Tuesday, May 13, 2008

George W. Wisner, Abolitionist Reporter

On my way to work, at the corner of Broadway and Chambers Street, I pass by the clock of the old New York Sun paper, turned pistachio green with verdigris and bearing the slogan “It shines for all.” It was a treat to discover recently that my ancestor George W. Wisner was not only a reporter for the Sun, beginning when it was founded in 1833, but was a boisterous abolitionist. The Wisners in America quotes from a serial article called “The Story of the Sun,” which appeared in Munsey’s Magazine beginning in May 1917:

When George W. Wisner, a young printer who was out of work, applied to the Sun for a job, Benjamin Day told him that he would give him four dollars a week if he would get up early every day and attend the police court, which held its sessions from 4 A.M. on. The people of the city were quite as human then as they are today. Unregenerate mortals got drunk and fought in the streets. Others stole shoes. The worst of all beat their wives. Wisner was to be the Balzac of the daybreak court in a year when Balzac himself was writing his “Droll Stories.” ... The big story on the first page of the fourth issue of the Sun was a conversation between Envy and Candor in regard to the beauties of a Miss H., perhaps a fictitious person. But on the second page, at the head of the editorial column, was a real editorial article approving the course of the British government in freeing the slaves in the West Indies: “We supposed that the eyes of men were but half open to this case. We imagined that the slave would have to toil on for years and purchase what in justice was already his own. We did not once dream that light had so far progressed as to prepare the British nation for the colossal stride in justice and humanity and benevolence which they are about to make. The abolition of West Indian slavery will form a brilliant era in the annals of the world. It will circle with a halo of imperishable glory the brows of the transcendent spirits who wield the present destinies of the British Empire. “Would to heaven that the honor of leading the way in this Godlike enterprise had been reserved to our own country! But as the opportunity for this passed, we trust we shall at least avoid the everlasting disgrace of long refusing to imitate so bright and glorious an example.” Thus the Sun came out for the freedom of the slave twenty-eight years before that freedom was to be accomplished, in the United States, through war. The Sun was the Sun of Day, but the hand was the hand of Wisner. That young man was an Abolitionist before the word was coined. “Wisner was a pretty smart young fellow,” said Mr. Day nearly fifty years afterward, “but he and I never agreed. I was rather Democratic in my notions. Wisner, whenever he got a chance, was always sticking in his damned little Abolitionist articles.”... Wisner was stretching the police-court pieces out to nearly two columns. Now and then, perhaps when Mr. Day was away fishing, the reporter would slip in an Abolition paragraph or a gloomy poem on the horrors of slavery. But he was so valuable that, while his chief did not raise his salary of four dollars a week, he offered him half the paper, the same to be paid for out of the profits.... The influence of partner Wisner, the Abolitionist, was evident in many pages of the Sun. On June 23, 1834, it printed a piece about Martin Palmer, who was “pelted down with stones in Wall Street on suspicious of being a runaway slave,” and paid its respects to Boudinot, a Southerner in New York who was reputed to be a tracker of runaways. It was he who had set the crowd after the black: “The man who will do this will do anything; he would dance on his mother’s grave; he would invade the sacred precincts of the tomb and rob a corpse of its winding-sheet; he has no soul. It is said that this useless fellow is about to commence a suit against us for libel. Try it, Mr. Boudinot!”
Continuing the story, The Wisners in America says, “When Wisner’s health became poor, in the summer of 1835, he expressed a desire to get away from New York. His partner, Day, paid him $5,000 for his interest in the paper — a large sum for those days. Wisner then went West and settled at Pontiac, Mich. There his health improved and he became a noted lawyer and was a member of the Michigan Legislature. “Reference to the charts will show that George W. Wisner was a brother of Moses Wisner, the Governor of Michigan from 1858 to 1860.”

No comments: