Constitutional Union

The Constitutional Union was a short-lived newspaper published in 1860–1861 in Des Arc (Prairie County) to rival the secessionist viewpoints espoused by the local Des Arc Citizen with the Civil War on the horizon.

The Des Arc Citizen (1854–186?) was the first newspaper in Prairie County, established in September 1854 by John C. Morrill. Published weekly, issues were four pages long and focused on state politics, the Methodist Episcopal Church, agriculture, development projects for railroads and river levees, and news from nearby Memphis, Tennessee. In 1861, a new twice-weekly edition, the Des Arc Semi-Weekly Citizen, was published simultaneously. The new edition was published only briefly, and later that same year the newspaper returned to a singular weekly edition called the Des Arc Weekly Citizen.

In the lead-up to the Civil War, the Des Arc Citizen supported leaving the Union. Disagreeing with the Citizen’s secessionist views, Weston H. Rhea created the Constitutional Union (1860–1861) in Des Arc to rival the paper and served as both proprietor and editor. The Constitutional Union, the masthead of which stated, “The Constitution, the Union, and the Enforcement of the Laws,” supported staying in the Union. This four-page weekly paper focused on state and national politics, with articles discussing international opinions on American politics. Recurring features included “Poetical” and “Telegraphic!” sections. The Constitutional Union continued to bolster Unionist sentiment throughout the secession crisis.

When Arkansas’s Secession Convention voted to secede from the Union, Rhea closed his paper, having only published for five months. During the Civil War, Major General Samuel Curtis captured Des Arc for the Union, and the town was partially destroyed. Despite his Unionist leanings, Rhea joined the Confederate army, fighting in a Tennessee infantry regiment. Following the war, Rhea stayed in Tennessee, where he served as editor of the Hamilton Gazette in Chattanooga.

The Citizen resumed publication in 1866 with Elijah H. Poe and James H. Balding as proprietors and N. B. Gair as editor. In its first issue on February 20, 1866, the newspaper encouraged the rebuilding of Des Arc and praised the last six months of progress. The newspaper stated, “Many of her old citizens, scattered to the four winds of heaven by the fortunes or misfortunes of the war, are returning to Des Arc, bankrupt as to means, but willing, and anxious to contribute their mite [sic] in rebuilding this once pleasant and lovely town.” In June 1866, the partnership between Poe and Balding was dissolved, and Poe served as sole proprietor until January 1867, when he partnered with Allen C. Mathews. Balding continued as publisher until the end of 1866. In February 1867, the newspaper’s name changed to the Des Arc Weekly Citizen.

For additional information:
Allsopp, Frederick W. History of the Arkansas Press for a Hundred Years and More. Little Rock: Parke-Harper Publishing Co., 1922.

Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Eastern Arkansas. Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1890.

Constitutional Union.” Chronicling America, Library of Congress. (accessed March 21, 2023).

Dougan, Michael B. Community Diaries: Arkansas Newspapering, 1819–2002. Little Rock: August House, 2003.

Scruggs, Jack. “Arkansas in the Secession Crisis.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 12 (Autumn 1953): 179–224.

Arkansas State Digital Newspaper Project
Arkansas State Archives

A version of this entry was initially published on the website of Chronicling America and is used here with permission.


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