Horace Greeley (February 3, 1811 � November 29, 1872) was an American newspaper editor, a founder of the Liberal Republican Party, a reformer, and a 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 opposition to slavery and 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 currently the only presidential candidate to have died prior to the counting of electoral votes.
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. 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. 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.
On July 5, 1836, Greeley married Mary Cheney Greeley, an intermittent suffragette, in Warrenton, North Carolina. 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.
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.
�Nevins, 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 (as well as Friedrich Engels) as European correspondent in the early 1850s (although most of his views sharply contrasted with the ones promoted by Marxism). 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 3, 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, 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." Researcher Fred R. Shapiro questions whether Greeley ever wrote it at all and cites, instead, an occurrence of Greeley writing "If any young man is about to commence the world, we say to him, publicly and privately, Go to the West" in the Aug. 25, 1838 issue of the newspaper New Yorker.
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.
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. One month later he hailed Lincoln�s Emancipation Proclamation.
Immediately after South Carolina's secession from the Union, President Abraham Lincoln had several possible plans of action. Greeley supported the stance of allowing the seceded states to "go in peace." Naturally, this view was unpopular among the vast majority of pro-Union Northerners. Lincoln's strong belief in preserving the Union led him to quickly disregard Greeley's idea.
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. 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. In 1869, he ran on the Republican ticket for New York State Comptroller but was defeated by the incumbent Democrat William F. Allen.
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 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, 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 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 New York's Green-Wood Cemetery.
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.
Legacy and cultural references
In 1856, he designed and built Rehoboth, one of the first concrete structure in the United States.
Johnson's New Universal Cyclopaedia is dedicated to Greeley. In the Publisher's Announcement in Volume I, A.J. Johnson stated that Horace Greeley suggested the plan for the work and urged its publication, and was a primary advisor. Greeley is listed as an associate editor.
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.
Places named after him include:Greeley, Pennsylvania, Greeley, Colorado, Greeley, Texas, Greeley (City), Kansas, Greeley (County), Kansas (where there is also a city of Horace, and the county seat is Tribune), and Greeley County, Nebraska (which also has a town named Horace). Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, New York where his house is also named after him.
Horace Greeley Square is a small park in the Herald Square area of Manhattan featuring a seated statue of Greeley. The park is next to the site of the former New York Herald building. There is a second seated statue of Greeley in Manhattan, this one in City Hall Park downtown.
Mount Horace Greeley is one of the highest points in the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan.
Hjalmar Schacht, Adolf Hitler's "financial magician" and Reichsbank President during Weimar Republic and Third Reich, later a defendant at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg (acquitted), was named after Greeley (Schacht's full name was Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht).
Horace Greeley is depicted in the film Gangs of New York in his capacity as publisher of the Tribune.
Photograph Hand Color Tinted by artist Margaret A. Rogers.