Eli B. Swearingen and Oliver Taylor founded the Intelligencer in August 1852 to rally support for Winfield Scott’s Whig Party presidential campaign. Ownership changed several times before Archibald W. Campbell and John F. McDermot purchased the paper in 1856. They shortened its name to the Daily Intelligencer from 1859 to 1865. Aiming to establish “a liberal and independent journal,” Campbell took advantage of recent advancements in printing technology, marketing, and the availability of news by telegraph. These innovations, in concert with a new seven-column format and a policy of representing diverse viewpoints, garnered for the Intelligencer both a wide circulation and increased advertising revenue.
The newspaper’s stability and broad appeal convinced the nascent Republican Party that it was well-suited to advance the party’s platform in northwestern Virginia. Prominent Republicans began offering financial assistance to the Intelligencer by 1858, hoping to capitalize on the paper’s commercial success. Campbell’s political sympathies and policy of free speech provided a vehicle through which Republican ideas reached a regional population that was largely disillusioned with Virginia’s Southern Democratic leaders. Although Republicans remained a minority in northwestern Virginia, the Intelligencer was one of a handful of Virginia newspapers that supported Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 Presidential election.
The Intelligencer benefited from support by the Lincoln administration in the months that followed the election. This symbiotic relationship continued throughout the Civil War. The Intelligencer consistently advocated the establishment of a new, non-slave, state in western Virginia, though Campbell adhered to his policy of free speech, printing opposing views alongside his own. The Intelligencer’s role in the statehood debate was, in fact, critical, as Lincoln’s support for West Virginia’s creation was in part a reward for the unionist loyalties of the men behind the movement, including Campbell.
The only daily published in West Virginia in the early 1860s, the Intelligencer’s circulation exceeded 3,000 during the Civil War. Though its national influence diminished thereafter, the firm foundation which Campbell had established assured the newspaper’s long-term viability.
John Frew became part owner of the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer in 1866 and successfully guided the paper for the remainder of the century. In addition to boosting daily circulation, Frew increased readership and influence by establishing weekly and semiweekly editions. Campbell’s emphasis on quality, objectivity, and marketability continued under Frew’s leadership. While Frew and his editors expressed strong political opinions, pursued political offices, and benefited from political patronage, they did not abandon the paper’s spirit of neutrality, nor compromise its commercial success to advance their personal ambitions and views.