Chapter 21: editorial repartees.
- At war with all the world -- the spirit of the Tribune—retorts vituperative—the Tribune and Dr. Potts—some prize tracts suggested—an atheists oath—a word for domestics -- Irish Democracy—the modern drama—hit at Dr. Hawks—dissolution of the Union -- Dr. Franklin's story—a picture for Polk -- Charles Dickens and Copyright—charge of malignant falsehood—preaching and practice -- Col. Webb severely hit—hostility to the Mexican war—violence incited -- a few sparks—the course of the Tribune—wager with the Herald.
The years 1845, 1846, and 1847, were emphatically the fighting years of the New York Tribune. If it was not at war with all the world, all the world seemed to be at war with it, and it was kept constantly on the defensive. With the “democratic” press, of course, it could not be at peace. The whig press of the city denounced it, really because it was immovably prosperous, ostensibly  on the ground of its Fourierite and progressive tendencies. Its opposition to capital punishment, the freedom of its reviews, and the “hospitality it gave to every new thought,” gave offence to the religious press. Its tremendous hostility to the Mexican war excited the animosity of all office-holders and other patriots, including the president, who made a palpable allusion to the course of the Tribune in one of his messages. There was talk even of mobbing the office, at one of the war meetings in the Park. Its zeal in behalf of Irish repeal alienated the English residents, who naturally liked the “pluck” and independence of the Tribune. Its hostility to the slave power provoked the south, and all but destroyed its southern circulation. It offended bigots by giving Thomas Paine his due; it offended unbelievers by refusing to give him more.. Its opposition to the drama, as it is, called forth many a sneer from the papers who have the honor of the drama in their special keeping. The extreme American party abhorred its enmity to Nativeism. The extreme Irish party distrusted it, because in sentiment and feeling it was thoroughly Protestant. The extreme liberal party disliked its opposition to their views of marriage and divorce. In a word, if the course of the Tribune had been suggested by a desire to give the greatest offense to the greatest number, it could hardly have made more enemies than it did. In the prospectus to the fifth volume, the editor seemed to anticipate a period of inky war. ‘Our conservatism,’ he said,
is not of that Chinese tenacity which insists that the bad must be cherished simply because it is old. We insist only that the old must be proved bad and never condemned merely because it is old; and that, even if defective, it should not be overthrown till something better has been provided to replace it. The extremes of blind, stubborn resistance to change, and rash, sweeping, convulsive innovation, are naturally allied, each paving the way for the other. The supple courtier, the wholesale flatterer of the Despot, and the humble servitor and bepraiser of the dear People, are not two distinct characters, but essentially the same. Thus believing, we, while we do not regard the judgment of any present majority as infallible, cannot attribute infallibility to any acts or institutes of a past generation, but look undoubtingly for successive improvements as Knowledge Virtue, Philanthropy, shall be more and more diffused among men. ... Full of error and suffering as the world yet is, we cannot afford to reject  unexamined any idea which proposes to improve the Moral, Intellectual, or Social condition of mankind. Better incur the trouble of testing and exploding a thousand fallacies than by rejecting stifle a single beneficent truth. Especially on the vast theme of an improved Organization of Industry, so as to secure constant opportunity and a just recompense to every human being able and willing to labor, we are not and cannot be indifferent. ... No subject can be more important than this; no improvement more certain of attainment. The plans hitherto suggested may all grove abortive; the experiments hitherto set on foot may all come to nought, (as many of them doubtless will;) yet these mistakes shall serve to indicate the true means of improvement, and these experiments shall bring nearer and nearer the grand consummation which they contemplate. The securing of thorough Education, Opportunity and just Reward to all, cannot be beyond the reach of the nineteenth century. To accelerate it, the Tribune has labored and will labor resolutely and hopefully. Those whose dislike to or distrust of the investigations in this field of human effort impel them to reject our paper, have ample range for a selection of journals more acceptable.In the spirit of these words the Tribune was conducted. And every man, in any age, who conducts his life, his newspaper, or his business in that spirit, will be misunderstood, distrusted and hated, in exact proportion to his fidelity to it. Perfect fidelity, the world will so entirely detest that it will destroy the man who attains to it. The world will not submit to be so completely put out of countenance. My task, in this chapter, is to show how the editor of the Tribune comported himself when he occupied the position of target-general to the Press, Pulpit, and Stump of the United States. He was not in the slightest degree distressed or alarmed. On the contrary, I think he enjoyed the position; and, though he handled his enemies without gloves, and called a spade a spade, and had to dispatch a dozen foemen at once, and could not pause to select his weapons, yet I can find in those years of warfare no trace of bitterness on his part. There is no malice in his satire, no spite in his anger. He seems never so happy as when he is at bay, and is never so funny as when he is repelling a personal assault. I have before me several hundreds of his editorial hits and repartees, some serious, more comic, some refuting argument, others exposing slander, some merely vituperative, others very witty, all extremely readable,  though the occasions that called them forth have long passed by. My plan is to select and condense a few of each kind, presenting only the point of each. Many of our editor's replies are remarkable chiefly for their “free and easy” manner, their ignoring of “editorial dignity.” A specimen or two: In reply to a personal attack by Major Noah, of the Union, he begins, ‘We ought not to notice this old villain again.’ On another occasion, ‘What a silly old joker this last hard bargain of Tylerism is!’ On another, ‘Major Noah! Why won't you tell the truth once in a century, for the variety of the thing.’ On another, ‘And it is by such poor drivel as this that the superannuated renegade from all parties and all principles attempts to earn his forced contributions and “Official” advertisements! Surely his latest purchasers must despise their worn-out tool, and most heartily repent of their hard bargain.’ Such mild openings as the following are not uncommon:
The Journal of Commerce is the most self-complacent and dogmatic of all possible newspapers.
The villain who makes this charge against me well knows that it is the basest falsehood.
We defy the Father of lies himself to crowd more stupendous falsehoods into a paragraph than this contains.
Mr. Benton! each of the above observations is a deliberate falsehood, and you are an unqualified villain!
The Express is surely the basest and paltriest of all possible journals.
Having been absent from the city for a few days, I perceive with a pleasurable surprise on my return that the Express has only perpetrated two new calumnies upon me of any consequence since Friday evening.
“Ephraim,” said a grave divine, taking his text from one of the prophets, “is a cake not turned. （Hosea, VII. 8.) Let us proceed, therefore, brethren, to turn Ephraim—first, inside out; next, back-side before; and, thirdly, 'tother end up.”
We are under the imperative necessity of performing on Samuel of this day a searching operation like unto that of the parson on Ephraim of old.That will suffice for the vituperative. We proceed to those of another description: 
And thus the Tribune warred, and warring, prospered. Repeated supplements, ever-increasing circulation, the frequent omission of advertisements, all testified that a man may be independent in the expression of the most unpopular opinions, and yet not be starved into silence. One more glance at the three volumes from which most of the above passages are taken, and we accompany our hero to new scenes. In the Fifty-four-forty-or-Fight controversy, the Tribune of course took the side of peace and moderation. Its obituary of General Jackson in 1845, being not wholly eulogistic, called forth angry comment from the democratic press. In the same year, it gave to the advocates respectively of phonography, the phonetic system, and the magnetic telegraph, an ample hearing, and occasional encouragement. In 1846, its Reporters were excluded from the gallery of the House of Representatives, because a correspondent stated, jocularly, that Mr. Sawyer, of Ohio, lunched in the House on sausages. The weak member has since been styled Sausage Sawyer—a name which he will put off only with his mortal coil. Throughout the Mexican war, the Tribune gave all due honor to the gallantry of the soldiers who fought its battles, on one occasion defending Gen. Pierce from the charge of cowardice and boasting. In 1847, the editor made the tour of the great lake country,  going to the uttermost parts of Lake Superior, and writing a series of letters which revealed the charms and the capabilities of that region. In the same year it gave a complete exposition of the so-called ‘Revelations’ of Mr. Andrew Jackson Davis, but without expressing any opinion as to their supernatural origin. War followed, of course. To Mr. Whitney's Pacific Railroad scheme it assigned sufficient space. Agassiza lectures were admirably reported, with from ten to twenty woodcuts in the report of each lecture. Gen. Taylor's nomination to the presidency it descried in the distance, and opposed vehemently. The last event of the seventh volume was the dispute with the Herald on the subject of the comparative circulation of the two papers. The Tribune challenged the Herald to an investigation by an impartial committee, whose report each paper should publish, and the losing party to give a hundred dollars to each of the two orphan asylums of the city. The Herald accepted. The report of the committee was as follows:
The Tribune paid the money, but protested that the “Presidential Herald,” and, above all, the Sunday Herald, ought to have ben excluded from the comparison.