Monday, February 2, 2009

Feb. 3rd: “Only one thing endures and that is character”

Do you know who this is?
-He was a candidate for President in 1872.
-He backed a utopian colony in Colorado.
-Harpers Weekly called him “the most perfect Yankee the country has ever produced”.

Horace Greeley was born of February 3, 1811, to Zaccheus and Mary Greeley, poor farmers in Amherst, New Hampshire. Because of their economic difficulties, Horace received irregular schooling, which ended when he was fourteen. He apprenticed as a printer in Poultney, Vermont, at The Northern Spectator. He decided to try to improve his prospects, so he gathered his possessions and a small amount of money, moving to New York City in 1831 when he was twenty. In New York he was employed as a printer.

In 1834 he founded the weekly literary and news journal, the New Yorker, which consisted mostly of clippings from other magazines. Horace read widely, and began writing and contributing to the New Yorker, increasing its audience, and giving him a reputation as a writer. But, the New Yorker failed to make money. Horace was forced to supplement his income by writing for the Whig party which led to his being asked by Whig politicians in 1838 to edit a major national campaign newspaper, the Jeffersonian, which reached 15,000 circulation. His efforts at this led in 1840 to his editorship of the William Henry Harrison campaign weekly, the Log Cabin. The circulation of this paper rose to about 90,000, and contributed to both Harrison’s victory and Horace’s influence. This began a lifelong relationship with politics and writing. While 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, Horace was never successful at being elected to a full term of public office.

In 1841 Horace launched the New York Tribune, a newspaper which devoted space to politics, social reform, literacy, intellectual endeavors, and news. It was used as a personal vehicle by Horace for a variety of causes that he backed. He advocated all sorts of agrarian reforms including granting free land to farmers who lived on it for a set period of time; rejected land grants to railroads; denounced monopolies; flirted with utopianism(he supported utopian communities in New Jersey and Colorado); attacked the exploitation of workers; abhorred slavery; and opposed capital punishment. Many of the Tribune staff were partnered with the Transcendentalist movement, extending the influence of that philosophy. The newspaper, which merged with the Log Cabin and the New Yorker, had a weekly circulation of over a quarter million by 1860 – a number which should be larger as each newspaper usually was read by several people. The weekly Tribune was the dominant newspaper in the North. Yet, while Horace prided himself on taking then-radical positions on all sorts of issues, there were few readers who followed all of his suggestions.

His sentiments on slavery and the free-soil movement led him to the newly formed Republican Party’s camp, and he attended the national organization meeting of the Party in Pittsburgh in February 1856. The Tribune became the unofficial national newspaper support for the Republican Party, explaining and promoting the Republican platform. He supported John Fremont for President in 1856 and in 1860 was a supporter originally of Edward Bates, then Lincoln.

Once the civil war started, Horace joined the radical antislavery faction of the Republican Party, demanding an early end of slavery. He would criticize Lincoln for being cautious in his efforts to end slavery – as evidenced through an 1862 famous editorial titled The Prayer of Twenty Millions - though he applauded Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Because of Lincoln’s perceived moderation, the Tribune did not support Lincoln’s 1864 reelection, and Horace lost some popular support because of this.

The quote most frequently attributed to Horace was used to express his desires for a liberal agrarian policy, and was published in 1865. “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country” was probably enhanced from a phrase written by John Soule in the Terre Haute Express in 1851.

After the war he joined the Radical Republicans in supporting equality for the freedmen, advocated the impeachment of Andrew Johnson; desired reconciliation with the South; and recommended Jefferson Davis’s release from prison. He would later become disaffected with the Grant administration because of its corruption and continued support of the enforcement of reconstruction in the South. In 1872 the anti-Grant Liberal Republicans and Democrats – a party he had denounced for decades - would nominate Greeley for President. He had once said of the Democrats: “I never said all Democrats were saloonkeepers; what I said was all saloonkeepers are Democrats.” Horace would suffer a huge defeat, carrying only six border and southern states.

The election, the death of his wife, and the reduction of his influence in his beloved Tribune, all contributed to a physical and mental breakdown, followed by his death on November 28, 1872. He was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, New York.
Horace Greeley was an excellent judge of determining what was newsworthy and emphasized a quality of reporting not seen before. His was an age of personal influence over the press. He was a Horatio Alger story unto himself, rising from abject poverty to national success and influence. He once said: “Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, and riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is character.” He certainly was a character.
Robert C. Williams; Horace Greeley: Champion of American Freedom

1 comment:

  1. Can you tell me more about the origins (if known) "Fame is a vapor..." quote please?