Medill, Joseph Meharry

A Canadian by birth and the child of Irish immigrants, Joseph Medill was a principal figure in Illinois politics as owner and editor of the Chicago Tribune. Born in New Brunswick and raised in Ohio, Medill began his career as a lawyer before becoming interested in both politics and journalism. Medill began his newspaper career as a staunch Whig editor for a series of Ohio papers he owned with his brothers. After the Whig party collapsed in the mid 1850s, Medill became a key figure in the formation of the new Republican Party. In 1855 Medill became the managing editor and principal owner of the Chicago Tribune alongside Dr. Charles H. Ray. The Tribune was central to Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 nomination for president by the Republican Party. At the Republican National Convention in Chicago, Medill was one key figure in convincing uncommitted delegates to support Lincoln, ensuring the nomination for the Illinois lawyer. Medill was a Lincoln supporter during the Civil War, although at times he was impatient with the president’s policies on emancipation, confiscation, and the use of African Americans for the war effort. In 1865 Medill lost control of the Tribune and ventured into politics and government, most notably as mayor of Chicago. In 1874 he regained full control of the Chicago Tribune and the paper continued to support Republican national policies and Chicago business interests. Medill remained in control of his paper until his death, a vigorous Republican to the end. (By Ben Lyman)
Life Span
    Full name
    Joseph Meharry Medill
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    William Medill (father), Margaret Corbett (mother), Katherine Patrick (wife, 1852)
    Other Education
    Massillon Village Academy, OH
    Attorney or Judge
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    White non-slaveholder
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    Joseph Medill (American National Biography)

    After John Frémont's defeat in the 1856 presidential election, Medill began planning for the 1860 election. In an interview published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1899, Medill recalled that the strategy to secure the 1860 Republican presidential nomination for Abraham Lincoln was devised in the Tribune's offices in the summer of 1859. In December 1859, the strategy was put into action when Medill went to Washington, D.C., as the Tribune's correspondent. Once there, Medill promoted Lincoln's candidacy and boosted Chicago as the site of the 1860 Republican National Convention. When the convention opened, Medill ensured that uncommitted delegations were seated close to delegations that supported Lincoln. Medill and his circle promised cabinet posts in exchange for delegate votes, thus obtaining the support of Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. When Ohio shifted its support to Lincoln on the second ballot, it began a landslide that gave Lincoln the nomination.

    During the Civil War, Medill supported Lincoln's policies, although at times he seemed impatient with the president and even scolded him in person when Lincoln visited the Tribune's offices. Tribune editorials harangued Lincoln to declare emancipation, confiscate Southern property, and accelerate the war effort. Medill may have supported the abolition of slavery, but his views on African Americans were racist. However, Medill was among the earliest to advocate the arming of slaves. He insisted that no soldier in the field lose his right to vote during the war; because of Medill's urging, several states passed laws to that effect in 1864.
    Joseph P. McKerns, "Medill, Joseph," American National Biography Online, February 2000,
    Chicago Style Entry Link
    Wendt, Lloyd. Chicago Tribune: The Rise of a Great Newspaper. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1979. view record
    How to Cite This Page: "Medill, Joseph Meharry," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,