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Ballston 1861

Page history last edited by Mr. Hengsterman 8 years, 5 months ago


The Ballston Journal was for Lincoln and against slavery

Ballston Spa during the Civil War the editorial stance of the Villages’
newspapers reflected the political divisions of the day



Newspapers today are bought and sold as businesses.  They mute their political allegiances in order to appeal to as wide a variety of potential readers as possible.  In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries newspapers were often valued more for their ability to generate income.  Many towns and villages had more than one newspaper, often associated with specific political parties. In the case of Ballston Spa during the Civil War the editorial stance of the Villages’ newspapers reflected the political divisions of the day.


Roughly speaking there were four parties at the time, two flavors of Republicans and two flavors of Democrats.  The most pro-war party were the Black Republicans who favored going to war as a way to abolish slavery.  The more moderate Unionist Republicans were willing to fight to preserve the Union, but not to free slaves.  Free Soil Democrats had similar views.  They, like the moderate Republicans, wanted to stop the spread of slavery, but  their primary concern was to preserve the Union.  Copperheads were against the war and against the promotion of right for black people.  Judging from election results, the largest party in the Village of Ballston Spa were the Free Soil Democrats.  Moderate, pro-union Democrats dominated in Village government, sweeping all local offices in the election of 1865.


Nationally, the most prominent leader of the Free Democrats was Senator Stephen A. Douglas, whose family had lived in Ballston Spa.   Douglas lost the 1860 election to Lincoln, but he did well in the old family hometown of Ballston Spa.  During the campaigned he visited the Village and received a very warm welcome. Ballston’s political center of gravity, moderately pro-union, but with a significant amount of Southern sympathies, had much to do with its pre-war economy. 


During the years prior to the Civil War, Ballston Spa still enjoyed a considerable tourist trade.  A goodly number of these tourists came from the South.  During the busy summer social season, Ballston residents mingled freely with Southerners, many of whom were slave owners.  Stephen A Douglas’s family was one of those Ballston families, involved in the hotel trade, which mingled freely with Southerners. Pro-Southern sympathies existed at all levels of Village society.  Prominent citizens argued that it was the North, especially the Abolitionists, who had provoked the war.  They tended to be defeatist in tone, predicting Southern victory.  In any event, they argued, the war was not worth the cost of so many lives.

In the Village, the Ballston Atlas aligned itself with the Free Soil Democratic position.  The American Examiner, which went out of business just before the Civil War, was an organ of the anti-immigrant Know Nothing Party, basically a predecessor of the Copperhead faction.  The Journal had previously supported the Whig party, most of whose members (like Lincoln) became moderate Republicans.


  Just before the Civil War, the Journal changed hands and hardened its politics.  The paper was bought by H.L. Grose, and ardent Abolitionist. Like many Abolitionists, Grose based his opposition to the oppression of black people on religious convictions.  In addition to being a publisher, Grose was an ordained Baptist minister. Grose did not just favor the end of slavery; he opposed any kind of oppression of black people.

           In addition to his view on slavery, Grose had family reasons to support the incoming Lincoln administration.  His wife, Emma Seward Grose, was a first cousin of William Seward, the new  Secretary of State.



To the Journal office first –

Rioter, 1863


Grose openly welcomed the War, as a way to abolish slavery.  Here is how the Journal greeted the news of the firing on Ft. Sumter, which started the Civil War: “Slavery has drawn its glittering steel and bathed it in fraternal blood.  That blood will cry out for retribution.  That blood will blot out party distinctions, sufficiently, as least, at the North; to unite us in a common bond…The loss of Sumter is our greatest gain.” As the war dragged on, as volunteers were being replaced by conscripts, and as the casualties mounted, the Black Republicans, like Grose, became the focus of anti-war sentiment.  These sentiments reached a high point in the summer of 1863.  During that summer, just after the battle of Gettysburg filled the newspapers with lists of casualties, New York City was convulsed by the Draft Riots, the most 

serious instance of civil discord in the history of the United States.


Begun as a protest against the draft, the riots evolved into an attack against Abolitionists and black people.  The NY City mobs attacked the Tribune and Herald offices, the leading abolitionist newspapers of the City, and they roamed the City attacking and murdering black people.

Lincoln had to divert several regiments from the front lines to cope with the rioting.  The army even had to use artillery to suppress the riots.  So serious were the riots, that a large part of the black population of the City left.  New York City was not to have a significant black population again until the twentieth century.  Smaller draft riots, imitating the New York City riots, convulsed other Northern cities and Villages, including Ballston Spa.


News of the riots emboldened the Copperhead factions in Ballston Spa.  As usual, the Journal heaped scorn and contempt on the Copperheads.  In reporting that news of the New York City riots had visible effect on the Village, the Journal described the scene on Village streets as follows:  “Groups of men conversing in low tones, might be seen at almost every corner, and in some instances there were utterances too disgraceful to be repeated. How important were these men?  “Nobody was scared except a few women and children,” sneered the Journal.


                The Ballston Atlas by contrast, expressed the war-weariness that formed the underlying basis of the draft riots.  During the summer of the riots, under the heading “In Despair”, the Atlas stated: “Pen stops as the dismal future looms up horrid and desperate, and Faith and Hope are no longer with us.”

                Suring the mid-nineteenth century, Ballston Spa had more black residents than it was to have in the twentieth century.  Three of these black Ballstonians were to get a small taste of the treatment being dished out to unfortunate black people in New York.  Initiating the New York rioters, a group of local men attacked three black men on Bath Street shortly after news of the New York riots reached the Village.  The attack happened in front of the Fire House (now the Police Station).  The Journal reported, with satisfaction, that the black men bested their white assailants, driving them off.


                Meanwhile, in the City of Troy, rioters looked around for an abolitionist newspaper to blame for the War.  They attacked the Troy Times, a pro-War paper.  After burning the Times, the rioters looked for new targets, and their eyes fell on Ballston Spa and the Journal. That choice was not as surprising, as it might seem today because Ballston Spa had very strong connections to Troy in the mid-nineteenth century.  The railroad went directly from Ballston to Troy.  Most of the goods from Ballston manufacturers were routed through Troy.  Some wealthy people even lived in Ballston spa and commuted to Troy to work.  Newspapers in Troy regularly carried news about Ballston Spa and Ballston Spa newspapers covered events in Troy, including the anti-black riots.

                After finishing their business in Troy, a group of troublemakers hopped the train to Ballston Spa, arriving about 8 pm.  They gathered at the corner of Front Street and Bath Street.  After speeches condemning the Black Republicans for the War, the leader of the rioters shouted “To the Journal office first.”

                H.L. Grose, who was present, shouted back “You miserable cowards and villains, go right on: you will find the doors of the Journal office open; you go in, but how many will be able to come out alive I can’t tell.”

                One of the rioters shouted out “He must have an infernal machine up there,” a Civil War term for an explosive device.  Grose, whose bravado may have been assisted by a gathering force of local soldiers, picked up on that last thought shouting out that if the rioters entered the Journal office “you may get out quicker than you got in.”

                Before the commotion went much further, the Captain Horton of the Ballston Spa military company assembled his men.  The men formed in lines: the drums beat, the Captain Horton fired his pistol in the air over the heads of the rioters.

                That ended the riot.  The men from Troy left town; their local supporters went back to their houses; and the Journal continued to support Lincoln, the War and abolition.








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