British and Irish News Coverage in Antebellum American Newspapers, 1846-1861

Dianne Bragg
The University of Alabama

As the United States moved from the contentious Wilmot Proviso slavery
expansion debate in 1846 to the Confederate nation’s firing on the
United States’ Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston harbor,
news from Great Britain and Ireland was a common staple to be found in
American newspapers of the period. Americans had always been intent on
reading whatever they could about events in Great Britain and Ireland,
especially as it related to trade, economics, and society. This is not
surprising as many American newspaper readers had Irish or English

Despite the United States contentious history with England from the
Revolutionary War through the War of 1812, the many Americans who were
directly descended from English ancestors had remained interested in
all things British. This interest continued throughout the antebellum
period in American history, especially as it concerned Great
Britain’s political positions as the United States’ northern and
southern regions became more divided. This division revolved greatly
along the lines of slavery, a practice outlawed in most of the United
Kingdom in 1833.

Additionally, Irish immigrants flocked to the United States from
1840-1861, with the numbers jumping dramatically during this period
and reaching close to two million. These new immigrants created a
greater demand for news from Ireland and increased the amount of
coverage found in American newspapers. Although there were some
American newspaper publications devoted solely to an Irish audience,
this paper will examine the coverage of Irish and British events in
mainstream American newspapers in the North and South, such as The New
York Times and The New Orleans Picayune. This paper will show how the
choices American newspapers made in deciding what news about Ireland
and England to print determined what Americans read and thought about
news from across the Atlantic. This coverage is also an indication of
what American newspaper editors believed their readers wanted to learn
about the United Kingdom and how the events covered might affect
Americans in the North and South as the United States moved ever
closer to war.

Newspapers and Periodicals in Britain and Ireland from 1800 to 1900