, though Campbell adhered to his policy of free speech, printing opposing views alongside his own. The Intelligencer’s role in the statehood debate was, in fact, critical, as Lincoln’s support for West Virginia’s creation was in part a reward for the unionist loyalties of the men behind the movement, including Campbell.
The only daily published in West Virginia in the early 1860s, the Intelligencer’s circulation exceeded 3,000 during the Civil War. Though its national influence diminished thereafter, the firm foundation which Campbell had established assured the newspaper’s long-term viability.
John Frew became part owner of the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer in 1866 and successfully guided the paper for the remainder of the century. In addition to boosting daily circulation, Frew increased readership and influence by establishing weekly and semiweekly editions. Campbell’s emphasis on quality, objectivity, and marketability continued under Frew’s leadership. While Frew and his editors expressed strong political opinions, pursued political offices, and benefited from political patronage, they did not abandon the paper’s spirit of neutrality, nor compromise its commercial success to advance their personal ambitions and views. Its business model proved so enduring that the Intelligencer survives to this day as West Virginia’s oldest continuously published daily newspaper.
Provided by: West Virginia University