Horace Greeley

Horace Greeley

Greeley, Horace, 1811-72, American newspaper editor, founder of the New York Tribune, b. Amherst, N.H.

Early Life

His irregular schooling, ending at 15, was followed by a four-year apprenticeship (1826-30) on a country weekly at East Poultney, Vt. When the paper failed, he went briefly to Erie co., Pa., where his impoverished farming family had moved. In Aug., 1831, he went to New York City, worked as a newspaper compositor, and in Jan., 1833, opened a job printing office in partnership with another printer. Greeley's interest in public questions led him to found (1834), with a new partner, the New Yorker, a weekly journal "devoted to literature, the arts and sciences," which he edited ably but unprofitably for seven years. He supplemented his income by writing regularly for the Daily Whig and by editing Whig campaign sheets.

The Founding of the Tribune

His success in political journalism cemented Greeley's friendship with Whig leaders in New York state, and with their encouragement he issued the first number of the New York Tribune on Apr. 10, 1841. He edited this paper for over 30 years; during much of that time it was the greatest single journalistic influence in the country. From the first, Greeley's object was to provide for the poor a paper that was as cheap as those of his rivals but less sensational and more probing than the "penny press." Therefore, sensational police news and objectionable medical advertising were eliminated from the Tribune.

Greeley's chief editorial assistant for 15 years after 1846 was Charles A. Dana. Beginning in 1849, George Ripley conducted for 30 years the first regular literary and book review department in a U.S. newspaper. Other talented men joined Greeley's staff (he was the first editor to allow by-lines), but his own clear, timely, vigorous editorials were the feature that made the Tribune known throughout the nation.

Social Reformer

Although Greeley styled both himself and his paper Whig, they were conservative only in so far as they thundered for a protective tariff. Other causes that Greeley promoted were hardly Whig-inspired. He advocated the organization of labor and led the way by organizing Tribune printers; New York printers elected (1850) him the first president of their chapel, the first in the nation. He also believed that a successful business should share its profits and ownership with its employees; this practice was observed at the Tribune.

Among other social reforms advocated by Greeley were temperance, a homestead law, and women's rights. He opposed monopoly and disapproved of land grants to railroads, which he felt would lead to monopoly. He gave space in his paper to Fourierism when that movement was at its height and sponsored several experiments in cooperative living, including, later, the colony named for him at Greeley, Colo. Even Karl Marx contributed to the Tribune from London. "Greeley's isms," as scoffers contemptuously called his plans for social reform, annoyed many Tribune readers, but he never apologized for them, and the paper continued to grow.

After 1850 slavery overshadowed all other questions, and Greeley's antislavery views became more intense as the Civil War approached. Some of his best editorials were directed against the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In this period the circulation (which reached 200,000 by 1860) of the weekly edition of the Tribune became so extensive in the rural districts of the West that Bayard Taylor could declare that it "comes next to the Bible." Everyone had heard and thousands had acted on his advice, "Go West, young man, go West."

Republican Leader

One of the first members of the new Republican party, he was a delegate to the national organizing convention in Feb., 1856. Barred as a New York delegate to the 1860 Republican convention, because of strained relations with the state leaders, he attended as a representative of Oregon. He was a leader in the successful fight to prevent Seward's nomination; and although at first favoring Edward Bates, he eventually threw his support to Abraham Lincoln. Seward had his revenge later by helping to block Greeley's election to the U.S. Senate (Greeley had served in the House of Representatives from Dec., 1848, to Mar., 1849).

Greeley's course in the Civil War lost him many admirers. At first disposed to let the "erring sisters go in peace," he soon came around to vigorous support of the war. However, he persistently denounced Lincoln's policy of conciliating the border slave states. On Aug. 19, 1862, he published over his signature in the Tribune an open letter to the President, which he titled "The Prayer of Twenty Millions," demanding that Lincoln commit himself definitely to emancipation. Lincoln's reply (Aug. 22) "to an old friend, whose heart I have always supposed to be right" was masterly (see Emancipation Proclamation). Only reluctantly and belatedly did Greeley support Lincoln for reelection in 1864.

The editor's humanitarian hatred of war led him to advocate peace negotiations of any sort, often to the embarrassment of the administration. In 1864, Lincoln sent him on what turned out to be a futile mission to Canada to meet with Confederate emissaries. After the war Greeley favored black suffrage and advocated amnesty for all Southerners. He was one of those who signed the bail bond to release Jefferson Davis from prison, and this magnanimous act cost him half the subscriptions to the Weekly Tribune.

Presidential Candidate

Greeley supported Ulysses S. Grant during the first years of his administration but came to resent what he considered Grant's subservience to that wing of the Republican party in New York state dominated by Roscoe Conkling. In 1871 he began to encourage the movement that grew into the Liberal Republican party and avidly sought the nomination for President in 1872. Although the Democrats also endorsed him, many of them refused to support a man who had spent his life opposing the principles for which they had stood, especially that of a tariff for revenue only. During the campaign all Greeley's shortcomings were caricatured, and he was denounced as a traitor and a crank. Despite his strenuous campaign he was overwhelmingly defeated by Grant. His disappointment at the result and his sorrow at the death of his wife a few days before the election unbalanced his mind, and he died insane on Nov. 29, 1872.


Greeley wrote The American Conflict (1866), a history of the Civil War, and the autobiographic Recollections of a Busy Life (1868, repr. 1968). His other books were journalistic in character.

See also biographies by W. H. Hale (1950) and G. G. Van Deusen (1953, repr. 1964); D. C. Seitz, Horace Greeley, Founder of the New York Tribune (1926, repr. 1970); R. R. Fahrney, Horace Greeley and the Tribune in the Civil War (1936, repr. 1970); J. A. Isley, Horace Greeley and the Republican Party, 1853-1861: A Study of the New York Tribune (1947, repr. 1965).

Horace Greeley (February 3, 1811November 29, 1872) was an American editor of a leading newspaper, a founder of the Liberal Republican Party, reformer and politician. His New York Tribune was America's most influential newspaper from the 1840s to the 1870s and "established Greeley's reputation as the greatest editor of his day. Greeley used it to promote the Whig and Republican parties, as well as antislavery and a host of reforms. Crusading against the corruption of Ulysses S. Grant's Republican administration, he was the presidential candidate in 1872 of the new Liberal Republican Party. Despite having the additional support of the Democratic Party, he lost in a landslide. A residential building is named after him on the Stony Brook University campus.

Early life

Greeley was born on February 3, 1811, in Amherst, New Hampshire, the son of poor farmers Zaccheus and Mary Greeley. He declined a scholarship to Phillips Exeter Academy and left school at the age of 14; he apprenticed as a printer in Poultney, Vermont, at The Northern Star, moving to New York City in 1831. In 1834 he founded the weekly the New Yorker, which consisted mostly of clippings from other magazines.

In 1836 Greeley married Mary Cheney Greeley, an intermittent suffragette. Horace Greeley spent as little time as possible with his wife and would sleep in a boarding house when in New York City rather than be with her. Only two of their seven children survived into adulthood.

The New York Tribune


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. 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. [Nevins in Dictionary of American Biography (1931)]

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 had Karl Marx (and Friedrich Engels too) as European correspondent in the early 1850s. 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, to March 3, 1849.

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, but it is most often attributed to Greeley. Historian Walter A. McDougall quotes Josiah Grinnell, the founder of Iowa's Grinnell College, as saying, "I was the young man to whom Greeley first said it, and I went." For its first use in popular culture, see Go West.

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. He served as Congressman for three months, 1848--1849, but failed in numerous other attempts to win elective office.


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.[Van Dusen 241-44]

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. In the secession crisis of 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. 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. A 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.


In Reconstruction he took an erratic course, mostly favoring the Radicals and opposing president Andrew Johnson in 1865-66. His personal guarantee of bail for Jefferson Davis in 1867 stunned many of his long-time readers, half of whom canceled their subscriptions.

Election of 1872

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 crazy man 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, owner of the New York Herald, had gained control of the Tribune.


Not long after the election, Greeley's wife died. He descended into madness 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." Greeley died at 6:50 p.m. on Friday, November 29, 1872, in Pleasantville, New York at Dr. George C. S. Choate’s private hospital. Greeley received no electoral votes, with the ones he was to have received being scattered among others. However, three of Georgia's electoral votes were left blank in honor of him. (Other sources have Greeley receiving 3 electoral votes posthumously, with those votes being disallowed by Congress.)

Greeley had requested a simple funeral, but his daughters ignored this request and arranged a grand affair. He is buried in New York's Green-Wood Cemetery.

The Greeley home in Chappaqua, New York, now houses the New Castle Historical Society. The local high school is named for him, and the name of one of the school newspapers pays homage to the 19th-century paper owned by Greeley.

Legacy and cultural references


  • Horace Greeley is the one who misquoted President Andrew Jackson as saying, after the Supreme Court ruling in Worcester v. Georgia, "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!" (H. W. Brands, Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times, pg 492)
  • Greeley mistakenly considered the word 'news' to be a plural word, and habitually corrected his staff when they asked, "Is there any news?" He once cabled a Tribune reporter: “ARE THERE ANY NEWS?” The employee cabled back: "NOT A NEW."
  • Hjalmar Schacht, Adolf Hitler's "financial magician" and Reichbank President during Weimar Republic and Third Reich, later a defendendant at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg (acquitted), was named after Greeley (Schacht's full name was Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht).


Primary sources

Secondary sources

  • Cross, Coy F., II. Go West Young Man! Horace Greeley's Vision for America. U. of Mexico Press, 1995. 165 pp. online edition
  • Downey, Matthew T. "Horace Greeley and the Politicians: The Liberal Republican Convention in 1872," The Journal of American History, Vol. 53, No. 4. (Mar., 1967), pp. 727-750. in JSTOR
  • Durante, Dianne, Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide (New York University Press, 2007): discussion of Greeley and the 2 memorials to him in New York.
  • Lunde, Erik S. Horace Greeley (Twayne's United States Authors Series, no. 413.) Twayne, 1981. 138 pp.
  • Lunde, Erik S. "The Ambiguity of the National Idea: the Presidential Campaign of 1872" Canadian Review of Studies in Nationalism 1978 5(1): 1-23. ISSN 0317-7904
  • McDougall, Walter A. Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Era, 1829-1877 (Harper Collins, 2008)
  • Nevins, Allan. "Horace Greeley" in Dictionary of American Biography (1931).
  • Parrington, Vernon L. Main Currents in American Thought (1927), II, pp. 247-57. online edition
  • Robbins, Roy M., "Horace Greeley: Land Reform and Unemployment, 1837-1862," Agricultural History, VII, 18 (January, 1933).
  • Rourke, Constance Mayfield ; Trumpets of Jubilee: Henry Ward Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lyman Beecher, Horace Greeley, P.T. Barnum (1927). online edition
  • Schulze, Suzanne. Horace Greeley: A Bio-Bibliography. Greenwood, 1992. 240 pp.
  • Seitz, Don C. Horace Greeley: Founder of the New York Tribune (1926) online edition
  • Van Deusen, Glyndon G. Horace Greeley, Nineteenth-Century Crusader (1953), standard biography online edition
  • Weisberger, Bernard A. "Horace Greeley: Reformer as Republican" . Civil War History 1977 23(1): 5-25. ISSN 0009-8078
  • Robert C. Williams. Horace Greeley: Champion of American Freedom (2006)
  • Lauren Keach Lessing (2006). Presiding Divinities: Ideal Sculpture in Nineteenth-Century American Domestic Interiors. Ph.D. dissertation: Indiana University.


External links


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