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Greeley favored westward expansion. He saw the fertile farmland of the west as an ideal place for people willing to work hard for the opportunity to succeed. The phrase came to symbolize the idea that agriculture could solve many of the nation's problems of poverty and unemployment characteristic of the big cities of the East. It is one of the most commonly quoted sayings from the nineteenth century and may have had some influence on the course of American history.
Some sources have claimed the phrase is derived from the following advice in Greeley's July 13, 1865 editorial in the New York Tribune, but this text does not appear in that issue of the newspaper. The actual editorial instead encourages Civil War veterans to take advantage of the Homestead Act and colonize the public lands.
|“||Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.||”|
The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations gives the full quotation as, "Go West, young man, and grow up with the country", from Hints toward Reforms (1850) by Horace Greeley. The phrase does not actually occur in that book, however.
Josiah Bushnell Grinnell claimed in his autobiography that Horace Greeley first addressed the advice to him in 1833, before sending him off to Illinois to report on the Illinois Agricultural State Fair. Grinnell reports the full conversation as:
|“||"Go West, young man, go West. There is health in the country, and room away from our crowds of idlers and imbeciles." "That," I said, "is very frank advice, but it is medicine easier given than taken. It is a wide country, but I do not know just where to go." "It is all room away from the pavements. [...]"||”|
Many people believe Horace Greeley did not coin this phrase at all, but merely popularized it. He may have borrowed it from John B. L. Soule who may have published it in an editorial of his own in an 1851 edition of the Terre Haute Express. However, the phrase does not occur in the 1851 edition of the Terre Haute Express, and the Soule theory may date no earlier than 1890.
Author Ralph Keyes also suggests Soule as the source, offering an account in which the line originated from a bet between Soule and Indiana Congressman Richard W. Thompson over whether or not Soule could trick readers by forging a Greeley article.
Grinnell College historian Joseph Frazier Wall claims that Greeley himself denied providing that advice, and "[spent] the rest of this life vigorously protesting that he had never given this advice to Grinnell or anyone else...". In a footnote Wall states
|“||For an account of the true source of "Go West, young man" and Greeley's disavowal of being the author of the phrase, see Berger, Evans, Dictionary of Quotations, (New York, Delacourte Press, 1968), p. 745:2. John L. Selch, Newspaper Librarian of the Indiana State Library, in a letter to William Deminoff, 12 Dec. 1983, confirms that Soule was the source for this statement.||”|