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printing for the people: Government

Walker Library / Special Collections / Printing for the People

Print and Civic Culture

Before television changed political communications in the early 1960s, and, more recently, before the internet altered political communications again, the nature of political and civic participation largely depended on print. As The American Banner, Clay Standard, and other items displayed here indicate, print was central to informing voters about a candidate’s positions, views, and values. And for political interest groups, print was also essential in persuading voters—through posters, leaflets, handbills, and other forms of print--to support referenda or one over another candidate seeking office. Thus, posters, handbills, leaflets, and other forms of print were prominent features in the lengthy effort to pass the 18th Amendment, enacting the national Prohibition of alcohol, and in the effort to repeal that Amendment.

Print was no less important once an election was decided as office holders had to acquire the appropriate knowledge of how their positions functioned, how to exercise their authority, and the laws they were expected to understand and uphold. As its subtitle indicates, a book like Forms of Precedents offered guidance to “Justices of the Peace, Sheriffs, Coroners, and Constables.” And a book like The Tennessee Justice’s Manual and Civil Officers Guide explained laws, the variety of legal documents, and correct legal procedures.

Print also had a role in citizenship. A pamphlet like the Confederate States Almanac for the Year of our Lord 1862 or the Tennessee Gazetteer conveyed all sorts of practical information about geographic features like rivers and mountains, the annual lunar and solar calendar, important dates in recent history, post offices, lawyers, doctors, and the like. But they also contained information about national office holders and administrators (“national” in the context of the Confederate states) as well as regional and local elected officials.