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Hezekiah Niles a patriotic newsmagazine editor in 19th century

Niles Register published 200 years ago this week

September 04, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

"Slavery was by far the most difficult issue for Niles and the nation. He grew up hating slavery, and had been a member of an abolitionist society in his youth," Kovarik wrote in an article recently.

"Yet he pragmatically kept his views out of the Register, since he saw extremism as a greater danger," wrote Kovarik. "For example, in one carefully worded editorial in 1816, he wrote: 'Slavery is more easily reasoned against than removed, however sincerely and honestly desired.'"

In order to avoid conflict, he advocated a program of "gradual emancipation, universal education and compensation for slave owners," Kovarik wrote of Niles' attempt to defuse the issue that eventually helped lead to the Civil War several decades after his death.

Regarding slavery, Niles wrote: "I do not wish to press this subject to its full extent, and I pray to Heaven there may never be a necessity for it, for I would that the United States should be preserved."

Kovarik called Niles "a devoted patriot and an editor with vision. He managed to put aside his own partisanship in order to reach out in the spirit of compromise. He hoped that spirit might hold the nation together. Although his ideas were widely accepted in the North, he found attitudes in the South hardening during his years as editor."

Because of his honesty and forthrightness, the Baltimore editor was notified in 1829 that Niles, Mich., was named for him, and in 1834, a town in Ohio took his name.

He had given up his editorship after suffering a stroke in 1836 and moved to Wilmington. His son was editor until selling Niles' Register in 1839. Its new owner ceased publication in 1848.

When Niles, who had been a member of the Baltimore City Council, died in 1839, The Baltimore Sun in an article announcing his death said he had been an "impartial, accurate and talented annalist."

"His life was well spent. … Such a man is a true patriot, and as long as the United States shall preserve its independence, so long the name of Hezekiah Niles, the founder of Niles' Register, be revered."

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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