Arkansas True Democrat
The True Democrat (1852–1857) was first printed on September 7, 1852, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) by owners and publishers Richard Henry Johnson and Reuben S. Yerkes, with Johnson serving as editor. Its earlier title, the Arkansas Democratic Banner (1851–1852), was changed to the True Democrat for political reasons. The new publishers described the reason for the name change as “renewed assurances of fidelity to the noble principles of our party…we unfurl to our patrons and the public—‘THE TRUE DEMOCRAT.’” The True Democrat and its successors—Arkansas True Democrat (1857–1862) and True Democrat (1862–1863)—were published as weeklies. Daily editions were published for a short time, including the Daily True Democrat (1861) and the True Democrat Bulletin (1862–?), but these editions ended due to financial constraints and lack of support.
Like most antebellum newspapers in Little Rock, the True Democrat focused upon politics. It supported the Democratic Party and, during the 1860 elections, endorsed former editor Johnson for governor and John Cabell Breckinridge for president. Both candidates lost, and Johnson returned to his position as editor after the elections. After the Civil War began, Arkansas officially seceded from the Union on May 6, 1861, to join the Confederate States of America. In early 1862, Johnson published relatively up-to-date information on the war by coordinating with and receiving reports from soldiers in various Arkansas regiments. This arrangement ended when military officials ordered soldiers to cease disclosing military activities. Johnson reported that “our military leaders wisely keep their own counsels, and we content ourself [sic] with chronicling the result when it happens, instead of the intentions which may be lost by a premature disclosure.”
Throughout the Civil War, newspapers in Arkansas struggled to overcome shortages of personnel and paper. On April 3, 1862, Johnson calculated that “by issuing on a half-sheet we will have paper enough for twelve months.” For the True Democrat, the paper shortage was compounded by financial difficulties caused by the high number of delinquent subscribers. In July 1863, the number of True Democrat readers was estimated at 20,000 with only 10,000 subscribers. The publishers attempted to save the newspaper by using a paper supplier in Georgia, but this plan failed when shipments could no longer cross the Mississippi River due to the Siege of Vicksburg in 1863. The True Democrat ran out of paper, and on July 8, 1863, the True Democrat published its last issue on wrapping paper. The newspaper did not resume after the war.
Beginning in 2017, the Arkansas Digital Newspaper Project (ADNP) team at the Arkansas State Archives partnered with the Library of Congress as part of the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP), funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), to digitize historic Arkansas newspapers, including the True Democrat and its successors.
For additional information:
Allsopp, Frederick W. History of the Arkansas Press for a Hundred Years and More. Little Rock: Parke-Harper Publishing Co., 1922.
Arkansas True Democrat. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82014282/ (accessed May 3, 2022).
Daily True Democrat. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn89051466/ (accessed May 3, 2022).
Dougan, Michael B. Community Diaries: Arkansas Newspapering: 1819–2002: Little Rock: August House Publishing Inc., 2003.
Goodspeed Publishing Co. Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Central Arkansas. Chicago, Nashville, and St. Louis: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.
True Democrat. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84022882/ (accessed May 3, 2022).
True Democrat. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84023190/ (accessed May 3, 2022).
True Democrat Bulletin. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn89051467/ (accessed May 3, 2022).
Staff of the Arkansas Digital Newspaper Project
Arkansas State Archives
A version of this entry was initially published on both the website of the Arkansas State Archives and the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America project and is used here with permission.
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