Samuel Medary was born on February 25, 1801, in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. His father, Jacob Medary, was a tenant farmer of Welsh descent. Medary’s mother’s name is unknown.
The family was part of the Society of Friends, and Medary received his first schooling at the Quaker Free School in Montgomery Square. He later attended the Norristown Academy in Norristown, Pennsylvania. Medary became interested in current events and writing at an early age. He began a long and storied newspaper career at the age of sixteen years when newspaper-publisher David Sower printed several of Medary’s articles and poems in the Norristown Herald.
As he approached adulthood, Medary began teaching in a Quaker school in Montgomery County. In 1820, dissension within the Quaker community around Philadelphia prompted Medary’s family to move to Maryland. One year later, they moved again to Georgetown in the District of Columbia.
In 1822, Medary struck out on his own and moved to near present-day Roanoke, Virginia, where he continued to teach school. While living there, he met Eliza Scott, and the couple married on September 29, 1823, in Washington, D.C. Medary lived in Virginia for two years. During that time, he developed a tolerance (or perhaps even an affinity) for the institution of slavery that would influence his writing for the rest of his life.
Relocation to Ohio
In 1825, Medary moved west, settling in the small village of Bethel, Ohio, near Cincinnati. While continuing his teaching career, Medary held several public positions over the next three years, including county surveyor and county auditor.
Budding Newspaper Publisher
In 1828, Medary resigned his teaching position and partnered with Thomas Morris to publish the Ohio Sun, a local newspaper that they founded to support Andrew Jackson’s candidacy for the American presidency. A few months later, Medary and Morris moved their publication to the nearby, larger town of Batavia. In 1833, the two men changed the newspaper’s name to the Ohio Sun and Clermont Advertiser.
Medary used the newspaper as a forum to praise the virtues of Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy. His views resonated with many Southern Ohio residents, and his growing reputation captured the attention of Ohio Democratic Party leaders. In 1834, local voters elected Medary to a seat in the Ohio House of Representatives. Two years later, they elected him to the Ohio Senate.
Influential Newspaper Publisher
While serving in the Senate, Medary moved his growing family to Columbus in 1835. That same year, his brother, Jacob Medary, Jr., purchased the Columbus-based Ohio Monitor and merged it with the Columbus Hemisphere. Soon thereafter, Medary sold his interest in the Sun and purchased the Hemisphere from his brother. Medary changed the name of the paper to the Ohio Statesman and printed it daily when the General Assembly was in session and twice a week the rest of the year. Under Medary’s leadership, the Ohio Statesman quickly became an influential voice for the Ohio Democratic Party.
After his term in the Ohio Senate expired, Medary never held another elected office. Nonetheless, he remained active in politics. As chairman of the Ohio delegation to the Democratic National Convention in 1844, Medary nominated James K. Polk for the U.S. presidency.
Territorial Governor of Minnesota
In 1852, Medary supported Franklin Pierce for the presidency. After Pierce won the election, he offered Medary the post of ambassador to Chile, but Medary declined. At the 1856 Democratic National Convention, Medary nominated Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas for the presidency. Even though James Buchanan eventually received the nomination and won the election, he appointed Medary as the territorial governor of Minnesota.
Because Minnesota was near to becoming a state when Medary took office on April 23, 1857, he continued to spend much of his time in Columbus. After Congress admitted Minnesota to the Union on May 11, 1858, Medary’s tenure as territorial governor ended on May 24. A little over six months later, Buchanan appointed Medary as governor of the Kansas Territory.
Medary oversaw a reduction in the lawlessness that had earned the territory the label “Bleeding Kansas.” Medary also guided the drafting of a state constitution that enabled Kansas to join the Union in January 1861. As Kansas neared statehood, Medary resigned in December 1860, to run for governor of the new state. He subsequently lost the election and returned to Ohio.
Businessman and Civic Leader
Beyond his political achievements, Medary was an active business and civic leader in Columbus. In 1845, he sold the Ohio Statesman to C. C. Hazewell of Massachusetts and began expanding his commercial interests. Medary helped found and manage several railroads in Ohio, including the Franklin and Ohio River Company, the Columbus and Lake Erie Railroad, the Central Ohio Railroad Company, and the Columbus and Xenia Railroad. Medary also helped establish Columbus’s first utility firm, the Columbus Gas Light and Coke Company. Medary financially backed Samuel Morse’s development of the telegraph. On the civic front, Medary helped create Ohio’s State Agricultural Board, and he served as its first secretary. He was also the first treasurer and president of the Ohio State Fair. In addition, Medary helped design and direct the construction of Ohio’s state capitol building.
Return to Newspaper Business
After only a one-year hiatus, Medary re-entered the newspaper business, when he bought back the Ohio Statesman in 1846. Two years later, he began printing a weekly paper called the New Constitution for the purpose of promoting a constitutional convention for Ohio. In 1852, Medary again sold the Ohio Statesman, this time to Samuel Cox. In 1855, Medary reacquired the newspaper and continued to serve as its editor until 1857, when he left for Minnesota.
During his years as owner and editor of the Ohio Statesman, Medary was a staunch supporter of states’ rights, Manifest Destiny, and popular sovereignty. He was also a vocal opponent of what he considered abolitionist meddling with Southern property rights. In Ohio, he opposed the repeal of notorious Black Laws that denied equal rights to citizens of African descent. He believed that “turning the whole slave population of the South loose upon us would bring total destruction to the free white laborers and reputable mechanics.”
When Medary returned to Ohio from Kansas, he began publishing another weekly named the Crisis on January 31, 1861. After the Civil War began, the paper quickly became a leading voice for Peace Democrats in Ohio and throughout the Midwest.
Medary opposed the War Between the States, in particular, because he believed it was unnecessary. He saw the war as a product of abolitionist extremism and the refusal of Radical Republicans to embrace compromise to settle sectional differences over the expansion of slavery.
Unsurprisingly, Medary became an outspoken opponent of President Abraham Lincoln’s administration. He was especially critical of what he considered Lincoln’s constitutional abuses of suspending habeas corpus, implementing conscription, and imposing the first federal income tax during the war. Medary’s denunciations of Lincoln and the war became so strident that postmasters in West Virginia, Kansas, and Missouri halted the circulation of the Crisis in those states.
Opposition to Medary’s criticism of Lincoln and the war elevated to violence on the night of March 5, 1863. A mob, led by members of the 2nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, stationed at Camp Chase in Columbus, sacked the office of the Crisis while Medary was in Cincinnati. A week later, Columbus firefighters extinguished an attempt to burn down the newspaper’s offices. Neither attack prevented Medary from continuing publication; in fact, they enhanced his reputation as a defender of the First Amendment.
Throughout 1863, Medary was a strong supporter of exiled Clement Vallandigham’s unsuccessful Ohio gubernatorial bid. As the year progressed, Medary’s tireless efforts began taking a toll on his health, so he hired veteran newspaperman Thomas Massey to ease the burden of publishing the Crisis. On the advice of his doctor, Medary took a long-overdue vacation and wrote only a few articles for the Crisis after the gubernatorial election.
As the presidential election of 1864 approached, President Lincoln’s prospects for reelection did not look promising. Unprecedented casualty totals on the battlefields in the East swelled civilian calls for an end to the lengthy war. Lincoln’s insistence upon emancipation as a condition for peace diminished his popularity with the electorate. Medary stepped up his attacks upon the president, writing, “Lincoln is running our country to perdition—destroying life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. . . . ‘”
Arrest and Indictment for Conspiracy
Without the president’s tacit approval, federal authorities began cracking down on Copperhead newspaper publishers, who they accused of extending the war with their slanderous editorials. On May 20, U.S. marshals presented Medary with an arrest warrant and transported him to Cincinnati to for arraignment before Judge Humphrey Leavitt in U.S. District Court.
A federal grand jury had indicted Medary and eight other Peace Democrats on three counts of armed conspiracy against the Union. The government claimed that the nine conspirators planned and took part in an October 1863 plot to free over 3,600 Confederate prisoners from three locations in Ohio. Medary insisted that the president was behind the charges, writing in the Crisis, “It is just the thing for the tools of Lincoln’s despotism to injure our paper, and that is all they care about.” The indictment did not stop the newspaper editor’s criticism of the president or the war.
Medary was scheduled to present the keynote address at a Peace Democrats rally in Columbus on the evening of August 23, 1864, when he was overcome by illness, from which he did not recover. After a prolonged malaise, Medary died on November 7, 1864, the night before President Lincoln was reelected. Burial services were held two days later, and Medary was interred at Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus.
Medary’s death prevented him from having his day in court, but the case against his alleged co-conspirators dragged on for nearly two more years. Finally, in April 1866, the government dropped all charges against the defendants.