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Out-Foxxed: A hypothetical


By the middle of the year 1863, the US population was divided. Many voters in the Northern states (the 11 Southern states having previously seceded to form the Confederate States of America) were frustrated about the progress of the ongoing civil war and unhappy with President Lincoln. The President’s supporters, on the other hand, believed in the continued pursuit of the war, as a means to keep the union together and end slavery.

The anti-war, anti-Lincoln faction was getting its information from a source heretofore unheard of in American politics. This was a privately produced pamphlet, called Foxx Newsletter, which was published by one Rupert A. Foxx and bankrolled by a shadowy group of private financiers. It was difficult to discern how these financiers earned their wealth, but some evidence showed connections between the Confederate government in Richmond, as well as cotton importers in Europe.

The Foxx Newsletter was new and different from what had come before. Its extensive funding allowed it to reach a wide swath of the electorate and be disseminated at least once a week throughout the country. It was written in a more entertaining style, with less focus on hard news and more on personalities. It played loose with facts; for example, it charged that President Lincoln was half-black and demanded that he show his birth certificate. Foxx also alleged that Lincoln’s 1860 election had been “stolen” due to “hundreds of thousands of missing votes”. It dismissed verified reports from existing newspapers, calling stories of Union victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg “fake news”. It was openly racist, stating that northern abolitionists were part of a “deep state” of private citizens and government officials whose goal was to “eradicate the white race from this continent”.

At the end of 1863, when President Lincoln issued a proclamation emancipating slaves in territories under rebellion, Foxx News writers went into attack. “Hordes of black slaves,” it warned, were on the run from Southern plantations and poised to “invade” the north. Cartoons portrayed black men raping white women, and interviews were published in which white men reported their wives being taken away from them by bands of blacks.

Foxx played a highly influential role in the 1864 presidential election. While mainstream Democrats wanted to support General George McClellan to run against Republican Lincoln, Foxx recruited a more divisive figure, a 54-year old New Yorker named Horatio Seymour. At the time, Seymour was Governor of New York, a conservative Democrat who opposed Lincoln’s policies on emancipation. In 1863, anti-war New Yorkers had rioted in the Five Points area, and murdered up to 120 black citizens. Seymour took some measures to control the violence but was largely conciliatory to the rioters. He later stated that there “were good people on both sides of the riot.”

In Seymour, Foxx found a perfect candidate it could mold in its conservative image, one that sought to end the war, keep slavery alive in the South, and introduce black bondage back into Northern states. Facing the power of the Foxx communications machine, the McClellan faction never had a chance. Seymour was nominated by the Democrats for the general election. Then, during the fall, Foxx continued to spread charges of fake news, such as alleging that General Sherman’s military victories in the South had never happened. On Election Day, hundreds of thousands of mostly Republican voters were turned away at the polls. Seymour, though he lost the popular vote, won a narrow Electoral College victory against Lincoln. He was elected largely on the strength of a base of rural white voters in several northern states. Spurred by these same voters, Democrats also narrowly took control of the Senate and House of Representatives.

After becoming the nation’s 17th president, Seymour contacted Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Within a month, hostilities were ended, and both armies stood down. General Ulysses S. Grant reluctantly pulled his forces from Virginia, and Sherman did the same from Georgia. The 11 states of the Confederacy issued a statement of victory over the North.

As President, Seymour continued to be influenced by Foxx. He read the Foxx Newsletter every morning and met often with Rupert A. Foxx and Foxx writers. The New-York Tribune reported (though dismissed by Foxx as “fake”) that Seymour had regular nightly White House discussions with Foxx’s most popular writer, Stan Hannady, a failed theater stagehand who was friendly with several famous Confederate citizens, including a famous actor, John Wilkes Booth.

Hannady and other private confidants prevailed on Seymour to take a foreign trip (the first such journey by a sitting president) to visit Jefferson Davis in Richmond, the Confederate capitol. Even Seymour’s Secretary of State Francis Blair was caught unaware of this journey. Several months later, Davis reciprocated the gesture and came to Washington.

While the content of their one-on-one discussions was not revealed, Seymour wrote that, “President Davis is a great man, and we can work together.” Seymour then did not respond when Davis sent troops to the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland, as well as West Virginia, which had only become a new state in 1863. Davis appointed governors loyal to the Confederate States, and within three years, all four states were annexed and absorbed into the Confederacy. Legislatures in all these states ratified Confederate policy allowing slavery to be re-introduced into their states. Bands of former soldiers rounded up formerly freed blacks, who were then auctioned off and sold to white citizens. When the marauders captured leading abolitionist Frederick Douglass in Maryland, they paraded him through the streets of Baltimore before making a show of selling him for one dollar to a blacksmith outside the city.

In subsequent years, historians would study the events of this period. The consensus was that a nexus of Confederate insiders, wealthy white supremacists, and shadowy European financiers strongly influenced American public opinion and decisions made by US government officials. Foxx Newsletter, as well as its individual writers, played a key role through its unprecedented communications reach, unabashedly conservative and racist worldview, dissemination of questionable facts, and ability to manipulate the thinking of a readership that was legitimately concerned about the civil war and it aftermath.

Historians also noted how Congress largely stood by while Seymour accommodated the Confederacy, allowing it to absorb the border states and thus institute slavery there. Congress was able to pass one non-binding statement of condemnation, but when writing about this later ex-Senator Charles R. Buckalew admitted this was “patently insufficient.” He admitted,“We were out-foxxed. We abdicated our responsibilities while Seymour gave our country away. The framers of the Constitution are surely turning over in their graves at our inaction.”

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