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John W. Forney: The Letters of "Occasional"


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Overview and metadata sections

The American editor and publisher John Wien Forney was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, September 30, 1817, the son of Peter Forney and Margaret Wien. He died in Philadelphia, December 9, 1881. Forney also pursued a minor political career, serving as both Clerk of the House of Representatives and Secretary of the Senate.

Forney left school at thirteen to work as an apprentice for the Lancaster

Journal. By age sixteen he was writing editorials for the Journal, and at age nineteen Forney became joint owner and editor of a new publication, the Lancaster Intelligencer. Two years later Forney purchased the Journal and created the Intelligencer and Journal.

Politics also interested Forney and he actively supported U.S. Senator (later President) James Buchanan (D - Penn.), who also hailed from Lancaster. In 1845, with Buchanan's support, Forney was appointed deputy surveyor of the port of Philadelphia. In the same year Forney sold his Lancaster paper and moved to Philadelphia to become the editor of the

Pennsylvanian, a position he held for seven years. Forney pursued his interest in politics and in 1851 he was elected to his first term as Clerk of the House of Representatives, where he served until 1857. Beginning in 1853 Forney also worked as an editor for the Washington Daily Union, the national Democratic organ.

After unsuccessful attempts to advance his political career as a cabinet member under President James Buchanan (1857-1861), and a failed bid for one of Pennsylvania's senatorial seats, Forney returned to Philadelphia in 1857 to establish a new newspaper, the Philadelphia

Press. Forney's disappointment with the Buchanan administration also prompted him to shift his support to the Republican Party, and in 1860 he was again elected Clerk of the House of Representatives; this time as a Republican. Forney actively supported President Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865), whose influence helped to elect Forney Secretary of the Senate (1861-1868), making him the only Secretary to have previously served as Clerk of the House. During this active political period Forney's journalistic pursuits also thrived. He found time to start yet another new paper, the Washington Chronicle, as well as maintain his editorship of the Philadelphia Press. The Press published Forney's "Letter from Occasional" column, which offered editorials on political issues of the day.

In 1880 Forney returned to the Democratic Party after starting

Progress, a weekly journal of political discussion, in 1878. Forney was also the author of several books, including Letters From Europe (1867), Anecdotes of Public Men (1873, 1881), and The Life and Military Career of Winfield Scott Hancock (1880).

Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958-1964. Vol. 4. United States Senate. Senate Historical Office Web site Retrieved August 2001 from

This small collection, The Letters of "Occasional," by John W. Forney, comprises two volumes of news clippings "compiled and revised from the files of The

Press by James Forney."

James Forney, son of John Forney, submitted the volumes to the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States, in and for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, on September 19, 1864. The news clippings represent Forney's editorial column in the Philadelphia

Press, spanning the dates August 30, 1857-June 25, 1861. The frequency of the column appears to have been irregular: in some cases it was published daily, while at other times it appeared weekly.

The clippings are pasted chronologically into two scrapbooks. The pages in volume I, 1857-1859, are numbered consecutively, 1-244. The pages in volume II are numbered 1-191 for 1860, and 1-115 for 1861. Volume I also includes a frontispiece pencil drawing of John Forney, and a copyright form submitted by James Forney.

Forney's column was written from Washington, D.C., and reported on national politics, congressional issues, United States foreign and domestic policies, the presidencies of James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln, life in Washington, and political events relevant to the

Press's Pennsylvania readership. Forney's reporting often took a pronounced political stance on the topics he treated; his position as both an experienced journalist and Clerk of the House of Representatives (1851-1857, 1860-1861) provided his column with great insight on the political issues of the day. While Forney's well-informed editorials display his detailed knowledge of the political workings of Washington, his partisan position on certain issues reveals his politically ambitious nature. His critical treatment of President Buchanan is one example of his willingness to forward his political point of view through his editorial columns. Although he was capable of pointed sarcasm (cf. vol. 1, pg. 151, August 17, 1859, in which he barbs his adversaries James G. Bennett and President James Buchanan), Forney's writing typically reflects the polished and intelligent style of an accomplished journalist able to draw on historical fact and literary illusions when needed to illustrate a point.

  1. Boxes 1-2: Shelved in SPEC MSS manuscript boxes

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University of Delaware Library Special Collections
Finding Aid Author
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
Finding Aid Date
2010 March 15
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections Department, University of Delaware Library,

Collection Inventory

Volume I, 1857 August 30-1860 January 1.
Box 1
Scope and Contents

Bound scrapbook with pasted news clippings. Includes a pencil drawing of John W. Forney pasted to the front end paper with the following caption: "Hon. John W. Forney Editor / [of the] Phila. Press / and Centennial Commissioner 1875 -1876." Also includes the copyright application to the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States, in and for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, dated September 19, 1864, for "The Letters of 'Occasional' / by John W. Forney / Compiled and Revised from the / files of 'The Press' / by / James Forney / Capt. U.S.M.C." Spine stamped "Occasional Letters / by / John W. Forney / From His Son / James Forney / 1857-58-59 / Vol. I."

Physical Description

244 pp.

Volume II, 1860 January 1-1861 June 25.
Box 2
Scope and Contents

Bound scrapbook with pasted news clippings, only the spine remains of the original binding. Pages in this volume are numbered according to the year of publication, i.e., 1860, 1-191; 1861, 1-115. Spine stamped "Occasional Letters / by / John W. Forney / From His Son / James Forney / 1860-61."

Physical Description

306 pp.

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