||Complete HarpWeek Biography:
Forney, John Wein (September 30, 1817 – December 9, 1881)
John W. Forney was owner–editor of the Press of Philadelphia and the
Morning Chronicle of Washington, D. C.
Of German extraction, John Wein Forney was born in Lancaster, the heart of
Pennsylvania Dutch country. At the age of thirteen, he left school to begin
working, first in a store, then as an apprentice to the printer of the Lancaster
Journal. In 1837, he purchased an interest in the financially troubled
Lancaster Intelligencer, for which he became editor. In two years, he
was able to make the newspaper profitable enough to allow him to merge it with
the Journal. Forney used the newspaper to promote the political career
of James Buchanan, a fellow Democrat from Lancaster. In 1845, Forney was named
by President Polk as surveyor of the port of Philadelphia. Moving to that city,
he became co–owner and editor another newspaper, the Pennsylvanian.
Forney was elected as clerk of the U. S. House of Representatives in 1851,
serving in that position until 1855. In 1852, he became editorial writer for a
Democratic organ, the Washington Daily Union. In 1854, he became a
partner and helped the newspaper secure printing contracts with the House of
Representatives, thereby providing it with a handsome, steady income. He left
the clerkship of the House to work on Buchanan’s presidential election
campaign. After his election in 1856, Buchanan was unable to secure a political
position for Forney, so the journalist returned to Philadelphia in 1857 to start
an independent Democratic newspaper called the Press. He soon began to
support Stephen Douglas in his fight against the Buchanan administration over
the Kansas question. Forney was reelected clerk of the House in 1859, and, as a
Republican, served as secretary of the Senate from 1861 to 1868.
In 1861, Forney established the Washington Sunday Morning Chronicle,
adding a daily edition (the Daily Morning Chronicle) in 1862. The
newspaper’s expansion was allegedly at the urging of President Lincoln, who
wanted the journal to counter criticism of the administration by the New York
Tribune. In the Press and the Chronicle, Forney supported
Lincoln and, in the beginning of his term, Andrew Johnson. The editor soon
joined the Radical Republicans, though, to become one of the Johnson’s most
strident critics. Uncharacteristically, the President refused the temptation to
counterattack, explaining “I do not waste my ammunition on dead ducks.” But
Johnson’s disparaging dismissal of Forney itself became ammunition in the
arsenal of Thomas Nast and other political cartoonists who used “dead duck” to
symbolize Johnson’s lack of political clout.
In 1870, Forney sold the Chronicle and again returned to Philadelphia,
where in 1871 he became collector of the port. In 1878, he established and
edited Progress, a weekly magazine. Switching back to the Democratic
Party, he authored the campaign biography of Democratic Presidential nominee
Winfield Scott in 1880. He also published Anecdotes of Public Men (2
vols., 1873–1881), The New Nobility (1881), and other works. He died in
Philadelphia on December 9, 1881.
Sources consulted: Dictionary of American Biography; Mark
Summers, The Press Gang.