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Chapter 29: position and influence of Horace Greeley.

  • At the head of his profession
  • -- extent of his influence -- nature of his influence -- a conservative -- radical -- his practical suggestions -- to aspiring young men -- have a home of your own -- to young mechanics -- coming to the city -- a Labor Exchange -- pay as you go -- to the Lovers of knowledge -- to young orators -- the colored people -- to young lawyers and Doctors -- to an inquiring slaveholder -- to country Editors -- in Peace, prepare for war -- to country merchants -- tenement houses.

A satirist observes, that the difference, in modern days, between a distinguished and a common man is, that the name of a distinguished [412] man is frequently printed in newspapers, the name of a common man never or seldom. If the remark is correct, then Horace Greeley is by far the most distinguished person, out of office, in the United States. The click of the types that set up his name is seldom hushed. Probably, more than half of our three thousand newspapers published this week, contain something about him or by him, something at least which but for him they would not contain. And who has seen, for the last few years, a political caricature in which the man with the white coat, and long locks, and hat on the back of his head, does not figure conspicuously? In England, it is a maxim, that the politician who is not caricatured is a failure. What an immense success, then, would the English accord to Horace Greeley!

It is rare indeed for a man to attain precisely that position in life, which, in his youthful days, he coveted and aimed at. This happiness, this success, our hero enjoys. He tells us, that in his boyhood, he had “no other ambition than that of attaining usefulness and position as an editor, and to this end all the studies and efforts of his life have tended.” As editor of the New York Tribune, Horace Greeley, at this moment, stands at the head of the editorial profession in this country. The Tribune, with all its faults and deficiencies, is incomparably the ablest paper that we have yet realized. He who denies this convicts himself, not of error, but of ignorance or defective understanding. Yet many will deny it; but few who are at all acquainted with the country, will dispute the following assertion:

During the last ten years or more, Horace Greeley has influenced a greater amount of thought and a greater number of characters, than any other individual who has lived in this land.

At a rough calculation, he has written and published, during his editorial career, matter enough to fill one hundred and fifty volumes like this; and his writings, whatever other merit they possess or lack, have the peculiarity of being readable, and they are read. He has, moreover, addressed a larger number of persons than any other editor or man; and the majority of his readers live in these northern States, where the Intelligence, the Virtue, and (therefore) the Wealth, of this confederacy chiefly reside. He edits a paper to which many able men contribute, who write under the unavoidable [413] condition of not expressing an opinion to which the editor-in-chief is opposed; and who owe their connection with the paper to the fact of their general concordance with him on subjects of the first importance. To these means of influence, add his continual lecturing and public speaking, add the Whig Almanac, add the scores of Tribunes that have been started all over the northern States, Tribunes similar in spirit and intent to their great original, and then doubt, if you can, that Horace Greeley has long been the most influential man among all the millions of his countrymen

What is the nature of his influence? What has he tried to effect?

Any man who is not entirely a fool is better acquainted with himself than any one else is acquainted with him. In the preface to the Hints towards Reforms, Horace Greeley states what, he conceives, has been his aim as a politician. He has “aspired to be a mediator, an interpreter, a reconciler, between Conservatism and Radicalism—to bring the two into such connection and relation, that the good in each may obey the law of chemical affinity, and abandon whatever portion of either is false, mistaken or out-worn, to sink down and perish.” And again, he has “endeavored so to elucidate what is just and practical in the demands of our time for a social Renovation, that the humane and philanthropic can no longer misrepresent and malign them as destructive or infidel in their tendencies; but must joyfully recognize in them the fruits of past, and the seeds of future, progress in the history of our race.” Thus, with all his radical and progressive tendencies, he was for many arduous years a leading champion of our conservative party. That a position like this, between two opposing forces, is more apt to excite the hostility of both than the confidence of either, has been frequently shown in the career of Horace Greeley. Party, like the heart of a woman, demands all, or refuses any.

On this point, however,—the nature of Horace Greeley's influence in this country,—we may properly and profitably be more particular. His opinions on such subjects as religion and politics, which include all others, the reader is acquainted with. The forte of the man lies in making practical suggestions for the better conduct of the material life of the American people. He knows the American people—he is, emphatically, one of them—and he knows what they need and what they wish. Passing by, without further statement [414] what may be called, in a technical sense, Horace Greeley's Opinions, I will append a few of the suggestions he has made, from time to time, designed to reform or improve:

To aspiring young men.

“I want to go into business,” is the aspiration of our young men: “can't you find me a place in the city? ” their constant inquiry. “Friend,” we answer to many, “the best business you can go into you will find on your father's farm or in his workshop. If you have no family or friends to aid you, and no prospect opened to you there, turn your face to the Great West, and there build up a home and fortune. But dream not of getting suddenly rich by speculation, rapidly by trade, or any how by a profession: all these avenues are choked by eager, struggling aspirants, and ten must be trodden down in the press where one can vault upon his neighbor's shoulders to honor or wealth. Above all, be neither afraid nor ashamed of honest industry; and if you catch yourself fancying anything more respectable than this, be ashamed of it to the last day of your life. Or, if you find yourself shaking more cordially the hand of your cousin the Congressman than of your uncle the blacksmith, as such, write yourself down an enemy to the principles of our institutions, and a traitor to the dignity of Humanity.”

The world owes me a living.

How owes? Have you earned it by good service? If you have, whether on the anvil or in the pulpit, as a toiler or a teacher, you have acquired a just right to a livelihood. But if you have eaten as much as you have earned, or—worse still—have done little or no good, the world owes you nothing. You may be worth millions, and able to enjoy every imaginary luxury without care or effort; but if you have done nothing to increase the sum of human comforts, instead of the world owing you anything, as fools have babbled, you are morally bankrupt and a beggar.

To farmers.

“I can't afford to cultivate my land so nicely; I am not able.” Then, sir, sell all you are unable to use properly, and obtain means to cultivate thoroughly what you retain. If you have a hundred acres sell fifty, keep twenty acres of arable, and thirty of rocky woodland, and bring this to perfection.

A home of your own.

We wish it were possible to imbue every man, but especially every young man, with the desire of having a home of his own—a home to be adhered to through life. Next to the home itself, an earnest, overruling desire for one, [415] would be a great blessing. A man who owns the roof that shelters him, and the soil from which he draws his subsistence—and few acres are requisite for that—need not envy any Nabob's great fortune.

To young mechanics.

“It is the first step that costs.” The main obstacle to saving is the lack of the habit. He who at twenty-two has saved a hundred dollars, earned by honest, useful effort during the first year of his self-control, will be very unlikely ever to be destitute thereafter. On the other hand, he who has saved nothing at the end of his first year of independence, will be pretty certain to carry a poor man's head on his shoulders while he lives.

Our young mechanics are not thrifty, because of the evil habits they have formed during their minority.* * By-and-bye he marries, and retrenches some of his worst expenses, but too late—the increased demands of a growing family absorb every cent he can earn; and at fifty or sixty years of age you will see him emerging, seedy and sickly, from the groggery, whither he has repaired for his bitters or his eleven o'clock, enfeebled in body, and discouraged in spirit, out of humor with everything and everybody, and cursing the banks, or the landlords, the capitalists, or the speculators, as plunderers and enslavers of the poor.

Coming to the city.

The young man fit to come to a city does not begin by importuning some relative or friend to find or make a place for him. Having first qualified himself, so far as he may, for usefulness here, he comes understanding that he must begin at the foot of the class, and work his way up. Having found a place to stop, he makes himself acquainted with those places where work in his line may be found, sees the advertisements of “Wants” in the leading journals at an early hour each morning, notes those which hold out some prospect for him, and accepts the first place offered him which he can take honorably and fill acceptably. He who commences in this way is quite likely to get on.

A labor-exchange.

What I would suggest would be the Union and Organization of all workers for their mutual improvement and benefit, leading to the erection of a spacious edifice at some central point in our city to form a Laborers' Exchange, just as Commerce now has its Exchange, very properly. Let the new Exchange be erected and owned as a joint-stock property, paying a fair dividend to those whose money erected it; let it contain the best spacious hall for general meetings to be found in our city, with smaller lecture-rooms for the meetings of particular sections or callings—all to be leased or rented at fair prices to all who may choose to hire them, when not needed for the [416] primary purpose of discussing and advancing the interests of labor. Let us have here books opened, wherein any one wanting work may inscribe his name, residence, capacities and terms, while any one wishing to hire may do likewise, as well as meet personally those seeking employment.

Pay as you go.

Mr. President,” said John Randolph once, apropos to nothing in one of his rambling Congressional harangues, ‘I have found the philosopher's stone! It consists of four short English words—‘Pay as you go.’’

To the lovers of knowledge.

Avoid the pernicious error that you must have a profession—must be a clergyman, lawyer, doctor, or something of the sort—in order to be influential, useful, respected; or, to state the case in its best aspect, that you may lead an intellectual life. Nothing of the kind is necessary—very far from it. If your tendencies are intellectual—if you love knowledge, wisdom, virtue for themselves, you will grow in them, whether you earn your bread by a profession, a trade, or by tilling the ground. Nay, it may be doubted whether the farmer or mechanic, who devotes his leisure hours to intellectual pursuits from a pure love of them, has not some advantages therein over the professional man. He comes to his book at evening with his head clear and his mental appetite sharpened by the manual labors, taxing lightly the spirit or brain; while the lawyer, who has been running over dry books for precedents, the doctor, who has been racking his wits for a remedy adapted to some new modification of disease, or the divine, who, immured in his closet, has been busy preparing his next sermon, may well approach the evening volume with faculties jaded and palled.

To young orators.

A young Whig inquires how are young men who can speak to be distinguished from the many who only think they can, and brought into the field. We answer—Step out into any neighborhood where you are acquainted, and if there is no Clay Club there now, aid in getting one up. You will there naturally be called on to speak at its opening, and be sure you have a thorough acquaintance with the facts material to the great issue, and the documents under your elbow to sustain them. After that, if you speak to the purpose, you will be called on quite as often as you will choose to speak. But choose small gatherings, until you know that you are master of the questions in issue.

A Washington monument.

We have not much faith in monument-building; yet it strikes us that a monument to Washington, so planned as to minister at every point to purposes of great public utility, would be a good thing. Let it contain apartments consecrated [417] to art and knowledge—let its summit be an observatory, telegraph station, &c., and the common and forcible objection to monuments will be obviated.

The colored people.

What the colored people need is not so much Power as Self-Elevation—not so much better manners and greater consideration from the whites as greater respect for and confidence in themselves, based on substantial grounds. So long as they remain pretty generally boot-blacks, tavern-waiters, clothes-scourers, &c., from seeming choice, the Right to Vote will be of precious little account to them. But let them as a class step aside from those who insult and degrade them, like a small band of them in Ohio, buy a tract of land which shall be all their own, and go to work upon it, clearing, building, farming, manufacturing, &c., and they will no longer care much that those who are of baser spirit, though with whiter skins, refuse to consider them men and admit them to the common privileges of manhood. We see no plan of elevating them half so certain or so feasible as this.

To young lawyers and doctors.

Qualify yourselves at College to enlighten the farmers and mechanics among whom you settle in the scientific principles and facts which underlie their several vocations. The great truths of Geology, Chemistry, &c., &c., ought to be well known to you when your education is completed, and these, if you have the ability to impart and elucidate them, will make you honorably known to the inhabitants of any county wherein you may pitch your tent, and will thus insure you a subsistence from the start, and ultimately professional employment and competence. Qualify yourself to lecture accurately and fluently on the more practical and important principles of Natural Science, and you will soon find opportunities auditors, customers, friends. Show the farmer how to fertilize his fields more cheaply and effectively than he has hitherto done—teach the builder the principles and more expedient methods of heating and ventilation—tell the mason how to correct, by understanding and obeying Nature's laws, the defect which makes a chimney smoke at the wrong end—and you need never stand idle, nor long await remunerating employment.

To an inquiring slaveholder.

It seems to us that a conscientious man, convinced of the wrong of slaveholding, should begin the work of redressing that wrong at once. And if we were in our correspondent's place, and the laws of that State forbade emancipation on her soil and the teaching of slaves, we should remove with them at once to some convenient locality where no such tyrannical statutes existed. Then (or on our old plantation, if the laws did not forbid) we should say to [418] those slaves: “ You are free, and may leave if you choose; but I advise you to stay with me till I shall have taught you how to use and enjoy your freedom. I will either myself teach you two hours daily, or I will employ some competent person to do so; and I will share fairly with you the proceeds of my land and your labor. At the year's end, I will settle fairly with you, and any one who chooses may then take his portion and leave, while I with those who remain will endeavor to raise a better crop next year. I think you can all earn more, live better, and save more, by staying with me than by going off; if you don't think so, go; or, if you stay now, go whenever you shall come to think so. But while you stay here, I must be obeyed; and any one who don't obey me and behave himself will have to leave.”

Now we feel confident that a slaveholder who should adopt this course and firmly pursue it, would soon have the finest plantation and the best crops in his county—keeping all his good blacks and getting rid of the bad ones, and with all his laborers working under the stimulus of personal interest, and impelled by pride to make as good a show as possible in the settlement at the end of the year. We believe the great majority of any planter's slaves might thus be quietly educated into fitness for freedom and self-direction, as well as into a competent knowledge of letters and the elemental arts, while the planter would find himself, at ten years end, not only wiser but actually richer than if he had continued to hold his laborers in hopeless slavery. Rely on it, friend! it can never be dangerous nor impolitic to do right; and what Washington, John Randolph, and many other eminent Southrons saw fit to do on their death-beds you may safely and wisely do while you live.

To country editors.

We fear there are some Country editors who do not clearly perceive and improve the advantages of their position. If they would only make their papers the vigilant gleaners of all local intelligence, the fosterers of local interests, local institutes for promoting knowledge, &c., &c.,—above all, if they would stop publishing so many frivolous stories and other mere transcripts from the City Magazines and Journals, filling their columns instead with accounts of the latest and most valuable discoveries and improvements in Agriculture, the Arts and all branches of practical Science, they would have an abundance of subscribers, and could not be “destroyed” even though City Editors were so “unprincipled” as to give their papers away and pay the postage. Only make your papers what they should be, and the people of your vicinity cannot afford to do without them.

Do these remarks offend any? They surely ought not, for they are dictated by a sincere desire to benefit. We learned what little we know of our business mainly in “sticking type,” &c., for various Country papers, and ought to know something about them. We have an earnest desire that they should [419] deserve a generous support and receive it, for we know how essential a good Country Press is.

Advertising and cash.

Extensive Advertising of itself is morally certain to work a revolution in trade, by driving thousands of the easy-going out of it, and concentrating business in the hands of the few who know how to obtain and keep it. Unite with this the substitution of cash for credit, and one-fifth of those now engaged in trade will amply suffice to do the whole—and will soon have it to do. The revolution is already begun.

In peace, prepare for war.

It is not true that our best security for peace is keeping up an army at a cost of $15,000,000 a year to the people. All that we need are iron, lead, men, good schools, and good roads. There is more of military capability for defense in one railroad than in all the fortifications from Boston to Charleston. No; we want the legislation that will make the country independent and prosperous; we want the money-changers driven from the temple; in each State, if you will, a school for the diffusion of the science of civil engineering and military science, to convert our people in case of need into “ disciplined soldiers.” It does indeed behoove us in peace to prepare for war; but this is all the preparation we want.

To country merchants.

The merchant's virtue should be not merely negative and obstructive—it should be actively beneficent. He should use opportunities afforded by his vocation to foster agricultural and mechanical improvement, to advance the cause of education and diffuse the principles not only of virtue but of refinement and correct taste. He should be continually on the watch for whatever seems calculated to instruct, ennoble, refine, dignify and benefit the community in which he lives. He should be an early and generous patron of useful inventions and discoveries, so far as his position and means will permit. He should be a regular purchaser of new and rare books, such as the majority will not buy, yet ought to read, with a view to the widest dissemination of the truths they unfold. If located in the country, he should never visit the city to replenish his stock without endeavoring to bring back something that will afford valuable suggestions to his customers and neighbors. If these are in good part farmers, and no store in the vicinity is devoted especially to this department, he should be careful to keep a supply of the best plows and other implements of farming, as well as the choicest seeds, cuttings, &c., and those fertilizing substances best adapted to the soil of his township, or most advantageously transported thither; and those he should be very willing to sell at cost, especially to the poor or the penurious, in order to encourage their general [420] acceptance and use. Though he make no profit directly on the sale of these, he is indirectly but substantially benefited by whatsoever shall increase the annual production of his township, and thus the ability of his customers to purchase and consume his goods. The merchant whose customers and neighbors are enabled to turn off three, five, seven or nine hundred dollars' worth of produce per annum from farms which formerly yielded but one or two hundred dollars' worth, beyond the direct consumption of their occupants, is in the true and safe road to competence and wealth if he knows how to manage his business. Every wild wood or waste morass rendered arable and fruitful, every field made to grow fifty bushels of grain per acre, where but fifteen or twenty were formally realized, is a new tributary to the stream of his trade, and so clearly conducive to his prosperity.

Tenement houses.

The wretched, tumble-down rookeries now largely inhabited by the poor of our city are horribly wasteful in every way—wasteful of space, of property, of health, of life. Sweep away all these kennels on a block—say about Elizabeth or Stanton street, and build up in their stead a substantial structure, six to eight stories high, with basement and sub-cellar, the whole divided into rooms and suites of rooms for families and single persons, with baths, wash-houses, refectories, &c., in the basement, and public and private parlors, library, reading-room, &c., on the second floors. Let the first floor for stores or shops, and a part of the second for offices if required; put the whole building in charge of some responsible person disqualified for rugged labor, to be let at reasonable rates, payable monthly in advance—the highest story not more than fifty cents per bed-room. Such an edifice (economizing the space now required for cooking, washing, yard-room, &c.) might afford accommodations to families at $100 to $200, according to size and location; while two seamstresses might have an attic in common for one dollar each per month. As each family could hire a parlor or bed-room (retained for this purpose) whenever it had company, no one need hire regularly any more room than it absolutely needed, while a large square in the center of the block should be embellished with trees and shrubbery, gravel-walks, grass-plat and fountain. One such edifice, filled with tenants and paying ten per cent. to its owners, with a liberal margin for repairs, would very soon be imitated and improved upon, until our whole laboring population would be far better lodged than they now are, at half the expense, while room would be made on our Island for thrice the population it can stow away under the present architectural anarchy. Pestilence would be all but rendered impossible by this building reform.

These paragraphs, selected from more than a hundred of similar tendency, will show better than ever so much statement by another [421] hand, what the nature of Horace Greeley's influence is upon the affairs of his time, and upon the conduct of those who value his opinion. That his practice and his preaching correspond, the reader is aware. He knows whereof he affirms, and his message is exactly suited to our case; hence, its power.

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