On this day in 1845, an editorial appeared in the New York Morning News by John L. O’Sullivan (1813 – 1895). In the editorial, Sullivan, a newspaper editor and proponent of U.S. expansion, argued for the United States’ claim to the Oregon Country, a large region in the West for which England and the U.S. had rival claims. To Sullivan, expansion of the U.S. across all of North America to the Pacific coast was more than just a hope for the young nation; instead, it was its duty and its fate:
Away, away with all these cobweb issues of rights of discovery, exploration, settlement, continuity, etc.… our claim to Oregon would still be best and strongest. And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us. (1)
Sullivan’s editorial popularized the motto: manifest destiny, giving proponents of expansion a rally cry. By the end of 1846, Oregon became a U.S. Territory after negotiations with Britain established the border at the 49th parallel (See June 15: Parallelism Day). At the time of Sullivan’s editorial, the United States had just 27 states. By the end of the 19th century that number would expand to 45.
Sullivan’s editorial and the motto that it popularized are just one of many examples of how newspaper editorials have influenced American history.
Each day the editorial boards of American newspapers produce written pieces that reflect the opinions of their newspaper and its publisher. By definition an editorial is a subjective expression of opinion, distinct from news articles which are objective. Another term closely associated with editorials is “Op-Ed,” an abbreviation of “opposite the editorial page.” Like editorials, Op-Ed’s are opinion pieces; however, unlike editorials, they are written by outside contributors or columnists.
The basic structure of editorials and op-eds is similar in that both present arguments supporting a central claim, and each has a fundamental three-part organization:
Introduction: State what the issue is, along with its history. Explain who is affected by the issue and why it is relevant today. Clearly state your claim regarding the issue and the reasoning behind your position.
Body: Support your argument with reasoning, evidence, and counterarguments. Use specific facts, statistics, examples, and quotations from authorities to support your position. Provide clear explanations of your proof, along with your vision of what the final outcome related to the issue should be.
Conclusion: Consider an appeal to pathos, revealing the emotions around the issue or showing your passionate concern for the issue. End with a call to action or by restating your position.
Today’s Challenge: Make Your Opinion Manifest
What is a current issue that is relevant today, an issue that you have an opinion about? Write an editorial expressing and supporting your opinion on a specific relevant issue. If you’re not sure what to write about, look at the news in today’s newspaper, and respond to what you see there. Or read editorials or op-eds, and respond to those. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
1-O’Sullivan, John L. Editorial. New York Morning News 27 Dec. 1845. Public Domain.