Propaganda was used before and during the American Civil War by the North and the South to change public opinion. It affected the way people saw each other and the two sides of the story regarding the war. This is because it made the other side seem wrong and evil in comparison to the other side.
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This propaganda made the side that introduced the propaganda seem right and better for the person that saw it. Propaganda was used in many ways by both sides to change people’s thoughts and opinions on the war. The methods took many forms that included posters, newspapers, and even postage stamps. It caused people to take a side and cause even more division between an already divided country.
Propaganda took many forms throughout the war that included posters, pamphlets, newspapers, clothing, and postage stamps. In an effort to make the postal rates cheaper and the invention of folding machine envelopes started to be used. It didn’t take long for printers to use these envelopes as propaganda. They would print pictures and messages to support their side of the conflict and tell their version of the story. A Cincinnati printer was even arrested for printing and distributing envelopes with the likeness of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
In the North and the South political rallies were organized where representatives for their side would speak in front of large crowds trying to gain the support of their preferred side. The Propaganda in the country increased as the war progressed because each side wanted to bring the war to a quick end politically and militarily. In late 1861 Abraham Lincoln sent representatives on an assignment to spread propaganda throughout Europe.
He knew the Confederacy was trying to get support from France, Spain, and England. President Lincoln sent representatives to try to dissuade European countries from helping the Confederacy. Lincoln sent these representatives to persuade clergy and newspapermen. They made efforts to get the Europeans to understand the “true meaning of the Civil War”. The Confederacy also made an effort to change the European opinion of the war. They hired writers in newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, and books. Their efforts were to sway the opinions of the British Members of Parliament, The Southern propaganda concentrated on selling the South as a great trade partner, The vast amounts of land, fertile farmland, rivers, minerals, and climate was emphasized as a good market for British goods. They also promoted the trade of cotton to British Factories. They rarely talked about slavery, but made the argument that the Union Naval Blockade was hurting Europe as well as the South.
The Propaganda in the country ramped up as the war progressed with each side wanting to bring the war to a quick end politically and militarily. Newspapers were responsible for writing on what was going on during the war. The new invention called the telegraph allowed news to travel quickly from the battlefront to the newsroom. The relatively new invention of a better printing press was invented in 1847. This allowed newspapers to be printed faster and in greater volume for larger distribution. The Civil War was also the first war to be photographed. Photography was difficult and cumbersome but gave Americans the ability to see the awful side of the war.
The Civil War newspapers would report the information with extreme bias depending on which side they were on. Union and Confederacy supporters used many newspapers to have propaganda for their side. Because of the bias, many people hated newspapers like William Tecumseh Sherman, a famous Union general who said “I hate newspapermen. They come into camp and pick up their camp rumors and print them as facts. I regard them as spies, which, in truth, they are. If I killed them all there would be news from Hell before breakfast.” (bennettplacehistoricsite.com) Newspapers provided people with access to news and events that they were not able to get in the past. This gave newspapers the ability to affect public opinion. Newspapers had such a big part in public opinion that they could determine the outcome of politics. Like television news today, this gave newspapers a lot of power in American society.
During the Civil War, both the Union and the Confederacy used propaganda to recruit soldiers to their side and to sway public opinion in their favor. They even used propaganda in their recruitment posters. These recruitment posters usually were for a targeted audience. Recruitment posters that were targeted towards Irish immigrants had harps and shamrocks. Ones that were targeted for German and French immigrants were written in French and German to appeal to them. Both of these propaganda posters attempted to convince their audience to support the war effort. They put information out to get people to better understand the war. An example of this is “We have Butterfield the daring, and we’ve Martindale the cool: Where could we learn the art of war within a better school? Add Morell to the list of names, and we must all agree, We have the finest general in the army of the free.” (Civilwarhome.com) The creators of this propaganda hoped that people would pick a side to support.
Others that used propaganda were clubs who distributed propaganda across the country for their side. They would form large rally’s that would range from great orators to raving speeches. One famous propaganda club was known as the Union League who distributed propaganda for the Union and the policies of the President. The Union League started organizing in were formed in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. Many of these group like the Union Club distributed large propaganda across the country in both the Confederacy and the Union. Eventually, the Union Club had locations in 18 states and in the Confederacy. They raised money for soldiers relief and recruited both black and white soldiers.
The Confederates hired writers to create anti-union propaganda that was then distributed across the Union and Confederacy. Propaganda caused many people to have to see issues in different ways causing them to take a side. Another effect was that each side showed the effect propaganda had on even people’s religion saying that their side was religiously correct.
Propaganda affected the way people saw each other and the two sides. Northerners and Anti-slavery groups tried to show how wrong slavery was. Southerners felt that the North was trying to infringe on their way of life and their rights as property owners. Both sides could not understand why the opposition could not get their point. Propaganda caused many divisions between friends and even family with family members dividing over the two sides. People didn’t see themselves as Americans anymore because of slavery and this propaganda made it even worse for the country.
In many ways, the American Civil War shaped the way media is used today in our society. Today propaganda is still used, and it still divides our country as it did during the Civil War time period. Nowadays, the power of newspapers is fading, but now groups have added television, radio and social media such as Facebook and Twitter to the tools of propaganda. Hopefully, someday we can change the negative rhetoric that propaganda spreads. We should look at the Civil War propaganda and take a lesson by looking into the past at its effect.
Editors, History.com. “Civil War Culture.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 21 Mar. 2011, www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/civil-war-culture.“Civil War Medical Care, Battle Wounds, and Disease.” www.civilwarhome.com/propaganda.html.
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