From its first issue on March 16, 1854, the Cleveland Morning Leader threw its support behind the recently formed Republican Party, providing an opposition voice to Cleveland’s other major daily, the Democratic Cleveland Daily Plain Dealer. The Morning Leader grew from the 1853 merger between Cleveland’s Morning Daily True Democrat and Daily Forest City that had formed the Daily Forest City Democrat. Edwin W. Cowles, the Morning Leader’s most famous and longstanding editor, managed the Democrat alongside Joseph Medill, and it was upon Cowles’s insistence that the name changed to the Leader in 1854. By 1856, Cowles became the sole proprietor of the paper under the name E. Cowles & Company.
In addition to being published every morning except Sunday, the paper was issued as the Cleveland Tri-Weekly Leader on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays and as the Cleveland Weekly Leader on Saturdays. There was also an evening edition, known as the Cleveland Evening Leader or the Evening News. With numbers just under 20,000 for all four editions during the early 1870s, the Leader boasted the largest circulation of any paper in Ohio except for those in Cincinnati. The Tri-Weekly was especially popular in the areas surrounding Cleveland.
In 1854, the Leader, along with the Cleveland Herald and Cleveland Daily Plain Dealer, contracted with the New York Associated Press to receive news from New York, allowing the paper to report on items of national, in addition to state and regional, significance. Before and during the Civil War, the paper was anti-slavery, with strong editorials pushing for the abolition of slavery and the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act. As a Republican paper, it stood for the protection of “Free Labor, Free Speech, Free Press, Free Territories and Free states” and for the preservation of the Union. Cowles’s editorial leadership was at times polarizing as he passionately pushed his own agenda on issues of local importance, such the construction of an expensive cross-city viaduct in 1870, and on larger political and social issues, reflected by his strong loyalty to the Republican Party and his war against Catholicism.
Shortly after the end of the Civil War, the paper’s name changed twice: in May 1865 it became known as the Cleveland Leader, and after October 1865 the Cleveland Daily Leader. The paper was the first in Ohio to use the rotary lightning press and electrotype plates. After Cowles’s death in 1890, the Leader struggled to make more than a fair profit, and there were no surplus funds that could be put toward expansion. The paper changed names and hands several times until it was eventually purchased by the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1917.
Part of this newspaper has been digitized and is available for research via Chronicling America: Cleveland Morning Leader, 1858-1865; Cleveland Tri-Weekly Leader, 1861-1864; Cleveland Leader, 1865; Cleveland Daily Leader, 1865-1866.