The American Mercury

From Metapedia
(Redirected from American Mercury)
Jump to: navigation, search

The American Mercury magazine was founded in 1924 as the brainchild of H. L. Mencken and drama critic George Jean Nathan. The magazine featured writing by some of the most important writers in the United States through the 1920s and 1930s. The magazine ceased publishing in 1981.

In 2010, The American Mercury was revived as an online publication "by a group of volunteer writers and editors, among whom are some who collectively worked with the contributors and management of the print Mercury for over 40 years."[1] Thus, after a hiatus of nearly thirty years, the magazine resumed publication as a webzine with a personnel lineage to the original.


Mencken and Nathan had previously edited The Smart Set literary magazine together, when not producing their own books and, in Mencken's case, regular journalism for the Baltimore Sun. With their mutual book publisher Alfred A. Knopf serving as the publisher, Mencken and Nathan created The American Mercury as "a serious review, the gaudiest and damnedest ever seen in the Republic," as Mencken explained the name (derived from a 19th-century publication) to his old friend and contributor, Theodore Dreiser: "What we need is something that looks highly respectable outwardly. The American Mercury is almost perfect for that purpose. What will go on inside the tent is another story. You will recall that the late P. T. Barnum got away with burlesque shows by calling them moral lectures."

And, from 1924 through 1933, Mencken — Nathan resigned as his co-editor a year after the magazine was born — provided precisely what he promised: elegantly irreverent observations of America, aimed at what he called "Americans realistically," those of sophisticated skepticism of enough that was popular and much that threatened to be. Simeon Strunsky in The New York Times observed that, "The dead hand of the yokelry on the instinct for beauty cannot be so heavy if the handsome green and black cover of The American Mercury exists." The quote was used on the subscription form for the magazine during its heyday.

The January 1924 issue sold more than 15,000 copies and by the end of that first year the circulation was over 42,000. In early 1928 the circulation reached a height of over 84,000, but declined steadily after the Stock Market crash. The magazine published literature by Eugene O'Neill, Carl Sandburg, William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, Albert Jay Nock, W.E.B. Du Bois, W. J. Cash, James Weldon Johnson, Conrad Aiken, Sherwood Anderson, Edgar Lee Masters, Nathan, providing theater criticism, and Mencken himself, his regular contributions being limited to "Editorial Notes" and "The Library," the latter being book reviews masquing social critique, placed at the back of each volume. The magazine published others, from newspapermen and academics to convicts and taxi drivers, but its primary emphasis soon became non-fiction and usually satirical essays; its "Americana" section--containing items clipped from newspapers and other magazines nationwide--became a much-imitated feature, and Mencken further spiced the package with aphorisms printed in the magazine's margins whenever space allowed.


H.L. Mencken rarely if ever flinched from controversy, and he found himself in the thick of it when The American Mercury was just over two years old, when the April 1926 issue published "Hatrack," a chapter from Herbert Asbury's Up From Methodism. The chapter described a reputedly true story: a prostitute in Asbury's childhood in Farmington, Missouri, nicknamed Hatrack because of her angular physique, and a regular churchgoer seeking genuine forgiveness but, shunned by the town's reputed good people, returning to her sinful life.

If that seems a straightforward and uncontroversial enough description, consider that in 1926 it was just enough at the edge that the Rev. J. Frank Chase of the Watch and Ward Society, which monitored material sold in Boston for obscenity, decided "Hatrack" was immoral and had a Harvard Square magazine peddler arrested for selling a copy of the issue. That provoked Mencken himself to visit Boston and sell Chase himself a copy, the better to be arrested for the cameras. Tried and acquitted, Mencken's courageous stance for freedom of the press cost him regardless: over $20,000 in legal fees, lost revenue, and lost advertising.

Mencken sued Chase and won, a federal judge ruling the prelate's organization committed an illegal restraint of trade and prosecutors, not private activists, should censor literature, assuming anyone should. But following the trial, the Solicitor of the U. S. Post Office Department Donnelly ruled the April 1926 American Mercury was obscene — the federal Comstock Law, he ruled, barred the issue from delivery through the U.S. Post Office. Mencken challenged Donnelly, arousing the prospect of a landmark free speech case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and legendary Justice Learned Hand. But because the April 1926 Mercury had already been mailed, an injunction was no longer an appropriate remedy.

Exit Mencken

Mencken resigned as editor of his creation at the end of 1933, and The American Mercury was then edited by his assistant, Charles Angoff. At first, the magazine was seen as moving farther left, but a year after Mencken left Knopf sold the Mercury to Paul A. Palmer, a Mencken colleague at the Baltimore Sun. By 1936, Palmer had continued the Mencken standard in its content but changed its appearance: it now had the same pocket size as Reader's Digest. Three years later, the magazine changed hands again, Palmer selling to the Mercury's business manager, Lawrence E. Spivak.


Spivak even more than Palmer revived the Mercury for a brief but vigorous period — Mencken Nathan, and Angoff themselves contributed essays to the magazine again. From there, Spivak created a company to publish the magazine, Mercury Press, and soon the company began publishing other magazines, including Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (1941) and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1949. But perhaps in new financial difficulty, the Mercury merged with Common Sense in 1946, and by 1950 the new Mercury owner was Clendenin J. Ryan, who changed the name to The New American Mercury. Ryan began another transformation of the magazine, toward another direction, but it would take a familiar journalist to finish what he began.

In 1945, while editing the magazine, Lawrence Spivak created a radio program called American Mercury Presents Meet the Press. Brought to television on November 6, 1947, the show shed the first three words of its name — and remains the single longest-running news program in television, a fixture on NBC every Sunday.


William Bradford Huie — whose work had appeared in the magazine before — had gleaned the beginning of a new, post-World War II American conservative intellectual movement. He sensed correctly that Ryan had begun to guide The American Mercury toward that direction. He also opened the magazine's pages to more mass-appeal writing, by the like of the Rev. Billy Graham and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.

Huie however found himself facing financial difficulties sustaining the Mercury and was forced to sell to financial contributor, J. Russell Maguire, in August 1952. It was at this point that the new owners of The American Mercury took the periodical on a national conservative path. The ADL of B'nai B'rtih screeched "anti-semite!" at Maguire's Mercury, particularly when it drew a number of purportedly anti-Jewish comments from the writings of Mencken himself back for reprint. The influences of George Lincoln Rockwell, the Rev. Gerald B. Winrod and General Edwin A. Walker, on the editorial policy board also pushed the publication further toward nationalism.

Maguire did not remain long as the magazine's owner/publisher and sold the Mercury to the Gerald B. Winrod-owned: Defenders of the Christian Faith, Inc. located in Wichita, Kansas in 1961; Reverend Gerald B. Winrod, was known as "The Jayhawk Nazi" during World War II and was a defendant in the Great Sedition Trial of 1944. The DCF sold it to the Legion for the Survival of Freedom of Jason Matthews in 1963, and the LSF cut a deal in June 1966 with the Washington Observer that telegraphed a merger with Western Destiny which was a Noontide Press publication.

American Mercury’s paid circulation doubled from six thousand in 1966 to twelve thousand in 1970. In 1975 circulation increased to seventeen thousand.[2]

The 1950s issues of The American Mercury edited by American nationalist Russell Maguire can be read here: [1]

Back issues

See also here [2]


  1. The American Mercury | About
  2. Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement..., by Leonard Zeskind, page 55

See also

External links

Part of this article consists of modified text from Wikipedia, and the article is therefore licensed under GFDL.