Freedom of the press — at least the press owned by Bangor Democrat Marcellus Emery — literally flew out the window on Monday, Aug. 12, 1861.
By that summer, many Maine Democrats opposed the fledgling Civil War. In his 1967 graduate thesis “Civil War Bangor,” professor John DiMeglio wrote that Democrat State Committee Chairman Marcellus Emery invited “all men … who are opposed to this unholy Civil War, and in favor of the immediate restoration of peace by negotiation and compromise” to attend the Democratic convention in Augusta on Aug. 14.
When delegates passed resolutions condemning the war, “the so-called war Democrats bolted, convened on their own [as Union Democrats] and nominated [Charles] Jameson” to run for governor, DiMeglio noted. Jameson then commanded the 2nd Maine Infantry Regiment.
“The Democrats who stayed nominated [ex-Gov. John] Dana” and effectively became the Peace Party, according to DiMeglio. Already against the war, Marcellus Emery would throw in with Dana — especially for what had happened to Emery’s newspaper two days earlier.
Born in Frankfort to James and Sally Emery on July 28, 1830, Emery hailed from a politically connected family; maternal grandfather Dr. Ephraim Rowe had helped pen the Maine Constitution. Marcellus Emery attended Yarmouth Academy before graduating from Bowdoin College in 1849.
“Although somewhat reserved in his demeanor, he was an energetic student” who subsequently taught school in Hallowell, tutored in Mississippi, served as an Indiana law clerk, and finally came home in 1857 to pass the Maine bar exam, wrote Crompton Burton in “Another Copperhead Lie.”
That same year, Emery “and other leading Democrats in Penobscot County” bought two Bangor newspapers, The Journal (a daily) and The Democrat (a weekly, published on Tuesdays), Burton wrote. Named the editor for both papers, Emery ironically renamed The Journal as The Daily Union.
In his articles and editorials, Emery ardently supported the South — and pro-Union sympathizers in Bangor paid attention. They exacted their revenge by pitching The Daily Union files from the Bangor Mercantile Association Reading Room in spring 1861.
Losing ad revenue and readers, Emery stopped publishing The Daily Union on June 1. “The business men of the city have simply done their duty in refusing to aid in sustaining a traitorous organ” in Bangor “and have taken precisely the right course to suppress it,” William Wheeler proclaimed in the Whig, a pro-Union newspaper.
Even as Manassas casualty lists started appearing in Bangor newspapers in late July, Emery exulted in the Confederate victory. He published “President [Jefferson] Davis’s account of the great battle” in The Democrat on July 30. Emery also wrote that “onward the shouting myriads (Union soldiers) will pour, until again met by the unequalled and invincible genius” of Confederate military leaders “who are defending their firesides and their homes, from the ruthless assaults of fanaticism and fury.”
Bangor men had died at Manassas, and a Bangor newspaper had called them “shouting myriads”? On Aug. 10, pro-Union sympathizers packed Norumbega Hall overlooking the Kenduskeag Stream. They adopted a resolution that accused The Democrat of “lending … aid and comfort to the armed enemies of our country, which made its editors, publishers and proprietors guilty of treason,” according to DiMeglio.
An unidentified “leading” man “of the city (possibly lumber baron Rufus Dwinel) … signed a pledge to indemnify anyone taking part in an attack on Emery’s office,” DiMeglio wrote. Emery published The Democrat from fourth-floor offices in the Wheelwright-Clark Block abutting West Market Square.
Hearing about the possible attack, building co-owner J.G. Clark asked Emery to relocate his printing press and other property. Refusing to do so, Emery asked Bangor Mayor Isaiah Stetson to send police officers to guard the newspaper’s offices. Correctly reading the Queen City’s political mood, Stetson declined the request.
At approximately 12:45 p.m. Monday, Aug. 12, the First Parish Church bell started tolling a fire alarm, “sending fire engines [and on-duty police officers] up State Street,” DiMeglio wrote. The false alarm triggered a well-planned attack on The Democrat.
“Led by a husky blacksmith named Tabor, an evidently well-organized group of men forced their way into the office, watched the smith break up the great press, and then tossed whatever they could into” West Market Square “four stories below,” DiMeglio wrote. “The crowd that was gathered there burned everything that would burn.”
Among the items flying out the windows were pieces of Emery’s press. Hearing about the vandalism while at lunch, Emery “arrived on the scene” and fearlessly “penetrated the mob to his office,” according to DiMeglio. He recognized an off-duty Bangor policeman who was merrily tearing up newspaper property.
With rioters calling for Emery’s death, friends hustled Emery to safety in “a drug store on the corner of Hammond and Central Streets”; he then hid “in the Franklin House on Harlow Street,” DiMeglio wrote.
As the paper’s office was “thoroughly gutted,” one man fought back, DiMeglio noted. Upset that John Wyman had previously denounced Emery and The Democrat, barber Joseph Jones stepped from his shop built onto the Kenduskeag Bridge, found Wyman standing amidst burning debris in West Market Square, and invited him into the barber shop to discuss Wyman’s incendiary remarks.
After letting Wyman briefly speak, Jones slugged him, and Wyman belted Jones. The barber “received not only a physical beating from Jones, but had his shop nearly demolished by the mob,” DiMeglio noted.
For defending freedom of the press, a constitutional right, Joseph Jones was also arrested by Bangor police and tossed into jail.
Ironically, The Democrat did publish on Tuesday, Aug. 13. Later that week, by surreptitiously using a Bangor print shop owned by Samuel Smith, Emery printed a four-page follow-up edition of The Democrat that blasted local politicians for not protecting his property. “Thus hath the freedom of the Press been stricken down here in Maine … through the wicked instigation of a band of abolitionist politicians who would willingly subvert all law and all order for the maintenance of a mere party dogma,” Emery wrote.
He claimed that Bangor legislator William McCrillis and Penobscot County District Attorney Charles Crosby had “made inflammatory speeches … to incite a mob” during the Norumbega Hall meeting, according to DiMeglio.
Emery would resume printing The Democrat in January 1863. In that achievement he was fortunate; across the North and the South, local “patriots” often trashed newspapers supporting the wartime opposition. Many newspapers never reopened. The Democrat did, and Emery sharply toned down his pro-Confederate rhetoric.
In autumn 1866, Emery sued 14 men for $30,000 in damage. A civil trial held in Belfast that October saw only two men, Samuel Mann and Tabor (the blacksmith who tore apart Emery’s press) fined $916.66. The jury also indicated that as a pro-Confederate newspaper, The Democrat got what it deserved. Ironically, attorney and alleged riot instigator William McCrillis represented Emery during the trial.
Emery launched the Bangor Daily Commercial in January 1872. He never abandoned his Democratic roots; Union sympathizers never forgot his pro-Confederate editorializing. On July 13, 1873, The New York Times reported that “a Democratic paper in Maine suggests Marcellus Emery … [run] for Governor.”
The Times commented that “the Maine Democrat who would vote for him for that office would probably like to vote for Jeff Davis for President.”
Stricken with cancer, Emery died on Feb. 23, 1879. He lies buried next to a brother and sister-in-law in Lot 1218CG, located in the so-called Baptist Circle at Mt. Hope Cemetery in Bangor.
The space occupied by his newspaper offices in the Wheelwright-Clark Block still exists; the Grasshopper Shop did business downstairs for many years, and today the stone building at Main and State houses Mexicali Blues.
Brian Swartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: An early version of this story incorrectly identified the Bangor mayor. The mayor of Bangor in 1861 was Isaiah Stetson.