On March 1, 1844, James R. Morris published the first issue of the Spirit of Democracy from Woodsfield, Ohio, the seat of Monroe County, with equipment purchased at an auction in Washington, D.C., that had originally been used to publish the Spirit of Democracy in Leesburg, Virginia. Morris’s prospectus, printed in the March 8, 1844 issue of the Spirit of Democracy stated his intention to “advocate the measures of the Democratic Party”; print “the most important News of the day, both Foreign and Domestic [and provide] the usual entertaining and instructive variety”; and “guard the interest of the Farmers, Mechanics, and Working men generally, in relation to their rights and the duties they owe to themselves and posterity.”
Because political affiliation was an important part of the paper’s identity, political news and editorials often filled the second page. Local news, advertisements, and poetry could be found on the other pages along with content related to the arts and sciences, education, and agriculture. Because it covered so many different subjects appealing to a variety of interests, the Spirit of Democracy called itself a “family newspaper.”
Morris was elected to the Ohio State Legislature in 1848, and, to pursue his political career and continue publication of the Spirit of Democracy, he hired Jeremiah Williams in 1854 to serve as his assistant. Williams became the paper’s editor and co-proprietor the next year. In 1861, Williams joined the army to fight in the Civil War, and Morris sold his interest in the Spirit of Democracy to Henry R. West. Williams remained co-proprietor during his service, occasionally writing to the paper about his experiences. He returned to Woodsfield and his previous occupation as editor in 1864. In 1867, West became the sole owner of the paper, and Williams served as editor intermittently until 1881.
The paper incorporated as The Spirit of Democracy Printing Company in 1907, and eventually absorbed competing newspapers, including the Monroe Gazette in 1911, the Sentinel in 1926, and the Monroe County Republican in 1956. At one time “Ohio’s oldest continuous-titled newspaper of general circulation,” the Spirit of Democracy ceased publication in 1994.
Researched and written by Jenni Salamon