One of the original editors of The Independent, Dr. Richard Salter Storrs, remarked that when the newspaper was founded, the “process of starting a newspaper was about as simple as pitching a summer-tent. No vast capital and prolonged preparation were needed for it; and the entire mechanism of newspaper-making was by no means elaborate and costly, as now” (The Independent, 8 December, 1898).
Founded in 1848 by Henry Chandler Bowen, The Independent began as a liberal religious periodical, but later became nonsectarian towards the close of the nineteenth century. As a Congregationalist journal that focused on social topics, The Independent concerned itself primarily with opposition to slavery and women’s suffrage in its early years. Editors included, among others, Henry Ward Beecher, Theodore Tilton, Kinsley Twining, Hamilton Holt, William Hayes Ward, and his sister, Susan Hayes Ward.
Less an arm of the Congregationalist church than a voice for public reform, the newspaper took stances against social injustice, such as the Fugitive Slave Law, the Dred Scott decision, and later, women’s lack of suffrage. In the words of Theodore Tilton, editor, the periodical was established in order to further two agendas, “one religious, the other political–one the Congregational as against the Presbyterian church polity, the other, the freedom of the slave against the tyranny of his master” (The Independent, 21 December, 1869). In a 50-year Jubilee edition, one of its earliest contributors, Theodore I. Cuyler, D. D., described the newspaper at its inception as the “bold and brilliant champion of Free Soil and Free Speech, of Temperance and of about every wholesome moral reform” (The Independent, 8 December, 1898). Abraham Lincoln called himself a faithful reader of the paper.
In its early years, the paper focused on using journalism as an extension of the pulpit. Subscribers were solicited through offers of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, and later sewing machines. Advertising was not yet integral to periodicals publication.
The journal printed a large amount of commentary on public affairs, and later had departments for fine arts, music, eduation, science, and literature, with a focus on poetry. Particularly after the Civil War, the journal included literary submissions, but, as Frank Luther Mott remarks, it did not “forget” its “Congregational upbringing,” and followed other Congregationalist publications in being more of an opinion journal than an organ of the church (1938-1968, 4:292).
Nevertheless, as the journal turned its focus towards literary content, it positioned itself as a venue for promoting both high-profile and promising, upcoming authors. Names include Sidney Lanier, Bayard Taylor, John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Emily Dickinson. In fact, The Independent was the periodical with “more instances of originally published Dickinson poems than any other” (Satelmajer 82).
Under the leadership of William Hayes Ward, the newspaper expanded its departments and sought to secure literary status.
For many years, the paper featured poetry in the leading position on its front page (Satelmajer 86). In articles celebrating its publication history on the newspaper’s fiftieth and sixtieth anniversaries (1898 and 1908), the editors, contributers, and members of the public, reflected on the life of the journal. Theodore Roosevelt, in a letter to the editor an anniversary edition of the paper wrote, “Thruout these sixty years THE INDEPENDENT has stood for sane and progressive policies in our national life” (The Independent, 3 December, 1908).
Mott, Frank Luther. 1939-1968. A History of American Magazines. 5 vols. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Satelmajer, Ingrid. 2007. “When a Consumer Becomes an Editor: Susan Hayes Ward and the Poetry of The Independent.” Textual Cultures: Text, Contexts, Interpretation 2.1. (Spring 2007): pp. 78-100.
Tilton, Theodore. 1869. “Memories of the Old Independent,” The Independent, XXI, December 2, 1869