Nevada Appeal sesquicentennial: The man and his mission
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles about the history of the Nevada Appeal. The Appeal first published on May 16, 1865. This article originally appeared during the Nevada Appeal’s 125th birthday celebration. To read the full article go to nevadaappeal.com.
In the first issue of the Appeal, May 16, 1865, the publishers, who were still awaiting Harry Mighels’ arrival in Carson City, spoke out in the editorial columns: “We pledge loyalty to the administration. We vow to crush out treason and restore peace and harmony.” That stated goal provably had a lot to do with Mighels’ selection as the first editor. Their philosophy was identical to his, and that policy statement became Harry’s theme throughout his tenure.
He was optimistic of a long and eventful career in Carson City. May 18, his first day on the job, he wrote in the Appeal:
“I am hoping that time may result in contentment which results from a well disposed mutual respect and admiration between the editor and the good people of Carson City in particular and the public of Nevada in general and begging the acceptance of this self-introduction in the spirit in which it is offered. The writer pledges the opening of what he trusts may be an agreeable and profitable acquaintance.”
Less than two months later, he was already feeling at home and was obviously familiar with local issues. In a July 8 letter to Nellie he gave one of his earliest known political position statements.
“We are right in the midst of a county political campaign. Tomorrow we hold our county convention and on the next day the state convention meets. The only nomination of consequence is one for the race for the ember of Congress. I’m almost ashamed to say it but there is a danger the vote will be close between the Unions and the Copperheads … my editorial duties are, of course, increased by the requirements of this contest and I rarely find myself at liberty to retire before midnight. We are all working night and day to ensure victory over the disloyalists.
The Appeal being the only paper published here and this being the capital of the state, it devolves upon me to keep a watchful eye to the movements of the enemy and to assume the responsibility of writing very plainly concerning the men and the measures of the Copperhead Party.
I like the excitement of a political fight. It is such a time as this that an editor is led to feel his consequence among his fellows and it is pleasant to be encouraged by an occasional good word from men whose favorable opinion is worth having. Our good governor (Henry Blasdel) told a friend of mine that the Appeal was ever so far the best paper in the state.”
Harry was, of course, occasionally smitten with twinges of doubt. He commented on that particular internal crisis in another letter to Nellie:
“No event, not even the overwhelming disappointment and bitter loneliness of an old man’s single life could make me waver in my faith. It is no virtue of my own that includes this fact. I could not avoid it if I would. I have felt it come uppermost in my mind in the field of battle and it has nerved my sometime wavering courage that instinctive shrinking from danger which selfishly gives way to make men cowards. Do you remember the words of the old saying, ‘fear not but trust in providence’ whatever that may be. I have repeated it to myself a thousand times when my natural timidity is getting the better of my nerves.”
On Dec. 3, 1865, Harry was once again writing to Nellie. He told her of the subscriber support and enthusiasm he and the Appeal had received and how he considered this good news as a mandate to continue and expand upon his chosen editorial course.
“I came here last spring — shall I say it? — with just barely means enough to make the journey hither from California. By hard work, night and day, encouraged by the prospect of gaining your love, which I prize above all else, and striving to make myself worthy to be its guardian, Fortune favored me, friends came voluntarily and with a sincerity which they will not suffer to be repaid in money, and which I cannot recompense save my gratitude and good faith toward them, and they have placed me in circumstances which point to a brighter and nobler future than I have ever seen before. The governor, the controller, the state treasurer, the secretary of state, the judges of the Supreme Court, the sheriff and every prominent merchant of Carson put their names to a subscription which amounted to a free gift to me of more than $1,200 in gold coin, which money enabled me to set myself up in a business which promises to be permanent and profitable.
I have promised these good friends of mine, and the citizens of Carson generally, that they shall, if it lies in my power to sustain it, have a permanent, reliable Union newspaper here — they (are) standing by me, and I by them.
I mean to carry out my promise to them, if God is willing, proud as I am of the great compliment they have bestowed upon me, proud of my own faithfulness to the good resolutions which my great love for you has helped me to sustain and thankful to God for enabling me to see the way clear for becoming possessed of such a home as you deserve, surrounded by such friends as are a comfort to me and which will be a pleasure and pride to you.
Further: No man in this state is half so well assured as I of securing the nomination by the Union Party, in the state convention of next year, of the office of State Printer. My prospects for obtaining that position (which is worth not less than $5,000 per annum — and the term of office is for two years), render it imperative that I should not leave the state, to be gone any considerable length of time, between now and next autumn.
I am poor, as I have confessed to you, in pocket, but rich in hope and courage for the future. Will you not come and help me fight this battle of life, by lending me your cheering presence and sustaining me with your love and approbation? Or am I asking too much? Am I writing like an over sanguine boy or like a hopeful, earnest man?”
Harry had already begun his long but successful march to gain total financial control of the paper he had been hired to edit. As his professional situation improved, he began looking to his next grand enthusiasm — marrying Nellie and settling down in his new hometown. But it would take a year of thinking and planning on paper in letters to Nellie before they finally hit upon an arrangement that would work.
As Harry’s bachelorhood was rapidly drawing to a close, some of his editorial targets were difficult and unpopular ones, but he was at all times confident of his own ability and sure of the righteousness of his efforts. In one case where the best interests of the Union conflicted with the welfare of his newly adopted state he took a consistent but dangerous stand against Nevada’s mineral industry.
Politicians were seeking to make the principal and interest on debts incurred in gold or silver, payable only in gold or silver. The increased demands such a rule would place on Nevada’s prime industries pleased most residents just fine. But Mighels worried about the potential damage such a rule would have on federal currency.
In a Dec. 31, 1865 letter to Nellie, he backgrounded his latest editorial project:
“Although it is Sunday, I was obliged to busy myself all this forenoon in turning out “machine poetry” enough to finish up my coiners’ address, a copy of which I send you. It contains many local allusions, the gist of which will be unintelligible to you without an explanation; and hints that require a key are hardly worth transmitting all the way from Nevada to Maine. However, I will explain the hints of a change in our currency and the discomfiture of the bankers. The money powers of this state and of California have managed to so control legislation that what is known as a “Specific Contract Act” has been passed in California and a similar enactment is one of the Nevada laws.
Under that act, if a man borrows a certain amount of another, in gold, he is obliged to pay gold in return. The spirit of the law is to nullify the law of Congress making all debts payable in currency — or in other words to throw discredit upon the national currency and drive it out of circulation. The law has been pronounced avid by our Supreme Court, hence the ‘great wail of woe’ from certain private bankers in Virginia City. The ‘Mint’ allusions and those which refer to the building of a Pacific Railroad, you will understand.
The Legislature meets tomorrow. The members are assembling here — indeed I suppose they have nearly all congregated here already. The prospects seem to indicate now that the organization of that body will be completed after the plan laid down by the Appeal. If it is, the probabilities are that my little paper will be mad the official organ for the publication of the laws.”
By Jan. 11, 1866, he was feeling serious pressure from those who disagreed with him on the topic of the Specific Contract Act. But he was not wavering one bit. Once again, his sense of being right held him up against terrific attack. He told Nellie:
“As usual, I am in the midst of a newspaper controversy. This state, as you know, is given over to the ‘hard money’ dealers. The mainstay of their security, the Specific Contract Act, has been withdrawn form them by a decision of the Supreme Court. The usurers having all, or nearly all the money, have brought up the press and the lawyers, and are chagrined and furious because they cannot control the court. Prompted by the instincts of a poor man, I have taken sides with the court, with the people, an against the land sharks. Folks call me “old greenbacks” and I have managed to draw upon my devoted head the maledictions of the pawn broking bankers, shylocks and cent per centers.
But I know I am right and I shall stick to it, even at he risk of displeasing certain folks who might help me along if I humor their notions. I don’t profess to be immaculately pure, but I do profess to too much pride and self respect to do anything which I have once denounced as wrong and prejudicial to the public good.
Moreover, I am certain that the views which I, in my clumsy way, attempt to advocate, will prevail in the end an then a general change in public sentiment will accord me the credit which is now withheld. I somehow have an inexpressible inclination to fight on the side of the struggling minority. And have I as much right to exclaim with Henry Clay, ‘I would rather be fright than president.’
William Lloyd Garrison began the publication of his ‘Liberator’ as long ago as the year in which I was born, and he then declared, ‘I am an Abolitionist, I glory in the name!’ The other day he suspended the publication of this paper, declaring that the work which it had inaugurated had been gloriously accomplished. Now I conceive that it is a part of my mission to deliver the people from the bondage of usury and to obtain the introduction here of national banks and the national currency in place of private money shops which demand and compel a rate of interest ranging from 2 to 10 percent a month and hard gold and silver which is the highest in value and the scarcest money in the world.
But I won’t read you a lecture on finance, although my head is full of the subject. I merely want to let you know the secret of the prosy articles with which you will find the Appeal to be crowded. Moreover I am proud to be able to tell you that the good and learned men who comprise the majority of our Supreme Court as well as my other good friends whose character and position entitles them to the respect of the community by which they are surrounded, applaud my course and defend me against all assailants. I believe that I may say to you also, that even my opponents respect me. And I would rather be respected as an honest man by my enemies than admired for my insincere smartness by my friends.”
By the time Harry had completed his first year at the Appeal he had seen his first newspaper competition come and go. The “Nevada State Journal” made a brief appearance in Carson City to challenge the Appeal’s hold on the 2,000-strong population and its 100-plus subscribers.
The Journal lasted less than two weeks before it collapsed beneath the weight of poor planning and under-financing. It eventually surfaced in Reno to begin a long, successful and still-continuing career in that community that sprang up around Lake’s Crossing.
Mighels saw the Journal’s failure in Carson City as vindication for his firm and unyielding editorial stands. Apathy and indifference of local residents had spelled the death of nine hopeful newspapers in recent years prior to Harry’s arrival. For the first time in local history a newspaper (the Appeal) had generated enough community loyalty to fight off the encroachment of an optimistic competitor. What usually happened in such cases, the two papers slugged it out — dividing a base of revenue that was barely enough for one paper to survive with — and both of them starving to death.
A series of letters from Harry to his fiancé chronicled the challenge, the crisis and the triumph of the Appeal’s first confrontation with a competitor. The Appeal was to eventually either outlast or buy out some 36 competitors over the next century but this first victory, with his first anniversary on the job just days old, was to be the critical one for Harry. On May 13, 1866, he wrote to Nellie:
‘The opposition paper which was to have appeared here last Monday did not come to light. It will venture into the sad, uncertain world of journalism on tomorrow — so it is said. I trust its conductors may be guided by that grace and wisdom which will restrain them from conjuring up a wordy war with the Appeal. I am not by any means as meek and gentle under attack as a more even tempered man sometimes is, and yet I certainly prefer peace. But I shall endeavor to study moderation and to preserve good temper, should the new claimants for popular favor open its broadsides upon my somewhat exposed position. I think, from what I have heard that they will train their batteries upon my ‘Negro suffrage’ advocacy. This will be done for the purpose of scaring me from my consistency or to sway popular prejudice against that notion of mine. But I will neither lower my banner nor yet will I repeat — on the contrary, as the good Grant said, ‘I will fight it out on this line if it takes me all summer.’”
May 20, 1886:
“Well, the new paper has made tis appearance and nobody about the Appeal office is hurt yet. Indeed the ‘Nevada State Journal’ — that is the new paper’s name — is rather a weakly affair, and shows signs of an early decay. In fact, I am by no means sorry that it has been started; for I think its early demise will only prove that the Appeal is a fixed and permanent institution here. More than that the faithfulness of my friends is being proven and none have deserted me yet and I have good reason for believing they will all stand by me. The printers are my friends too; and one of the craft who is engaged upon the Journal told a man in my employ yesterday that he had not been paid a cent and wished that the was engaged by the Appeal publishers for he would then be sure of his money. I like that. It is pleasant to be looked upon as a reliable and solvent businessman — it adds to his self respect and feeling of sound responsibility.”
May 27, 1866:
“My rival — the Nevada State Journal — is dead. It lived nine days, at the end of which time, having lived the allotted period of modern wonders, it yielded up its hopeless existence.
Sic transit — etc. Well, I am master of the situation again — and ‘my right there is none to dispute.’ My friends, as I predicted they would, rallied to the support of the Appeal — and we did not lose a dollar by the publication of the new paper. This is flattering to me and altogether encouraging to Robinson and Mighels, the publisher of the Appeal.