The Rock Island Argus

Oct 15, 2020

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Newspaper editors are almost as apt as other folks to change their minds when a better idea comes along. Here's a local example.

The town of Stephenson along the Illinois shore had changed its name to Rock Island in 1845. Now, as the clouds of the impending civil war hung over the land, Rock Island stood out among the communities around this island in its support of the Southern cause. Most of her original citizens had come up from Kentucky and other southern states. Many still had friends and relatives there. In the crucial election of 1860, Rock Island had voted for Bell and Breckenridge rather than Abraham Lincoln in spite of loud parades by the Lincoln Wide Awakes.

Among the most outspoken of Lincoln critics was J. B. Danforth, editor of The Rock Island Argus. He had changed the name of his paper from The Rock Island Republican in 1855, when a new political party took that name Republican.

All during the spring of 1861 Danforth blasted Lincoln and his "black republicans" for drawing the United States toward war. He urged resistance. The Argus increasingly became a series of editorials vilifying Lincoln as a warmonger right up until the first shells fell on Fort Sumter.

When that news reached Rock Island on April 13th, 1861, Danforth relented. The Argus fell in line with other local papers and encouraged support of the Union. All three communities responded quickly to Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers.

Editor Danforth made the best of a bad situation in a very American way. Within the week, the Argus was advertising patriotic flags available for sale at a modest price at the Argus offices, and encouraging Rock Island businesses to fly them. Subsequently, the Argus began publishing the names of those tardy businesses that were not yet displaying their flags, available at the Argus office.

Entrepreneurship was an activity Danforth could support.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.