Charles A. Dana

Charles Anderson Dana

Charles Anderson Dana (August 8, 1819October 17, 1897) was an American journalist, author, and government official, best known for his association with Ulysses S. Grant during the American Civil War and his aggressive political advocacy after the war.

Early years

Dana was born at Hinsdale, New Hampshire. At the age of twelve he became a clerk in his uncle's general store at Buffalo, which failed in 1837. In 1839 he entered Harvard, but the impairment of his eyesight forced him to leave college in 1841, and caused him to abandon his intention of entering the ministry and of studying in Germany. From September 1841 until March 1846 he lived at Brook Farm, where he was made one of the trustees of the farm, was head waiter when the farm became a Fourierite phalanx, and was in charge of the phalanx's finances when its buildings were burned in 1846.

New York Tribune

Dana had written for (and managed) the Harbinger, the Brook Farm publication, and had written as early as 1844 for the Boston Chronotype. In 1847 he joined the staff of the New York Tribune, and in 1848 he wrote from Europe letters to it and other papers on the revolutionary movements of that year.

Returning to the Tribune in 1849, Dana became its managing editor, and in this capacity actively promoted the anti-slavery cause, seeming to shape the paper's policy at a time when Horace Greeley was undecided and vacillating. The board of managers of the Tribune asked for Dana's resignation in 1862, apparently because of wide temperamental differences between him and Greeley.

Civil War

When Dana left the Tribune, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton immediately made him a special investigating agent of the War Department. In this capacity Dana discovered frauds of quartermasters and contractors, and as the eyes of the administration, as Lincoln called him, he spent much time at the front, and sent to Stanton frequent reports concerning the capacity and methods of various generals in the field. In particular, the War Department was concerned about rumors of Ulysses S. Grant's alcoholism and Dana spent considerable time with him, becoming a close friend and assuaging administration concerns. He went through the Vicksburg Campaign and was at Chickamauga and Chattanooga, and urged the placing of General Grant in supreme command of all the armies in the field, which happened in March 1864. Dana was Assistant Secretary of War in 1863–1865.

Return to journalism

In 1865–1866, Dana conducted the newly established and unsuccessful Chicago Republican. He became the editor and part-owner of the New York Sun in 1868, and remained in control of it until his death.

Under Dana's control the Sun opposed the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson; it supported Grant for the presidency in 1868; it was a sharp critic of Grant as president; and in 1872 took part in the Liberal Republican revolt and urged Greeley's nomination. It favored Samuel J. Tilden, the Democratic candidate for the presidency, in 1876, opposed the Electoral Commission, and continually referred to Rutherford B. Hayes as the "fraud president". In 1884 it supported Benjamin Butler, the candidate of Greenback-Labor and Anti-Monopolist parties, for the presidency, and opposed James G. Blaine (Republican) and even more bitterly Grover Cleveland (Democrat); it supported Cleveland and opposed Benjamin Harrison in 1888, although it had bitterly criticized Cleveland's first administration, and was to criticize nearly every detail of his second, with the exception of Federal interference in the Pullman strike of 1894; and in 1896, on the free silver issue, it opposed William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic candidate for the presidency.

Other literary work

Dana's literary style came to be the style of the Sun—simple, strong, clear, boiled down. The Art of Newspaper Making, containing three lectures that he wrote on journalism, was published in 1900. With George Ripley he edited The New American Cyclopaedia (1857-1863), reissued as the American Cyclopaedia in 1873-1876. He had excellent taste in the fine arts and edited an anthology, The Household Book of Poetry (1857). He was a very good linguist, published several versions from the German, and read the Romance and Scandinavian languages; he was an art connoisseur and left a remarkable collection of Chinese porcelain. Dana's Reminiscences of the Civil War was published in 1898, as was his Eastern Journeys, Notes of Travel. He also edited A Campaign Life of U. S. Grant, published over his name and that of General James H. Wilson in 1868.


J. H. Wilson Life of Charles A. Dana (New York. 1907)


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