John B. Clarke had worked as the editor of the Daily Mirror newspaper in Manchester for only nine months before he bought the paper in October 1852, along with the Weekly Mirror and the associated printing shop. Although he acquired the business at a bargain price at auction, his small cash reserves were drained, so he had to make the operation work as is. What he did have to invest was an abundance of energy and natural talent, and he was willing to work hard.
At 32 years old, John had done well enough practicing law, but he had always been on the lookout for other opportunities to make his mark on life. His restlessness had led him to spend several months mining for gold in California, without much success. He had now found his niche, taking to the newspaper business like a fish to water. In the early months, he was not only the Daily Mirror's publisher, but also its editor and its only reporter. In addition, he was the business manager, bill collector, bookkeeper and resident attorney. As historian George F. Willey wrote, the newspaper, "…moved as his (John Clarke's) judgment dictated; and in spite of sharp rivalry, business depressions, and other obstacles, it made advances every season and reflected more and more strikingly the pluck, push, and perseverance, the courage, sagacity and industry of John B. Clarke."
John Clarke later bought the Daily American and the Weekly American, and the New Hampshire Journal of Agriculture. He merged all of his papers into two publications, the Daily Mirror and American and the Mirror and Farmer, a weekly. In 1852 the Daily Mirror had a respectable, but not spectacular, circulation of 900. Gradually readership increased, and the expanded Daily Mirror and American eventually reached 40,000 subscribers. It had the largest circulation in New England of any paper published outside of Boston, and was one of the most influential papers in the Northeast.
A biographical sketch of John Clarke published in 1882 explained that he, "…aspired to make the Mirror one of the leading newspapers in the country." He succeeded because, "…he had what at that time proved most valuable to him, the capacity to see quickly and to express correctly the tendencies of opinion; and consequently his paper seemed to echo the voice of the people without any appearance of attempting to create it…"
Before the Civil War, the Daily Mirror and American was politically neutral, but John felt that "…there should be no neutrals in time of war."
From that time forward the newspaper's editorial position supported the principles of the Republican Party. John avoided direct involvement in politics as he felt that it would interfere with his journalistic freedom. However, he did serve as a delegate to the Republican convention in Baltimore, Maryland, in June 1864 when Abraham Lincoln was nominated to run for his second term as President, and was one of seven prominent national leaders who managed Lincoln's campaign.
John Clarke's publishing empire extended beyond the newspaper business. His shop took on a variety of printing jobs, large and small, and also did book binding. Several important books were produced in-house including "Clarke's Manchester Almanac and Directory," "Successful New Hampshire Men," and the impressive "Clarke's History of Manchester." This city history, published in 1875, was researched and written by John's nephew, Maurice D. Clarke, with material provided by the city library, and by corporations, churches, civic organizations and individuals.
John Clarke was tall and physically imposing, and full of enthusiasm for life. As an employee one described him, "He was instinctively a gentleman, polite, affable and considerate…There was a thrilling warmth in his greeting, genuine heartiness in his laugh, entertainment in his anecdotes and instruction in his discussions of any subject. He was a good listener, too, and had a rare faculty for learning from people of all classes…He was a kindly man and a generous one."
John Clarke's publishing business was located on Elm Street until 1876, when it moved into a new brick Italianate-style building on Hanover Street. Today, the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce and other businesses are located in this building, which is known as the Daily Mirror Office Building.
Next Week: A Valley Cemetery Story — John B. Clarke enjoys a life of wealth..
Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her at firstname.lastname@example.org