It should be no surprise to anyone researching the Civil War and Reconstruction that newspapers from the time period can be incredibly valuable as primary sources. Newsprint can offer a researcher an incredible glimpse not only into the everyday life of people living in different areas during war and its aftermath and does so by offering information on things like marriages, deaths, and even clothing and fashion through editorials, articles, and advertisements. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly to research in the Civil War era, newspapers can also reveal the way people reacted to events and actions within the government and military. However, there are several aspects of newspapers that researchers must consider when they are attempting to apply articles to their argument. When doing research, one must recognize the fact that newspapers were often published with deep political affiliations. Obviously, these affiliations can be seen as sources of bias that were sometimes aimed at swaying public opinion in one way or another. For this reason, one must research the newspapers themselves and the editors who published them, so they can establish a basis for critical analysis when reading and interpreting newspapers.
Examples of these political affiliations can be easily found in two of North Carolina’s most widely read newspapers during the Civil War, the Weekly Raleigh Register and the Raleigh Standard. Even though both papers were published under a Democratic political banner, the briefest glimpse of the Register reveals its stronger ties to the national Confederate government. Often the tone of the Register’s articles, edited by Syme and Hall, can be interpreted as an attempt to sway a hesitant public toward greater national support. The Raleigh Standard, on the other hand, was far more oriented toward pursuing both state’s and people’s rights. Often its articles questioned the actions of the military and national government and likely had a larger sway over public opinion being read by more people overall. Background research into the Standard would also reveal that its publisher, William Holden, became a governor under the Republican Party directly following the war, which would undoubtedly explain the differences in tone and objectives between the two papers.Based on these examples, it should be clear that one should consider both the information that is given in an article as well as the information that isn’t.