James Madison Goodhue
St Paul's first newspaper publisher
James Madison Goodhue was born in Hebron, New Hampshire on March 31, 1810. His father was a merchant and former schoolteacher, and his mother was the daughter of a Congregationalist minister. Deeply religious, his parents valued education and insisted that their children receive formal schooling. Goodhue attended prep schools and graduated from Amherst College in Massachusetts. He was, however, hardly a star student – it is reported that he graduated near the bottom of his class! He was better known for his physical strength and sheer force of personality, which would win him many friends (and enemies) throughout his life. Amongst his friends and admirers at school was the future minister Henry Ward Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
After graduating in 1833, Goodhue taught school and studied law in New York. He tried his hand at farming in both New York and Illinois before being admitted to the bar in 1840. By 1841 he was practicing law in Platteville, Wisconsin. There he met Henrietta Kneeland. When smallpox struck nearly half of Platteville’s population of 500 in 1843, Miss Kneeland was one of those afflicted. Goodhue volunteered to nurse her back to health, and the two married shortly thereafter.
While living in Wisconsin in the 1840s, Goodhue continued his law practice and wrote a serial novel, Struck a Lead, which was published in the Galena, Illinois newspaper. He also took over as the editor of the Grant County Herald. Although he made many bold changes to the newspaper and doubled its circulation in just a few years, it simply wasn’t very profitable. Consequently, he kept a close eye on the political developments in the neighboring Minnesota, which would soon become a territory. The formation of territorial governments was a lure to printers, as it meant the possibility of obtaining the extremely lucrative rights to the printing of public documents.
When Minnesota became a territory on March 3, 1849, Goodhue moved quickly. He sold his newspaper in Wisconsin and set out for St. Paul by steamboat with his wife, children, printing press, and two assistants. Within two months he had founded The Minnesota Pioneer, the first newspaper printed in Minnesota, and within five months he had been selected by the Territorial Legislature to be the government printer.
As editor of The Minnesota Pioneer, Goodhue reported on the news and events in the territory. In 1851 he traveled with a party of government officials up the Minnesota River to Traverse des Sioux (near present-day St. Peter). There he witnessed the signing of the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, in which the Dakota sold millions of acres of land to the United States. When he returned to St. Paul, he wrote about the treaty proceedings in his newspaper. Much of what Goodhue wrote, however, was designed to attract settlers to the new Minnesota territory. He sent copies of the Pioneer to other newspapers and hotels throughout the county, and he filled its columns with detailed descriptions of Minnesota’s natural beauty, abundant resources, fertile soil and healthy climate – he was capable of spinning everything to Minnesota’s best advantage, including its winters. He wrote that Minnesota’s weather produced “vigorous minds!” He even explored Minnesota by horseback, steamboat, and canoe to gain a deeper perspective for promoting Minnesota as a wonderful place to live.
Goodhue’s writing may have lured many settlers into Minnesota territory and gained him admirers, but it also won him a fair number of enemies. He was famous for speaking his mind, especially when he perceived corruption. In 1851 he wrote an editorial attacking A.M. Mitchell, U.S. Marshall for Minnesota, and David Cooper, associate justice for the Territorial Supreme Court, for their frequent absence in the territory. Goodhue’s seething but humorous description of the men created quite a commotion in St. Paul. The next day, handbills circulated to denounce the editorial, and Cooper’s brother stabbed Goodhue on the steps of the capitol. He was not seriously injured, but it took him several weeks to recuperate from the attack.
James Goodhue died after a lengthy illness in August of 1852. His funeral service, according to the Reverend E.D. Neill, was “the largest audience which had ever gathered in the town.” In 1853, the Territorial Legislature decided to honor James Goodhue by naming Goodhue County after him.
Time Period Overview
When Minnesota became a territory on March 3, 1849, there were probably fewer than 20,000 people within its borders. But the population in St. Paul alone more than doubled in 1849, the year that James Goodhue arrived. In the Minnesota Pioneer, Goodhue wrote, “More than seventy buildings, it is said, have been erected here during the past three weeks; and the town is so changed in its appearance and has so multiplied its inhabitants, that a person absent for three weeks, on returning, almost fancies that he has taken a Rip Van Winkle slumber.” By 1860 the population of the new state of Minnesota was more than 172,000 – perhaps the fastest rate of growth for any state or territory in American history.
Goodhue lived in an era of territorial expansion, when Americans believed it was their “manifest destiny” to dominate the continent. When he arrived in Minnesota in 1849, the United States had just concluded its war with Mexico, from which it acquired a vast amount of land that would soon be carved into American territories. One of these territories was California, where the discovery of gold in 1848 would compel countless fortune seekers to migrate west. Similarly, the United States had recently completed negotiations with England for control of the Pacific Northwest, and thousands of settlers were beginning to follow the “Oregon Trail” to a new home. Most of the land acquired from the French in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase had already been filled with westward-bound settlers. It is estimated that nearly 4 million Americans moved to western territories between 1820 and 1850.
The American zeal for expansion grew out of both desire and need. On the one hand, Americans believed that it was their mission to extend the “boundaries of freedom” and impart their belief in democratic institutions to those who were capable of self-government. (Most Americans at this time, however, did not believe that American Indians or persons of non-European origin were capable of self-government.) On the other hand, the U.S. population grew from more than five million in 1800 to more than 23 million by mid-century due to high birth rates and increased immigration, especially from northern European countries such as Ireland and Germany. Thus, there was a need to expand into new territories to accommodate this rapid growth. Economic depressions in 1818 and 1839 also drove many Americans to seek their fortunes in the west, as did the availability of inexpensive land, new opportunities for commerce and self-advancement, and the rise of steamboat and railroad transportation technology.
The acquisition of new land and advancement of white settlement, however, created tremendous tensions in American society during Goodhue’s lifetime. The question of whether or not to extend slavery into the new territories dominated Congressional debates, and hostility between southern and northern states increased dramatically. The Compromise of 1850 temporarily calmed this debate by permitting California to enter the Union as a non-slave state, opening Utah and New Mexico Territories to slavery at statehood, prohibiting slave trade in the District of Columbia, and increasing the power of slave owners to retrieve runaway slaves from non-slave states and territories. Shortly after Goodhue’s death, however, the disastrous Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and the 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court Decision would rekindle the controversy, which exploded into the American Civil War in 1861.
As white settlers advanced into Minnesota Territory, they crowded the edges of land that still belonged to Minnesota’s native inhabitants, primarily the Dakota and Ojibwe people. Shortly after he arrived in 1849, territorial governor Alexander Ramsey targeted the purchase of southern Minnesota from the Dakota nation as a prime need of the new territory. This area included the land west and south of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers – the richest farmland in Minnesota.
The subsequent 1851 Treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota opened 24 million acres of Dakota land to white settlement. The government agreed to compensate the Dakota for their land with about 7.5 cents per acre, which would be awarded through annuity payments, and promised to provide them with government schools, blacksmith shops, and other services. The Dakota then relocated to the Upper and Lower Sioux Reservations along the Minnesota River. After a decade of late annuity payments, failed crops, corrupt government agents, broken promises, and starvation, the Dakota tried to reclaim their land. The resulting Dakota Conflict of 1862 triggered a series of wars between the United States and western Indian nations that would not end until Wounded Knee in 1890.
When James Goodhue arrived in St. Paul, the Minnesota Territory was a place of tremendous diversity that included Dakota and Ojibwe people, French Canadians, African Americans, Euro-Americans, and mixed race people. The political leadership in the territory, however, was held firmly by white Americans from the east. The influence of those from the northeastern states was so strong, in fact, that Minnesota earned the nickname “New England of the West.” Many of Minnesota’s early government leaders and politicians had worked in the fur trade before the region became a territory. They generally belonged to the Democratic Party, and were often called “Moccasin Democrats.” The more recent arrivals from the east were usually members of the Whig Party, which was struggling with its central leadership and its position on slavery. By 1855 the Whig Party had been replaced in Minnesota by the new Republican Party.
Goodhue was a staunch Democrat, and he made no secret of his views in his newspaper. Unlike today, newspapers in the mid 19th century were highly political and heavily biased, and they frequently functioned as official mouthpieces for political parties. Readers expected this and often purchased newspapers based on their party affiliation. Readers also expected to find local gossip, entertainment reviews, morality lessons, poetry, and recipes in their newspapers, in addition to the usual mix of political and national news. Newspapers played a vital role in American public life at this time. In the Minnesota Territory alone, 80 different newspapers were established between 1849 and 1858.
Minnesota joined the union as the 32nd state on May 11, 1858. Only three years later it would be the first state to volunteer troops to the Union Army, and four years later it would be fighting a war against its own Dakota population. The mid 19th century was, indeed, a turbulent era in the history of Minnesota and the United States.