Protecting Press Freedom and Access to Government Information in Antebellum South Carolina.

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Sunshine laws are supposed to be an invention of the twentieth century, but at least one press access case moved through the South Carolina courts in the middle of the nineteenth century. The case was the product of the party disruptions of the midcentury when the Whigs collapsed and the Know Nothings took political primacy in many places. One of those places was Columbia, South Carolina, where Robert W. Gibbes Sr. was editor of the South Carolinian. Gibbes was many things--an editor, a physician, a former Columbia mayor, a college professor, a rabble rouser, and a journalist. He was also not a man with the patience for the political machinations of the period. So, when the new Know Nothing mayor banned Gibbes from covering city council meetings, so as to privilege the Know Nothing newspaper, Gibbes took an "I'll show you" approach to resolving the issue. He decided to provoke an incident that would give him reason to sue the mayor for access to council meetings. He succeeded in provoking the mayor, filing and winning his lawsuit. With his winnings, he had a silver chalice, lined with gold, made and engraved with the First Amendment on one side and a statement regarding the inviolate nature of the amendment on the other. (See "Artifact" on Page 238.) Radically conservative antebellum South Carolina would not on first glance appear to be the sort of venue for this sunshine case, perhaps the first in American history. Given the nature of Southern society and its expectations of men, Southerners' daily experience with what it meant to lose one's freedom, and the state of national and local politics, it stands to reason that a Southern editor would be the vanguard in the struggle for journalistic access to government information.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-218
Number of pages10
JournalJournalism history
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • GIBBES, Robert W.
  • FREEDOM of the press
  • GOVERNMENT information
  • HISTORY of the freedom of the press
  • UNITED States
  • ANTEBELLUM Period (U.S.)
  • SOUTH Carolina state history


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