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Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion by Harold Holzer tells the story of the role played by newspapers in the time leading up to, and during the Civil War. It is a story that has been overlooked or given short-shift in the various biographies of Abraham Lincoln and in the many histories of the great conflict, but as Holzer enthusiastically points out, the battle for public opinion was almost as important as the battles fought with bullets and bayonets. Lincoln was a master tactician when it came to using public opinion as both a political weapon as well as a military aid. He used the press not only to get his message out in an era before electronic mass communication, but also to prevent his opponents from having similar access to the hearts and minds of the people, through the use of military censorship, control of the post office and telegraphs, and the use of patronage. Holzer very ably tells the story of how this was done and why it was important.



In addition to the story of Lincoln's media strategy, Holzer also tells the reader about the leading newspapers of the time and the men who ran them, especially in New York, the media capital of the western world. The big three media moguls in New York City were Horace Greeley of the Tribune, James Gordon Bennett of the Herald, and Henry Raymond of the Times. Each had interesting life stories and personalities. The author gives the history of each of these men, their rise to media power, and their role in influencing public opinion. He also tells about many of the influential newspapers in other parts of the country, including in Washington D.C., Philadelphia and in Lincoln's home state of Illinois, where Lincoln purchased a newspaper printed in German to bolster his electoral chances in that state.

There are many fascinating aspects of this theater of the war. These include the censorship of those journalists and newspapers whose views did not accord with the administration or its prosecution of the war. Many newspapers were censored, shut down, reporters were treated differently depending on how they reported from the battlefield, and some editors were even jailed for their anti-administration views. Often it was members of the public, through mob actions, who took it upon themselves to violently censor the newspapers. Holzer's recounting of how freedom of the press was a casualty of the Civil War is masterful. He also gives an interesting account of the story of Lincoln's famous response to Greeley's "Prayer of Twenty Millions" editorial (in which Lincoln wrote "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it") and of Lincoln's tactical use of the media for his re-election in 1864. These are only a few of the wonderful stories about the role that newspapers played during the war that Holzer delights the reader with.

Harold Holzer's passion for his subject comes through in this very detailed account which tells the reader much that he or she never knew about the civil war before. It is not so much a detailed history of Lincoln or of the war as it is an exceptional account of what took place during the war behind the scenes, the war for public opinion. Holzer explains the importance of Lincoln's use of the press in the context of the big picture of the conflict. He does so exceptionally well, and produced a terrific book in the process.

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