Understanding Antebellum American Newspapers

The University Library at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has put together a great guide for anyone doing research utilizing early American newspapers.

Their video focuses on newspapers published between 1800 and 1860 and helps the student or researcher understand how to determine a newspaper’s affiliation or bias and provides some tips on how to spot a paper’s underlying reason for being quickly and accurately.

At about the 15 minute mark the video’s creator delves into the background of many of the early African American newspapers like those found in our collections.


Founded in 1827, Freedom’s Journal was the first black newspaper in the United States. Although Frederick Douglass’s abolitionist newspapers are probably the best known of the 19th century black newspapers, most African American newspapers of this period were not really abolitionist organs. Instead they addressed the concerns of African Americans in the Northern communities they served: racism, violence, self-defense, the various colonization schemes, and strategies for self-improvement. The black newspapers were published by and for the educated black middle class, which was characterized less by material wealth than the promulgation of middle-class respectability and morality. They were culturally and socially conservative in that they promoted temperance, self-help, education, and moral reform as solutions to the problems facing the black community, rather than resistance or revolution.

Black newspapers had much in common with other newspapers of the era. They were founded to advance a particular platform and often advocated moral reform.

The full transcript can be read at American Newspapers, 1800-1860: An Introduction.

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