Friday, August 2, 2019

Lawrence A. Kreiser Jr.'s "Marketing the Blue and Gray"

Lawrence A. Kreiser Jr. is an associate professor at Stillman College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Marketing the Blue and Gray: Newspaper Advertising and the American Civil War, and reported the following:
On page 99 of my book is an analysis of how an old newspaper notice helped to change northern attitudes toward the recruitment of black men during the Civil War. In 1863, there was considerable backlash among many white civilians and soldiers over the expansion of the Union’s war effort to include the destruction of slavery. In his book on the attitudes of the Founding Fathers toward “Negroes as Slaves, as Citizens and as Soldiers,” published that same year, historian George Livermore reprinted a runaway notice for a “Molatto Fellow” that had run in a Boston newspaper in the late 1750s. Crispus Attucks was never apprehended and, when he next appeared in the newspapers after the Boston Massacre, it was as a martyr for the American cause. Livermore reminded his readers that, through the shedding of his “precious blood,” Attucks had demonstrated that black men were willing to fight and, if need be, die for their country. The fugitive notice helped to swing northern opinion toward the enlistment of black soldiers, with reviewers mentioning its emotional impact. Livermore was so persuasive in arguing for the enlistment of black soldiers that Abraham Lincoln reportedly gave him the pen he had used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. The ninety-ninth page concludes with: “Had the runaway notice for Attucks not gone unmet, the flow of the nation’s history might have taken a different course by 1863.”

Arguing that a newspaper notice influenced the bloodiest war in American history is, perhaps, as much of stretch as when Lincoln supposedly remarked, upon meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that she was the “little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” But perhaps not. Newspapers were widely circulated during the mid-nineteenth century, and advertisers poured money into them. They attempted to sell everything from biographies on political and military leaders to patent medicines that promised to cure almost any battlefield wound. Splashed across even the front pages, the sale columns drew readers’ attention. Contemporary observers described the notices as the “pulse and commerce of universal activity” and the “most suggestive and interesting portion of a daily newspaper.”

Like Livermore, I use the Union and Confederate advertisements for their historical value and, in that way, page 99 is an excellent representation of the book. Merchants commercialized the war, by offering their readers a sense of turning an everyday purchase into a political activity. A customer might strike a blow for the war effort without ever leaving the storefront. And, lest we, in the modern-day, fall into the historical sop about the past as a more simple time, some of the gimmicks were totally over the top. “Richmond Captured” and “No Compromise with Anti-Slavery” drew the eye of many northern and southern families, before leading into a sales pitch for dry goods and other material wares. Yet, by studying advertising in its early days, Marketing the Blue and Gray argues that shopping had become its own form of patriotism, one of the Civil War’s more enduring legacies.
Learn more about Marketing the Blue and Gray at the Louisiana State University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue