Horace Greeley

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Horace Greeley
Horace-Greeley-Baker.jpeg
1872 portrait of Greeley by J.E. Baker
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 6th district
In office
December 4, 1848 – March 4, 1849
Preceded byDavid S. Jackson
Succeeded byJames Brooks
Personal details
Born(1811-02-03)February 3, 1811
Amherst, New Hampshire, US
DiedNovember 29, 1872(1872-11-29) (aged 61)
Pleasantville, New York, US
Political partyWhig, Liberal Republican Party, Republican
Spouse(s)Mary Cheney Greeley
Professionnewspaper editor, politician
ReligionUniversalist
Signature
 
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Horace Greeley
Horace-Greeley-Baker.jpeg
1872 portrait of Greeley by J.E. Baker
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 6th district
In office
December 4, 1848 – March 4, 1849
Preceded byDavid S. Jackson
Succeeded byJames Brooks
Personal details
Born(1811-02-03)February 3, 1811
Amherst, New Hampshire, US
DiedNovember 29, 1872(1872-11-29) (aged 61)
Pleasantville, New York, US
Political partyWhig, Liberal Republican Party, Republican
Spouse(s)Mary Cheney Greeley
Professionnewspaper editor, politician
ReligionUniversalist
Signature

Horace Greeley (February 3, 1811 – November 29, 1872) was an American newspaper editor and publisher, a founder of the Liberal Republican Party faction of the Republican Party, a reformer, a politician, and an outspoken opponent of slavery. The "New York Tribune" (which he founded and edited) was the most influential U.S. newspaper from the 1840s to the 1870s and "established Greeley's reputation as the greatest editor of his day."[1] Greeley used it to promote the Whig and Republican parties, as well as opposition to slavery and in favor of a host of reforms ranging from vegetarianism to socialism.

Crusading against the corruption of President Ulysses S. Grant's Republican administration, he was the new Liberal Republican Party's candidate in the 1872 U.S. presidential election. Despite having the additional support of the Democratic Party, he lost in a landslide. He is the only presidential candidate to have died prior to the counting of electoral votes in the Electoral College (mandated and provided for in the U.S. Constitution) to finally determine the results of the election.

Early life[edit]

Horace Greeley was born on February 3, 1811, on a farm about five miles from Amherst, New Hampshire. He could not breathe for the first twenty minutes of his life, an oxygen deprivation that has been linked to Asperger's Syndrome—some of his biographers, such as Mitchell Snay, maintain that this condition would account for his occasional eccentric behaviors in later life.[2] Greeley was the son of poor farmers Zaccheus and Mary (Woodburn) Greeley. Zaccheus was not successful, and moved his family several times, as far west as Pennsylvania. Horace attended the local schools, and was a brilliant student.[3] He was of English descent, whose forebears included early settlers of Massachusetts and New Hampshire.[4]

Seeing the boy's intelligence, some neighbors offered to pay Horace's way at Phillips Exeter Academy, but the Greeleys were too proud to accept charity. In 1820, Zaccheus's financial reverses caused him to flee New Hampshire with his family and settle in Vermont. Even as his father struggled to make a living as a hired hand, Horace Greeley read everything he could—the Greeleys had a neighbor who let Horace use his library. In 1822, he ran away from home to become a printer's apprentice, but was told he was too young.[5]

In 1826, at age 15, he was made a printer's apprentice to Amos Bliss, editor of the Northern Spectator, a newspaper in East Poultney, Vermont. There, he learned the mechanics of a printer's job, and acquired a reputation as the town encyclopedia, reading his way through the local library.[6] When the paper closed in 1830, the young man went west to join his family, living near Erie, Pennsylvania. He remained there only briefly, going from town to town seeking newspaper employment, and was hired by the Erie Gazette. Although ambitious for greater things, he remained there into 1831 to help support his father. While there, he became a Universalist, breaking from his Congregationalist family.[7]

In late 1831, he went to New York City to seek his fortune. There were many young printers in New York who had likewise come to the metropolis, and he could only find short-term work.[8]. He built his resources and in 1832 set up a print shop. In 1833, he tried his hand at editing a daily newspaper, the Morning Post, which was not a success. Despite this failure and its attendant financial loss, Greeley published the thrice-weekly Constitutionalist, that mostly printed lottery results.[9]

Soon, he had accumulated enough capital to launch a weekly literary and news journal, the New Yorker, and, in 1840, a Whig campaign weekly, the Log Cabin.

Marriage to Mary Cheney[edit]

Greeley married Mary Young Cheney, whom he met in New York City, on on July 5, 1836.

New York Tribune editorial staff. Greeley is third from the left in the front row.

Politics and publishing[edit]

As will be seen below, his newspaper career was inextricably intertwined with his political work. While a member of the Whigs, he edited the party organ, which he later merged into his own newspaper, the Tribune. Later, he made the Tribune a mouthpiece of the newly founded Republican Party, to which he had switched allegiance. He used his newspapers to promulgate personal positions he wished to support.

Whig[edit]

In 1838 leading Whig politicians selected him to edit a major national campaign newspaper, the Jeffersonian, which reached 15,000 circulation. Whig leader William Seward found him "rather unmindful of social usages, yet singularly clear, original, and decided, in his political views and theories". In 1840 he edited a major campaign newspaper, the Log Cabin which reached 90,000 subscribers nationwide, and helped elect William Henry Harrison president on the Whig ticket. In 1841 he merged his papers into the New York Tribune, which became known as the "Great Moral Organ." It soon was a success as the leading Whig paper in the metropolis; its weekly edition reached tens of thousands of subscribers across the country. Greeley was editor of the Tribune for the rest of his life, using it as a platform for advocacy of all his causes. As historian Allan Nevins explains:

The Tribune set a new standard in American journalism by its combination of energy in news gathering with good taste, high moral standards, and intellectual appeal. Police reports, scandals, dubious medical advertisements, and flippant personalities were barred from its pages; the editorials were vigorous but usually temperate; the political news was the most exact in the city; book reviews and book-extracts were numerous; and as an inveterate lecturer Greeley gave generous space to lectures. The paper appealed to substantial and thoughtful people.[10]

Photograph of Greeley by Mathew Brady, taken between 1844 and 1860
Horace Greeley Birthplace in Amherst, New Hampshire

Greeley prided himself in taking radical positions on all sorts of social issues; few readers followed his suggestions. Utopia fascinated him; influenced by Albert Brisbane he promoted Fourierism. His journal's European correspondent in the 1850s was Karl Marx. Although most of Greeley's views sharply contrasted with Marx's, in the 1840s he promoted the utopian features of socialism.[11] Indeed he promoted all sorts of agrarian reforms, including homestead laws. He was elected as a Whig to the Thirtieth Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the unseating of David S. Jackson and served from December 4, 1848 – March 4, 1849, but failed in numerous other attempts to win elective office.

Greeley supported liberal policies towards settlers; in a July 13, 1865 editorial, he famously advised "Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country." Some have claimed that the phrase was originally written by John Soule in the Terre Haute Express in 1851,[12] but it is most often attributed to Greeley. Historian Walter A. McDougall quotes Josiah Bushnell Grinnell, the founder of Iowa's Grinnell College, as saying, "I was the young man to whom Greeley first said it, and I went." Researcher Fred R. Shapiro says Greeley's actual quote was a bit different: "If any young man is about to commence the world, we say to him, publicly and privately, Go to the West."[13]

A champion of the working man, he attacked monopolies of all sorts and rejected land grants to railroads. Industry would make everyone rich, he insisted, as he promoted high tariffs. He supported vegetarianism, opposed liquor, and paid serious attention to any "-ism" anyone proposed. What made the Tribune such a success were the extensive news stories, very well written by brilliant reporters, together with feature articles by fine writers. He was an excellent judge of newsworthiness and quality of reporting. His editorials and news reports explaining the policies and candidates of the Whig Party were reprinted and discussed throughout the country. Many small newspapers relied heavily on the reporting and editorials of the Tribune.

Greeley was noted for his eccentricities. His attire in even the hottest weather included a full-length coat, and he was never without an umbrella; his interests included spiritualism and phrenology.[14]

Horace Greeley

Republican[edit]

When the new Republican Party was founded in 1854, Greeley made the Tribune its unofficial national organ, and fought slavery extension and the slave power on many pages. On the eve of the Civil War, circulation nationwide approached 300,000. In 1860 he supported the ex-Whig Edward Bates of Missouri for the Republican nomination for president, an action that weakened Greeley's old ally Seward.[15]

Greeley made the Tribune the leading newspaper opposing the Slave Power, that is, what he considered the conspiracy by slave owners to seize control of the federal government and block the progress of liberty.

Civil War[edit]

On November 9, 1860, as Lincoln's election was confirmed, Greeley published a highly controversial editorial that historians have argued about. Greeley called for allowing secession to take place peacefully. He wrote:

if the Cotton States shall become satisfied that they can do better out of the Union than in it, we insist on letting them go in peace....And whenever a considerable section of our Union shall deliberately resolve to go out, we shall resist all coercive measures designed to keep it in. We hope never to live in a republic where of one section is pinned to the residue by bayonets.[16]

Greeley's position was accepted by abolitionists who wanted rid of the evil Slave Power. However nationalists, including the vast majority of Republicans, including Lincoln, rejected the advice. In a matter of weeks Greeley first qualified and then dropped his proposal. Erik Lunde argues:

Greeley, hoping for a peaceful resolution of the crisis caused by Lincoln's election, argued that it might be best for the Union to let the "erring sisters" go, but he also stressed here, as in later editorials, that he would acquiesce in withdrawal movements only if they were democratically supported. Hence Greeley condemned the ordinances of secession because they did not, in his estimation, represent the true voice of a majority of the citizens of the South.[17]

Thomas Bonner, Jeter Isely and many other historians have argued Greeley's plea was genuine; others like Kenneth Stampp say it was disingenuous because of the impossible condition he included.[18]

In the secession crisis of spring 1861 he took a hard line against the Confederacy. Theoretically, he agreed, the South could declare independence; but in reality he said there was "a violent, unscrupulous, desperate minority, who have conspired to clutch power"—secession was an illegitimate conspiracy that had to be crushed by federal power. By early summer 1861 he was demanding a march on Richmond to destroy the Confederacy.[19]

He took a Radical Republican position during the war, in opposition to Lincoln’s moderation. In the summer of 1862, he wrote a famous editorial entitled "The Prayer of Twenty Millions" demanding a more aggressive attack on the Confederacy and faster emancipation of the slaves. One month later he hailed Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Although after 1860 he increasingly lost control of the Tribune’s operations, and wrote fewer editorials, in 1864 he expressed defeatism regarding Lincoln’s chances of reelection, an attitude that was echoed across the country when his editorials were reprinted. Oddly he also pursued a peace policy in 1863–64 that involved discussions with Copperheads and opened the possibility of a compromise with the Confederacy. Lincoln was aghast, but outsmarted Greeley by appointing him to a peace commission he knew the Confederates would repudiate.

Reconstruction[edit]

In Reconstruction Greeley took an erratic course, mostly favoring the Radicals and opposing president Andrew Johnson in 1865–66. In 1867 Greeley was one of 21 men who signed a $100,000 bond for the release of former president of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis. The move was controversial, and many Northerners thought Greeley a traitor and canceled subscriptions to the Weekly Tribune by the thousands.[20] In 1869, he ran on the Republican ticket for New York State Comptroller but was defeated by the incumbent Democrat William F. Allen.

Greeley/Brown campaign poster

Presidential candidacy[edit]

After supporting Ulysses Grant in the 1868 election, Greeley broke from Grant and the Radicals. Opposing Grant's re-election bid, he joined the Liberal Republican Party in 1872. To everyone’s astonishment, that new party nominated Greeley as their presidential candidate. Even more surprisingly, he was officially endorsed by the Democrats, whose party he had denounced for decades.

As a candidate, Greeley argued that the war was over, the Confederacy was destroyed, and slavery was dead–and that Reconstruction was a success, so it was time to pull Federal troops out of the South and let the people there run their own affairs. A weak campaigner, he was mercilessly ridiculed by the Republicans as a fool, an extremist, a turncoat, and a crank who could not be trusted. The most vicious attacks came in cartoons by Thomas Nast in Harper's Weekly. Greeley ultimately ran far behind Grant, winning only 43% of the vote.

This crushing defeat was not Greeley's only misfortune in 1872. Greeley was among several high-profile investors who were defrauded by Philip Arnold in a famous diamond and gemstone hoax. Meanwhile, as Greeley had been pursuing his political career, Whitelaw Reid, Editor of the Tribune and Greeley's Campaign Manager, had gained control of the paper.[21]

Monument of Horace Greeley in Green-Wood Cemetery

Final month and death[edit]

Greeley's wife died shortly before the election,[22] and he descended into madness[23] and died before the electoral votes could be cast. In his final illness, allegedly Greeley spotted Reid and cried out, "You son of a bitch, you stole my newspaper."[24] Greeley died on Friday, November 29, 1872, at Choate House's sanitarium (now Marks Hall) in Pleasantville, New York. His death came before the Electoral College met. He would have received 66 electoral votes; they were scattered among others because of his death. However, three of Georgia's electoral votes were left blank in honor of him. (Other sources report Greeley receiving three electoral votes posthumously, with those votes being disallowed by Congress.)

Although Greeley had requested a simple funeral, his daughters ignored his wishes and arranged a grand affair. He is buried in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery.

Weeks before his death, Greeley drew up a new will, which left his estate to his older surviving daughter, Ida, with direction to use half the estate to support the other surviving child, Gabrielle. This replaced a will from January 1871, which directly divided the estate to the two daughters, and also provided inheritances to his siblings' families, and bequests to charities. There was a surrogate court battle to vacate the 1872 will, and ultimately, it was withdrawn. The court refused the withdrawal, but declared the 1872 will invalid due to Greeley being of unsound mind at the time.[23]

Legacy and cultural references[edit]

Horace Greeley Statue
City Hall Park
Chappaqua Farm, New York, Residence Horace Greeley, Currier & Ives, c. 1870
Horace Greeley honored on U.S. Postage stamp
issue of 1961

Quotes[edit]

Plaque below Horace Greeley statue in New York City's Greeley Square

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Emery, Michael; Emery, Edwin, The Press and America (1988) 124-6.
  2. ^ Snay, p. 9.
  3. ^ Lunde, p. 26.
  4. ^ Williams, p. 6.
  5. ^ Williams, p. 12.
  6. ^ Williams, p. 15.
  7. ^ Williams, p. 30–33.
  8. ^ Snay, p. 16.
  9. ^ Williams, p. 27.
  10. ^ Allan Nevins, Dictionary of American Biography (1931)
  11. ^ Adam Tuchinsky, Horace Greeley's New-York Tribune: Civil War–Era Socialism and the Crisis of Free Labor (2009)
  12. ^ Skagit River Journal: "Go West , young man" Who wrote it? Greeley or Soule?
  13. ^ Greeley in in Aug. 25, 1838 issue of the New Yorker. Shapiro, Fred R. (November 2007). "Who Said, "Go West, Young Man" - Quote Detective Debunks Myths". CUA Magazine. Retrieved 2010-12-04. 
  14. ^ www.u-s-history.com
  15. ^ Van Deusen, Glyndon G. Horace Greeley, Nineteenth-Century Crusader (1953), 241–244
  16. ^ David M. Potter, "Horace Greeley and Peaceable Secession." Journal of Southern History (1941): p 150
  17. ^ Erik S. Lunde. "Greeley, Horace"; American National Biography Online 2000.
  18. ^ David F Potter, The Impending Crisis: 1848-1861 (1976) p 524
  19. ^ Potter, "Horace Greeley and Peaceable Secession." p 149
  20. ^ Turner, Hy B. When Giants Ruled: The Story of Park Row, New York's Great Newspaper Street. New York: Fordham University Press, 1999: 79. ISBN 0-8232-1943-7
  21. ^ Duncan, Bingham. 1975. Whitelaw Reid: journalist, politician, diplomat. Athens: University of Georgia Press.
  22. ^ Baumgartner, Jody C, and Peter L. Francia. Conventional Wisdom and American Elections: Exploding Myths, Exploring Misconceptions. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008. p. 74.
  23. ^ a b "THE GREELEY WILLS.; The Contest Over the Two Wills Ended-- The Misses Greeley Refuse to Proceed Further.". The New York Times (New York, NY). 4 Feb 1873. Retrieved 21 Oct 2013. "HORACE GREELEY'S WILL.; Decision of the Surrogate The Will of 1871 Admitted to Probate". The New York Times (New York, NY). 11 Feb 1873. Retrieved 21 Oct 2013. 
  24. ^ Stephen L. Vaughn, Encyclopedia of American journalism (2008) p 204
  25. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13. 
  26. ^ Walter J. Gruber and Dorothy W. Gruber (March 1977). "National Register of Historic Places Registration:Rehoboth". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2010-12-24. 
  27. ^ "Horace Greeley Issue". Smithsonian National Postal museum. Retrieved Sep 12, 2013. 
  28. ^ Robert V. Remini, The Life of Andrew Jackson (1988), 216

References[edit]

Secondary sources[edit]

Primary sources[edit]

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
David S. Jackson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 6th congressional district

December 4, 1848 – March 4, 1849
Succeeded by
James Brooks
Party political offices
Preceded by
Horatio Seymour
Democratic presidential nominee
1872
Succeeded by
Samuel J. Tilden
New political partyLiberal Republican presidential nominee
1872
Party disbanded