James Anthony, the guiding force of The Sacramento Union during the violent and unsettled 1850s, ’60s and ’70s, was a strong man of incorruptible convictions and great boldness and honesty. He was not particularly genial or social, but doggedly loyal to convictions of duty and integrity.
Lean, tall and taciturn, he was an imposing figure in the rollicking, earthy and often brutal days of mid-19th century Sacramento.
Anthony was born Jan. 6, 1824, in Greencastle, Pa., and little is known of his early years. In 1846, he was working in the business office of the St. Louis Republican, a Whig journal. While with the Republican, Anthony became a devoted friend and partisan of Henry Clay.
Attracted by the gold fields of California, he boarded a steamship and arrived in San Francisco in 1849. Anthony tried his luck in the gold fields for a short time but gave up after achieving only limited success. The year 1850 was spent in mercantile pursuits in Placer County.
In November 1851, Anthony moved to Sacramento, where he took a job as a bookkeeper with The Sacramento Union, at that time, a small paper with limited influence. A year later, he bought a share of The Union, and in 1853, he joined Paul Morrill and Henry Larkin in the business under the name of James Anthony & Co.
Boldness and initiative characterized Anthony and his associates as they pumped new vigor, meaning and independence into The Union. It was not only the largest of California’s 90-odd papers, but it was also considered the most representative.
With astute management, The Union experienced phenomenal growth. By the end of the first year the enterprising partners were printing daily, weekly and “steamer” (for the East) editions.
Under Anthony & Co., The Union became a self-constituted repository of historical information, as circulation climbed steadily from 500 in 1853 to 24,000 (9,000 daily, 15,000 weekly) in 1870.
While The Union was renowned generally throughout California, parts of the Pacific Northwest and Nevada, its most enthusiastic and respective readers were among the news-hungry miners foiling in the isolated gold fields. In its role as the “miner’s bible,” The Union became a part of the miners’ lives, bringing them news of the outside world, entertaining them and fighting for their rights.
In the interests of the “common people,” Anthony & Co. initiated in 1863 a fight against the Central Pacific Railroad headed by C.P. Huntington. The fight stemmed from The Union’s conviction that California was about to be delivered into the hands of the powerful railroad corporation. But The Union was also powerful, and in the ensuing struggle it successfully thwarted the railroad’s political activities on several important issues.
In 1869, the railroad banned The Union from all Central Pacific cars and boats, and the squeeze was being felt by Anthony & Co. from 1870 on. In that year, The Union complained that the railroad owned all lines of communication from Sacramento in all directions, and as a result The Union could not successfully compete with the Bay Area papers.
On Dec. 28, 1874, The Union was sold at public auction to the Sacramento Publishing Co. On Feb. 22, 1875, it was merged with the Sacramento Record to become the Sacramento Union-Record.
Anthony died Jan. 6, 1876.
The Union pioneered as a leader of California’s independent press in an era of partisan, and often controlled, journals.
Reflecting the high ideals held by Anthony & Co., The Union was an early advocate of objective journalism in a period of highly personal and often-vituperative frontier reporting.
Anthony’s fierce loyalty to his own convictions and integrity are strikingly exemplified in his tenacious refusal to make peace in The Union’s fight with the powerful Central Pacific Railroad.
Mark Twain described Anthony and his partners as the best men ever to own a newspaper. Other evidences of the almost universal admiration held for Anthony appeared on the day of his funeral, when flags were lowered to half staff at all newspaper buildings and at many private and public buildings in Sacramento, including the state Capitol.