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Horace Greeley was one of the few persons whose manhood fulfilled the precocious promise of his youth. He could read before he could speak plainly, and at the age of six he had declared that his purpose in life was to be a printer. At eleven he tried to be apprenticed at the village printing-office and was unsuccessful; at the age of fourteen he was taken on as an apprentice in the office of the Northern Spectator, at East Poultney, Vt.
His family were of Scotch-Irish origin, but had lived in the northern part of New Hampshire for several generations. Horace was born in Amherst, N. H., February 3, 1811. So quick of apprehension was he, and so active was his intellect, that the commonest of common-school education was for him sufficient. His schooling was only that which he could obtain during three or four months in winter; for at other seasons of the year he labored in the field with his father and brothers; and when he went to be an apprentice for five years in the printing-office, he was paid a very slender pittance, the greater part of which he gave to his father, whose income was probably next to nothing.
In June, 1830, the newspaper office in which young Greeley was learning his trade became insolvent, and Greeley, then in his twentieth year, was released from his indentures. He tramped from office to office as a journeyman printer, and his father having removed to the then "new country of western Pennsylvania," the youngster, with ten dollars in his pocket, walking part way and part way earning his passage on a tug-boat, entered the city of New York, August 18, 1831. For days he sought in vain for employment among the printing-offices of the metropolis. He was gawky, poorly clad, and doubtless presented a very grotesque appearance to the cityfied people to whom he vainly applied for employment. Finally he effected an entrance into one of the printing-offices of the city, and, much to the surprise of those who sneered at his ungainly and unpromising figure, he straightway proved himself to be a competent, careful, and skilful printer. For fourteen months or more, he picked up odd jobs in the offices of the newspapers, always making friends and always managing to save a little money.
Finally, at the beginning of 1833, in partnership with Francis V. Story, a printer, he established a penny paper called The Morning Post. This venture failed, but Greeley and Story saved from the wreck two-thirds of their capital, which was $150, all told, and still had on hand their type and materials. They now became master job-printers and made small contracts with persons who had newspaper printing to give out. In his New England boyhood Greeley had occasionally contributed to the columns of the newspapers on which he worked, and now he resumed that employment. He wrote for several of the feeble newspapers of the time, and on the death of his partner, Francis Story, he associated himself with Jonas Winchester. The firm prospered, and in 1834 was strong enough to establish a weekly literary newspaper called The New Yorker. The first number of this paper appeared on March 22, 1834, and it sold one hundred copies; for the three months next succeeding this was the average of its weekly circulation. The paper gradually increased in popularity, and the name of its Editor-in-Chief, Horace Greeley, was now known and respected. He furnished editorials also to the Daily Whig and to other journals, and was selected by William H. Seward and Thurlow Weed for the editorship of a campaign paper called The Jeffersonian, published in Albany. This was a Whig newspaper printed weekly, and the audacity, aggressiveness, and ability with which it was edited commanded the respect of its readers. The Jeffersonian was finally suspended in the spring of 1839, and during the presidential canvass of the following year, Greeley, foreseeing the activity of the campaign, seized upon the opportunity to establish a new campaign paper called The Log Cabin. This journal at once achieved the extraordinary circulation of twenty thousand copies for its first edition. It succeeded beyond the most sanguine expectations of its founders, H. Greeley and Company, and in a few weeks the circulation ran up to sixty thousand, eighty thousand, and even ninety thousand copies, a newspaper circulation in those days absolutely unprecedented. The Log Cabin was characterized by the homely wit, the unsparing logic, and the terseness and vigor of expression which were always Horace Greeley's most marked traits as a journalist.
After the campaign of 1840 The Log Cabin became a family political paper, and on April 10, 1841, its name was supplanted by that of The New York Tribune. Its home was at 30 Ann Street, and Horace Greeley, its editor, promised that it should be "worthy of the hearty approval of the virtuous and refined, and a welcome visitant to family firesides."
As an editor Mr. Greeley was eccentric, and his marked personal traits were perceptible in his management of his newspaper. He was severely temperate, although opposed to prohibition as impracticable; he was in favor of a high protective tariff, opposed to slavery, predisposed to vegetarian diet, and at times manifested a proclivity to the doctrines of Fourier and Prudhomme.
In his management of The Tribune Mr. Greeley made a wide acquaintance with the newspaper men, politicians, and the statesmen of the time. Among those associated with him in the management of his paper was Henry J. Raymond, who afterward became the founder of The New York Times. Those who rendered service to The Tribune were George William Curtis, Charles A. Dana, Margaret Fuller, Bayard Taylor, and others who subsequently achieved renown. Mr. Greeley himself has said that of his first issue of five thousand copies of the paper, nearly all "were with difficulty given away." The Tribune was first sold at one cent a copy; in a month's time it reached a circulation of three thousand, and a month later it had reached the extraordinary circulation of eleven and twelve thousand. The New Yorker and The Log Cabin had all along been managed as weekly issues from the same office; but in September of the first year of the establishment of The Tribune these were merged in what was now The New York Weekly Tribune, which at once leaped to a large circulation and became a great force throughout the country, especially in the rural districts.
In 1842 Mr. Greeley began to print in his paper one column daily of matter on Fourierite topics, written by Albert Brisbane, and occasionally these theories were defended in his editorial columns, and he thereby gained a certain amount of obloquy from which he did not readily recover. The paper had the reputation of being not only extremely radical in its political views, but also committed to many of the "isms" of the times. It paid much attention to the spirit-rappings of the Fox sisters, of Rochester, and investigated the curious phenomena with fearless open-mindedness. The Tribune prospered, though not greatly, and it was evident that Mr. Greeley's business management was never very successful; and it may be said that his greatest success as the editor of a prosperous and profitable newspaper was always achieved by the co-operation of wiser managers than himself. His personal appearance was peculiar, and he very soon became a well-known figure in the public life of New York. He usually wore a broad-brimmed, soft white hat and a light-colored overcoat, and his appearance, although always spotlessly neat, was characterized by a certain disorderliness which instantly attracted attention. He had a shrill, high-keyed voice; he was irascible in temper, and was never the "philosopher" which those who least knew him credited him with being. In an angry letter published in his own newspaper he referred to the editor of The Daily Times as "that little villain, Raymond;" and replying to an offensive charge against him by The Evening Post, he began with, "You lie, villain, wilfully, wickedly, basely lie." Other passages at arms like these occasionally enlivened, if they did not disfigure, the editorial columns of The Tribune, over which Greeley exercised a personal censorship which, in later years, he found it necessary to relax. He was sincerely and ardently devoted to the cause of Protection, to the interests of the farmer and the laboring man, to sound money, and to all the ennobling and refining activities of social life. In spite of a careless personal manner, and a voice not at all agreeable to the ear, he became a popular and greatly sought public speaker. As a lecturer in the lyceums of towns and villages, then greatly in vogue, he was always an acceptable and greatly admired figure.
In 1848 he was elected to the United States House of Representatives to fill a vacancy for three months. With great vigor he charged upon several of the most prominent abuses of the time, and selecting the practice of paying mileage to Congressmen, he assaulted that with a vehemence which ultimately destroyed it. As a member of Congress he also introduced the first bill to give free homesteads to actual settlers on the public lands. He was a candidate in 1861 for United States Senator, but was defeated by Ira Harris, of Albany. In 1864 he was one of the Republican Presidential Electors, and in 1870 was nominated for Congress in a hopelessly Democratic district, and was defeated. He had always been an intense opponent of human slavery, and in 1848 his hostility to the war with Mexico was doubtless inspired by his dread of the extension of the slave system. He was an enthusiastic supporter of John C. Fremont, who was nominated for President by the Republicans in 1856; and he made his newspaper so dreaded and feared by the opposition that he was indicted in Virginia for circulating incendiary documents through its columns. During these years he was an incessant and untiring worker, and produced for the columns of his own and other newspapers a prodigious amount of matter. He had heretofore labored in politics in conjunction with William H. Seward, Governor, and afterward United States Senator. In 1854 the separation between Greeley, Seward, and Thurlow Weed became established, and Mr. Seward's friends prevented the election of Mr. Greeley as a delegate to the Republican Convention which nominated Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Greeley, however, obtained a seat as delegate in the Convention as a representative from the State of Oregon, and in that capacity he, more than any other man, doubtless turned the tide against Mr. Seward and in favor of Abraham Lincoln, who was nominated by the Convention.
At the breaking out of the Civil War Mr. Greeley manifested great trepidation and reluctance to face the issue. He even advised in The Tribune that the "Erring Sisters" be allowed to depart in peace; but later he rallied manfully to the cause of the defence of the Union, and his newspaper rang with impassioned appeals for the freedom of the slaves held in bondage in the South. He incessantly urged a more vigorous prosecution of the war, and called upon President Lincoln to take every possible measure for the emancipation of the Southern bondmen.
In 1864, being convinced that the cause of the rebellion was gradually weakening, he urged upon the President the policy of negotiating with the leaders of the Confederate government for a surrender of their warlike policy, on conditions to be arrived at by commissioners from both sides. This proposition excited much indignation throughout the country, and when, in answer to repeated demands from Mr. Greeley, President Lincoln authorized him to undertake such a conference at Niagara Falls, the people generally applauded the wisdom of the President, as well as the disappointment of Mr. Greeley, when the conference came to naught.
After the final surrender at Appomattox and the capture of the Confederate President, Mr. Greeley visited Richmond and signed the bail bond of Jefferson Davis. This action raised a storm of public censure, and he was for a time overwhelmed by the wrath and indignation of those who had been formerly associated with him in political affairs. He defended himself with great vigor, and fearlessly assailed those who stigmatized him as a sympathizer with the fallen rebel chieftain. He was not friendly to the nomination of General Grant in 1868, and disapproved of many of the schemes that marked his administration. Returning from a visit through the Southern States in the early years of President Grant's term, he brought to his newspaper some vigorous and outspoken denunciations of the "carpet-bag" governments of the formerly rebel States, and denunciations of the "scalawags" who, he said, "were the pests of the reconstructed States of the South." These and similar outgivings attracted the attention of a large element of the Republican party, and he was nominated for the Presidency, against General Grant, in 1872. Mr. Greeley's canvass was one of great picturesqueness and industry. He made a series of speeches extending over a tour from New England to the West, and returning to New York, which were marked by a most wonderful originality, freshness, and brilliance; but nothing could avail to stem the tide of prejudice which rose against him and in favor of General Grant. He had been nominated by the so-called Liberal Republicans and by the Democrats, but he failed to carry any one of the Northern States, and of the other States he carried only Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas. He was assailed during this canvass in the bitterest terms by those who regarded him as a turncoat and a traitor, and undoubtedly the vituperation and abuse showered upon him had the effect of disheartening him and destroying the zest with which he had theretofore undertaken the multifarious duties of life. He returned to New York from an exhausting campaign, depressed in spirit and weary in body and in mind. The death of his devoted wife added to his sorrows, and on November 29, 1872, only a few weeks after the Presidential election, he died at Pleasantville, N. Y., of mental and nervous prostration. His body lay in state in the City Hall, and his funeral was attended by the notables of the land--President Grant, who had just been re-elected by the people, being numbered among those who mourned at his bier.
In addition to his editorial labors Mr. Greeley was the author of a number of works, among which were "Hints toward Reforms," "Glances at Europe," "History of the Struggle for Slavery Extension," "Overland Journey to San Francisco," "The American Conflict," and "Recollections of a Busy Life." He was also the founder of "The Whig Almanac," a manual of politics, which in later years became known as "The Tribune Almanac," and survived his demise.