Examiner (The)


Examiner (The)


“Prove All Things, Hold Fast That Which Is Good”, adorned the masthead of the Louisville paper known as the Examiner. Its first issue rolled off the presses on June 19, 1847. The four-page abolitionist weekly was formed by Cincinnati lawyer and editor John Champion Vaughan along with four other men: Fortunatus Cosby, Jr., Thomas Hopkins Shreve, Rev. John Healy Heywood, and Noble Butler.

Vaughan was a Unitarian from South Carolina who freed his deceased father’s slaves before moving north to Ohio. His first foray into the newspaper business came in 1845 as co-editor of Cassius Clay’s emancipationist newspaper, the True American. It was printed in Cincinnati after Clay was burned out of his Lexington, Kentucky, printing office by pro-slavery mobs. The True American proved too controversial to last even in Northern territory. It folded in 1846.

Backed by prominent Ohio Republican and anti-slavery lawyer Salmon P. Chase, Vaughan quickly found kindred spirits among the First Unitarian congregation of Louisville, and it was there that he moved his operation. Together with fellow Unitarians Cosby and Shreve--whose name never appeared on the masthead to avoid a conflict of interest given Shreve’s job at the Louisville Journal -- the men shared editorial responsibility for the Examiner. Heywood and Butler, lending their fervent support from the beginning, became co-editors when Vaughan left the paper in 1848 to become more politically active nationally.

Vaughan had initially agreed to take over the True American’s subscription list, but he and his partners decided to change the name of the newspaper to avoid Clay’s highly negative reputation. They wanted to build a strong readership base of anti-slavery sympathizers without inciting a rebellion, and they did not address blacks directly in their writings. Rather than focus on Unitarian doctrine outright, the Examiner centered on the values of peace, emancipation, and political neutrality and covered economic and educational affairs for both blacks and whites. The paper included national news as well. It was a fortuitous moment to begin such a newspaper as the Kentucky legislature was considering constitutional amendments that could directly affect its future as a slaveholding state. Despite strong moral and financial support from northern abolitionist groups, a non-confrontational journalistic style, and the heightened awareness of the problem of slavery in Kentucky, in less than three years the Examiner, like the True American before it, folded. In their final issue on December 8, 1849, the editors asked, “Shall the paper live or die?” offering the possibility of a reduced publication from weekly to monthly or less. It was not to be.

After the collapse of the Examiner, Vaughan continued his career as an abolitionist and newspaperman. In 1856, he published the Chicago Weekly Tribune. By 1858, he had followed his anti-slavery consciousness to “bloody Kansas” where he became editor and publisher of the Daily Times in Leavenworth. Vaughan even served in the Union army in Kansas during the Civil War. Shreve died of tuberculosis in 1853. Rev. Heywood and Butler published the South West Journal of Schools in 1855-56, while Cosby went on to work for President Abraham Lincoln as counsel to Geneva in 1861.


P. Seymour




LCCN: sn82015050


Photo of John C. Vaughan available in Kansas Memory, Kansas Historical Society


Louisville, Jefferson, Kentucky


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Editors: John C. Vaughan, 1847-1848; F. Cosby, 1848-1849; John H. Heywood, 1848-1849; Noble Butler, 1848-1849.


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“Examiner (The),” KDNP Feature Library, accessed April 15, 2024, https://kdnpx.omeka.net/items/show/12.

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