Colorful Journalism in Fort Wayne written by long-time Fort Wayne Journalist, Herbert G. Bredemeir was presented before the Fort Wayne Quest Club 28 January 1966: The Fort Wayne Times, a Whig paper was established in 1841 by George W. Wood. There were 3,173 weekly’s published that year compared to 387 dailies. Railroads and the telegraph encouraged additional rural papers, whose editors were only too happy to tap the main stream of national communication. The Post Office Act of 1851 gave further encouragement to country editors since it permitted the delivery of newspapers within their home counties free of charge, a subsidy of a few hundred dollars a year which made a real difference to a small editor-printer. The more vocal newspapermen in the counties continued to enjoy party patronage, sometimes including free drinks, chewing tobacco, writing paper and hotel accommodations at the state capitols.
John W. Dawson was born in Cambridge, Indiana, on 1 October 1820. In 1838 he left his father’s farm near Guilford, IN, and traveled to Fort Wayne where he attended school. He became a clerk in the office of Col. John Spencer, his brother-in-law, who was Receiver of Public Moneys. He spent two years at Wabash College, after which he read law with another brother-in-law, Thomas Johnson. He was admitted to the bar in 1843, whereupon he began his practice in Augusta. After the death of his brother-in-law, Thomas Johnson, he returned to Fort Wayne to take over the latter’s law business. In 1847 he tried to continue his law studies at Transylvania, but poor health forced him to discontinue it.
Returning to Fort Wayne in 1853, together with T.N. Hood he leased the Fort Wayne Times. The Times under Dawson was a progressive paper on most points, but conservative on the slavery issue. He was “pledged to the Union, the Constitution, and laws.” This pledge was printed at the top of almost every publication. His articles were in most part patriotic. The fact that he was patriotic and could use religious language did not prevent him from using strong language to attack rivals. The Fort Wayne Times loosed a bitter blast at its “respectable, yet feebleminded neighbor,” the Fort Wayne Republican, who Dawson said, “Handled a news story, like a demented monkey would one of Euclid’s problems.”
The Fort Wayne Sentinel showed its dislike of Dawson’s Times by insisting, “A more corrupt, unprincipled, and contemptible object never disgraced the editorial fraternity and no paper has ever sunk so low and rapidly in public estimation as the Times since Dawson assumed its direction.” Dawson was a supporter of the American Party and wrote many editorials on what it stood for. Its motto was “Americans shall rule America.” But more influential politically were his editorials supporting the Populist Party which he did in election years while he was editor of the Times. He was such a hardworking and dedicated Populist that in 1856 he was nominated on their ticket for treasure. He failed to win the position. At a later time he backed candidates Gen. George McClellan for the presidency and Gov. Horatio C. Moore as his running mate. He devoted many editorials to his reasons why they would make the best leaders of this country. Dawson didn’t seem to like any of the presidents who were in office while he leased the Times and wrote extensively against each of them.
Even President Lincoln felt his barbed attacks. The conclusions drawn from some of his articles was that he hated Lincoln, the South and was really a traitor to the Constitution of the United States. It was no wonder that in 1864 the Kendallville Standard called Dawson “A specimen of the dirty tools of Jefferson Davis (Confederate president), which are being tolerated in the North.”
To be continued.
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