In 1852, Pennsylvanian publisher Benjamin F. Cory arrived in Ironton, the seat of Lawrence County, Ohio, where, in partnership with Ralph Leete, he established the Spirit of the Times. First printed on January 5, 1853, the paper aimed to “embody and give expression to the collective thoughts and aspirations of the people upon matters of their interest.” A radical Democratic newspaper, the Spirit of the Times supported, in particular, land reform, abolition, and “the simplification of law” and favored “universal popular Education, as the true Equalizer of Society.”
At first, “the establishment of a Democratic paper in Lawrence county… was considered a doubtful experiment.” But the Spirit of the Times proved popular. Circulating in Ironton and nearby Portsmouth, the paper contained myriad articles and features on philosophy, poetry, fiction, and historical anecdotes, and it covered local news and both national and international politics. Under the motto “State Sovereignty, National Union,” the editors reported on key developments in the decade of the 1850s: the division of the Northwest Territory, temperance conventions, the Anti-Nebraska state convention at Columbus, the Know-Nothing Party, the Homestead Bills and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, all the while advocating for reforms, in the words of Leete, “in the spirit of advancement.”
Cory retired from publishing in 1854, leaving Leete as primary editor of the Spirit of the Times. However, when Leete suffered a bout of confining illness in late summer of that year, one of the publishers, J. M. Foster, attempted to take control of the paper. The office employees refused to work until a different leader could be procured, leading to the introduction of Walter C. Hood, of Somerset, as the new publisher and principal editor in September 1854. Hood published the Spirit of the Times in Ironton until 1857, whereupon he relocated its offices to Portsmouth, owing both to the popularity of the paper and the absence of a major Democratic organ in that city. Publication of the Spirit of the Times ceased in 1858 when Hood went on to launch the first incarnation of the Portsmouth Times, which endures to the present day.
Researched and written by Jennifer Seymour