Horace Greeley

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Horace Greeley
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 by David S. Jackson
Succeeded by James Brooks
Personal details
Born (1811-02-03)February 3, 1811
Amherst, New Hampshire, US
Died November 29, 1872(1872-11-29) (aged 61)
Pleasantville, New York, US
Political party Whig, Liberal Republican Party, Republican
Spouse(s) Mary Cheney Greeley
Profession newspaper editor, politician
Religion Universalist

Horace Greeley (February 3, 1811 – November 29, 1872) was an American newspaper editor, a founder of the Liberal 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 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.

Early life[edit]

Horace Greeley was born on February 3, 1811,[2] 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. After serving as a printer's apprentice to Amos Bliss, editor of the Northern Spectator, a newspaper in East Poultney, Vermont, and working as a printer on the Erie Gazette in Erie, Pennsylvania, in 1831 he went to New York City to seek his fortune as an editor. In that year he joined the Universalist church, and would remain active in the church for the rest of his life.[3] Three years later, having worked as a printer for the Evening Post and several other newspapers, 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.


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.[4]

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.[5] 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,[6] 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."[7]

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.[8]

Horace Greeley


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.[9]

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, 1861, 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.[10]

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.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13]

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.


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.[14] 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.[15]

Monument of Horace Greeley in Green-Wood Cemetery

Final month and death[edit]

Greeley's wife died shortly before the election,[16] and he descended into madness[17] 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."[18] 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.[17]

Legacy and cultural references[edit]

  • The Greeley House in Chappaqua, New York, now houses the New Castle Historical Society. The local high school is named for him. Paying homage to the 19th-century paper owned by Greeley, the high school named its newspaper the Greeley Tribune. The Greeley House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.[19]
  • In 1856, he designed and built Rehoboth, one of the first concrete structures in the United States.[20]
  • In the Publisher's Announcement in Volume III of Johnson's New Universal Cyclopaedia, A.J. Johnson stated, "the latest labors of Mr. Greeley's life were given to this work, to which he contributed largely. It is with justice, therefore, that his name is preserved in the list of its editors." Horace Greeley is listed as the editor for the topics American History, Statistics, Agriculture, etc.
  • The New York Tribune building was the first home of Pace University. Today, the site where the building stood is now the One Pace Plaza complex of Pace's New York City campus. Dr. Choate’s residence and private hospital, where Horace Greeley died, today is part of Pace's campus in Pleasantville.
  • Horace Greeley is depicted in the film Gangs of New York by Michael Byrne in his capacity as publisher of the Tribune.
  • The name of Horace Greeley appears in Morris' comic book Lucky Luke in The Daily Star album. Lucky Luke helps a young editor, Horace Greeley, to set himself up in Dead End City and to establish his newspaper, The Daily Star.
  • Horace Greeley is the subject of an anecdote recounted by Mark Twain in his lectures to the public after his return from the Sandwich Islands. The story is also retold in Roughing It. In the story, which is really a story about a story, the narrator tells of coming west on the Overland Stage and how at almost every stop someone would board the stage and, after a while, offer to tell the same humorous anecdote about Horace Greeley. It is an example of redundancy or recursiveness as a humoristic story-telling device. (Sources: Autobiography of Mark Twain, edited by Charles Neider, chapter 28; Roughing It, chapter 20)
  • Hjalmar Schacht (full name: Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht) was named after Greeley.
  • He is also referenced by the character Archer of the cartoon of the same name in the episode "Skin Game."
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


Plaque below Horace Greeley statue in New York City's Greeley Square
  • “It is impossible to enslave mentally or socially a Bible-reading people. The principles of the Bible are the groundwork of human freedom.”


  1. ^ Emery, Michael; Emery, Edwin, The Press and America (1988) 124-6.
  2. ^ Nelson, Randy F. The Almanac of American Letters. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1981: 39. ISBN 0-86576-008-X
  3. ^ Howe, Charles A. "Horace Greeley", Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography, the Unitarian Universalist History & Heritage Society. Web. Retrieved October 12, 2014.
  4. ^ Allan Nevins, Dictionary of American Biography (1931)
  5. ^ Adam Tuchinsky, Horace Greeley's New-York Tribune: Civil War–Era Socialism and the Crisis of Free Labor (2009)
  6. ^ Skagit River Journal: "Go West , young man" Who wrote it? Greeley or Soule?
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ www.u-s-history.com
  9. ^ Van Deusen, Glyndon G. Horace Greeley, Nineteenth-Century Crusader (1953), 241–244
  10. ^ David M. Potter, "Horace Greeley and Peaceable Secession." Journal of Southern History (1941): p 150
  11. ^ Erik S. Lunde. "Greeley, Horace"; American National Biography Online 2000.
  12. ^ David F Potter, The Impending Crisis: 1848-1861 (1976) p 524
  13. ^ Potter, "Horace Greeley and Peaceable Secession." p 149
  14. ^ 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
  15. ^ Duncan, Bingham. 1975. Whitelaw Reid: journalist, politician, diplomat. Athens: University of Georgia Press.
  16. ^ Baumgartner, Jody C, and Peter L. Francia. Conventional Wisdom and American Elections: Exploding Myths, Exploring Misconceptions. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008. p. 74.
  17. ^ 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. 
  18. ^ Stephen L. Vaughn, Encyclopedia of American journalism (2008) p 204
  19. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13. 
  20. ^ 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. 
  21. ^ "Horace Greeley Issue". Smithsonian National Postal museum. Retrieved Sep 12, 2013. 
  22. ^ Robert V. Remini, The Life of Andrew Jackson (1988), 216


Secondary sources[edit]

  • Bonner, Thomas N. "Horace Greeley and the Secession Movement, 1860-1861." Mississippi Valley Historical Review (1951): 425-444. in JSTOR
  • Borchard, Gregory A. Abraham Lincoln and Horace Greeley. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press; 2011.
  • Cross, Coy F., II. Go West Young Man! Horace Greeley's Vision for America. U. of Mexico Press, 1995.
  • Downey, Matthew T. "Horace Greeley and the Politicians: The Liberal Republican Convention in 1872," The Journal of American History, Vol. 53, No. 4. (March, 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.
  • Hale, William Harlan, Horace Greeley, Voice of the People. Collier Books, 1961. Originally published 1950.
  • Isely, Jeter A. Horace Greeley and the Republican Party, 1853-1861 (1965)
  • Lunde, Erik S. "Greeley, Horace"; American National Biography Online (2000) accessed Oct 03, 2014, short scholarly biography
  • 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.
  • McDougall, Walter A. Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Era, 1829-1877. New York: HarperCollins, 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
  • Potter, David M. "Horace Greeley and Peaceable Secession." Journal of Southern History (1941) 7#2 pp: 145-159. in JSTOR
  • Republican Campaign Clubs, Horace Greeley Unmasked. New York: Republican Campaign Clubs, 1872.
  • 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
  • Snay, Mitchell. Horace Greeley and the Politics of Reform in Nineteenth-Century America (Rowman & Littlefield, 2011), 199 pp.
  • Tuchinsky, Adam. Horace Greeley's New-York Tribune: Civil War–Era Socialism and the Crisis of Free Labor. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009.
  • 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. online
  • William, Robert C. Horace Greeley: Champion of American Freedom (2006)

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
Succeeded by
Samuel J. Tilden
New political party Liberal Republican presidential nominee
Party disbanded