Some major media outlets would have you believe that no US president has been more hostile to the press. Others make the counter-claim that no US president has ever faced such open hostility from the press.
Can anyone really claim that Trump’s war on the press has exceeded that of all former presidents?
During Lincoln’s reign, about 14,000 people were arrested as political prisoners and scores of newspapers were suppressed. Many sources repeat the claim that “300 newspapers were shut down.” In most cases, individual editions of a paper were confiscated. However, several entire newspapers had their presses confiscated, their buildings shut down, and their editors, publishers, and proprietors thrown in military prisons.
The suppression of the first amendment was not limited to so-called border states, as some erroneously believe. Lincoln ordered newspapers to be physically shut down all over the north. One entire telegraph company was physically shut down in 1864 for distributing negative press about the draft. Journalists who did not give favorable press were routinely banned from battlefields.
Apologists try to justify Lincoln’s war on the press by saying he had congressional approval to suspend habeas corpus in March of 1863. However, Lincoln unilaterally suspended habeas corpus in Maryland in April of 1861. The US Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional, which Lincoln simply ignored. One of the first people Lincoln arrested was prominent Baltimore newspaper editor, and grandson of Francis Scott Key, Frank Key Howard. Ironically, Lincoln threw him in the same military prison where his grandfather wrote the Star Spangled Banner. He was arrested for writing an editorial critical of Lincoln’s refusal to abide by the US Supreme Court.
In September of 1861, Lincoln ordered the mass arrest of one-third of the entire Maryland state legislature. After that, Lincoln ordered the mass arrest of nearly every single state legislator of Missouri. They fled the state and spent the war living in exile in Texas.
The 1863 Act was actually passed largely to reign in Lincoln’s actions. It was spearheaded by Maryland Congressman Henry May, who was one of Lincoln’s former political prisoners. May wanted Lincoln to be required to issue actual indictments. Lincoln had been arresting and holding politicians and newspaper editors without indictments. Even medieval Kings were required to state a reason why they were arresting someone.
Lincoln threw members of the US media in military prisons for opposing him. Trump’s actions against the media are limited to giving members of the media a good ribbing.