John Swinton (1829–1901) was a Scottish-American journalist, newspaper publisher, and orator. Although he arguably gained his greatest influence as the chief editorial writer of The New York Times during the decade of the 1860s, Swinton is best remembered as the namesake of John Swinton’s Paper, one of the most prominent American labor newspapers of the 1880s. Swinton would also serve as chief editorialist of the New York Sun during two stints totaling more than a dozen years.
Swinton was born in Saltoun, Scotland, on December 12, 1829. Swinton’s father emigrated to America when John was very young, becoming a pioneer settler in the state of Illinois. He died not long after arriving in America, casting his son John into the job market at a very early age.
Swinton became an apprentice to a printer in 1841, when he was just 13 years old. Two years later he moved along, emigrating to Montreal, Lower Canada, where he worked as a journeyman printer. Swinton remained in Canada for the rest of the decade of the 1840s.
Swinton returned to the United States to attend Williston Northampton School in Easthampton, Massachusetts. He did not complete his studies there, instead moving to New York City to enroll at New York Medical College, where once again he did not attain a degree. Swinton was politically radicalized by slavery in the United States and the organized campaign for its abolition. In 1856 he moved to Kansas to participate in the Free Soil movement there, taking a position as manager of the Lawrence Republican, an anti-slavery newspaper.
He later moved to the slave state of South Carolina to take a job as a printing compositor at the state printing office. Swinton secretly taught illegal literacy classes for black South Carolinians in this period.