Horace Greeley

Horace Greeley

Horace Greeley was born in Amherst, New Hampshire, on 3rd February, 1811. He trained as a printer but he later moved to New York City where he became a journalist. Greeley worked for the New Yorker and in 1841 established the New York Tribune. A newspaper he was to edit for over thirty years.

Greeley took a strong moral tone in his newspaper and campaigned against alcohol, tobacco, gambling, prostitution and capital punishment. However, his main concern was the abolition of slavery.

In 1838 Greeley agreed to edit the Jeffersonian, a Whig newspaper in New York. A close associate of William Seward, Henry Clay and William Harrison, he edited the pro-Whig journal, Log Cabin, during the 1840 presidential election.

Greeley was very interested in socialist and feminist ideas and published articles by Karl Marx, Charles Dana, Margaret Fuller and Jane Grey Swisshelm in the New York Tribune. He also promoted the views of Albert Brisbane, who wanted society organised into co-operative communities.

After the demise of the Whigs, Greeley supported the Free Soil Party. He was one of the leaders of the campaign against the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law and in 1856 helped form the Republican Party.

In 1860 Greeley supported the presidential campaign of Abraham Lincoln. However, Greeley, like many of the strong opponents of slavery, was unhappy with the way Lincoln dealt with John C. Fremont and David Hunterwhen they freed slaves in territory they captured from the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

On 19th August, 1862 Greeley wrote an open letter to the president in the New York Tribune. In the letter Greeley critized Abraham Lincoln for failing to make slavery the dominant issue of the war and compromising moral principles for political motives. Lincoln famously replied on 22nd August, "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it."

Greeley wrote several books includingGlances at Europe (1851), An Overland Journey (1860), a two volume history of the Civil War, The American Conflict (1865), and an autobiography, Recollections of a Busy Life (1868).

Greeley was highly critical of the presidency of Ulysses G. Grant and became associated with the Radical Republicans. Later he helped form the Liberal Republican Party.

In 1872 he Liberal Republican Party nominated Greeley as their candidate and he stood against Ulysses G. Grant for the presidency. During the campaign Thomas Nast produced a series of cartoons attacking Greeley. He commented that the venom of these cartoons were so bad that he "scarcely knew whether he was running for the presidency or the penitentiary." Greeley, won 40% of the popular vote but died soon afterwards on 29th November, 1872. One friend claimed that he had been "crushed by the unmerciful ridicule Nast had heaped on him."

Thomas Nast linked Horace Greeley with the corruptpolitician, Robert Tweed, during the presidentialcampaign. (Harper's Weekly, 3rd October, 1872)
Thomas Nast linked Horace Greeley with the corrupt
politician, Robert Tweed, during the presidential
campaign. (Harper's Weekly, 3rd October, 1872)
© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Horace Greeley, letter to President Abraham Lincoln (19th August, 1862)

I do not intrude to tell you - for you must know already - that a great proportion of those who triumphed in your election, and of all who desire the unqualified suppression of the rebellion now desolating our country, are solely disappointed and deeply pained by the policy you seem to be pursuing with regard to the slaves of the Rebels.

We think you are strangely and disastrously remiss in the discharge of your official and imperative duty with regard to the emancipating provisions of the new Confiscation Act. Those provisions were designed to fight slavery with liberty. They prescribe that men loyal to the Union, and willing to shed their blood in the behalf, shall no longer be held, with the nation's consent, in bondage to persistent, malignant traitors, who for twenty years have been plotting and for sixteen months have been fighting to divide and destroy our country. Why these traitors should be treated with tenderness by you, to the prejudice of the dearest rights of loyal men, we cannot conceive.

Fremont's Proclamation and Hunter's Order favoring emancipation were promptly annulled by you; while Halleck's Number Three, forbidding fugitives from slavery to Rebels to come within his lines - an order as unmilitary as inhuman, and which received the hearty approbation of every traitor in America - with scores of like tendency, have never provoked even your remonstrance.

(2) President Abraham Lincoln, letter to Horace Greeley (22nd August, 1862)

If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery. I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.

(3) Horace Greeley interviewed Brigham Young for the New York Tribune in 1859.

Horace Greeley: What is the position of your church with respect to slavery?

Brigham Young: We consider it of divine institution and not to be abolished until the curse pronounced on Ham shall have been removed from his descendants.

Horace Greeley: Are any slaves now held in this territory?

Brigham Young: There are.

Horace Greeley: Do your territorial laws uphold slavery?

Brigham Young: These laws are printed; you can read for yourself. If slaves are brought here by those who owned them in the states, we do not favor their escape from the service of those owners.

Horace Greeley: How general is polygamy among you?

Brigham Young: I could not say. Some of those present (heads of the church) have each but one wife; others have more; each determines what is is his individual duty.

Horace Greeley: What is the largest number of wives belonging to any one man.

Brigham Young: I have fifteen; I know no one who has more; but some of those sealed to me are old ladies whom I regard rather as mothers than wives, but whom I have taken home to cherish and support.

(4) Clarence Darrow, The Story of My Life (1932)

From my youth I was always interested in political questions. My father, like many others in northern Ohio, had early come under the spell of Horace Greeley, and, as far back as I can remember, the New York Weekly Tribune was the political and social Bible of our home. I was fifteen years old when Horace Greeley ran for the presidency. My father was an enthusiastic supporter of Greeley and I joined with him; and well do I remember the gloom and despair that clouded our home when we received the news of his defeat.

Our candidate, Samuel J. Tilden, was elected in 1876, but was not allowed to take his seat. The Civil War was not then so far in the background as it is now, and any sort of political larceny was justifiable to save the country from the party that had tried to destroy the union. So, though Tilden was elected, Rutherford B. Hayes was inaugurated and served Tilden's term.