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Greeley, Horace 1811-1872

Journalist; born in Amherst, N. H., Feb. 3, 1811. Fond of reading almost from babyhood, he felt a strong desire as he grew to youth to become a printer, and in 1826 was apprenticed to the art in Poultney, Vt., where he became an expert workman. His parents had moved to Erie, Pa., and during his minority he visited them twice, walking nearly the whole way. In August, 1831, he was in New York in search of work, with $10 in his pocket. He worked as a journeyman until 1833, when he began business on his own account, with a partner, printing the Morning post, the first penny daily paper (owned by Dr. H. D. Shepard) ever published. His partner (Storey) was drowned in July, and Jonas Winchester took his place. The new firm issued the New Yorker, devoted mainly to current literature, in 1834, of which Mr. Greeley was editor. The paper reached a circulation of 9,000, and continued seven years. In 1840 he edited and published the Log cabin, a campaign paper that obtained a circulation of 80,000 copies; and [161] on April 10, 1841, he issued the first number of the Daily Tribune, a small sheet that sold for one cent. In the fall of that year the Weekly Tribune was issued. Mr. Greeley formed a partnership with Thomas McElrath, who took charge of the business department, and from that time until his death he was identified with the New

Horace Greeley.

York Tribune. Of Mr. Greeley's career in connection with that paper it is not necessary here to speak, for it is generally known. His course on political and social questions was erratic. He believed it better, before the Civil War broke out, to let the States secede if the majority of the people said so. When Jefferson Davis was to be released on bail he volunteered his signature to his bail-bond; and yet during the whole war he was thoroughly loyal. In 1869 he was defeated as the Republican candidate for comptroller of the State of New York; and in 1872 he accepted a nomination for President of the United States from the liberal Republican party (q. v.), and the nomination was endorsed by the Democratic convention. It is evident now that for a year or more Mr. Greeley's brain, overworked, was disturbed; and as soon as the election that year was over, and he was defeated, his brain, doubly taxed by anxiety at the bedside of a dying wife, was prostrated with disease. He died in Pleasantville, N. Y., Nov. 29, 1872. Mr. Greeley was the author of several books, his most considerable work being a history of the Civil War, in 6 volumes, The American conflict. Mr. Greeley died in a full belief in the doctrine of universal salvation, which he had held for many years.

In the summer of 1864 a number of leading conspirators against the life of the republic were at the Clifton House, at Niagara Falls, in Canada, where they plotted schemes for exciting hostile feelings between the United States and Great Britain; for burning Northern cities; rescuing the Confederate prisoners on and near the borders of Canada; spreading contagious diseases in the national military camps; and, ultimately, much greater mischief. These agents were visited by members of the peace party (q. v.). At the suggestion, it is said, of a conspicuous leader of that faction, a scheme was set on foot to make the loyal people, who yearned for an honorable peace, dissatisfied with the administration. The Confederates at the Clifton House employed a Northern politician to address a letter to Mr. Greeley, informing him that a delegation of Confederates were authorized to go to Washington in the interest of peace if full protection could be guaranteed them. The kindly heart of Mr. Greeley sympathized with this movement, for he did not suspect a trick. He drew up a “Plan of adjustment,” which he sent, with the letter of the Confederates, to President Lincoln, and urged the latter to respond to it. The more sagacious President had no confidence in the professions of these conspirators; yet, unwilling to seem heedless of any proposition for peace, he deputed Mr. Greeley to bring to him any person or persons “professing to have any proposition of Jefferson Davis, in writing, for peace, embracing the restoration of the Union and abandonment of slavery,” with an assurance of safe conduct for him or them each way. Considerable correspondence ensued. Mr. Greeley went to Niagara Falls. Then the Confederates pretended there was a misunderstanding. The matter became vexatious, and the President sent positive instructions to Greeley prescribing explicitly what propositions he would receive—namely, for a restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole Union, and the abandonment of slavery, and which might come by and [162] with the authority that could control the armies then at war with the United States. This declaration was the grand object of the Confederates at Niagara, and they used it to “fire the Southern heart” and to sow the seeds of discontent among the loyal people of the land.


Accepting Presidential nominations.

The Liberal Republican Convention, held in Cincinnati, gave him the nomination for the Presidency on May 1, 1872, and on the 3d the committee on notifications informed him of the convention's choice. On the day following the nomination Mr. Greeley retired from all connection with the editorial department of the Tribune, and on May 20 he accepted the nomination in the following letter to the committee:

New York, May 20, 1872.
Gentlemen,—I have chosen not to acknowledge your letter of the 3d inst. until I could learn how the work of your convention was received in all parts of our great country, and judge whether that work was approved and ratified by the mass of our fellow-citizens. Their response has from day to day reached me through telegrams, letters, and the comments of journalists independent of official patronage and indifferent to the smiles or frowns of power. The number and character of these unconstrained, unpurchased, unsolicited utterances satisfy me that the movement which found expression at Cincinnati has received the stamp of public approval, and been hailed by a majority of our countrymen as the harbinger of a better day for the republic.

I do not misinterpret this approval as especially complimentary to myself, nor even to the chivalrous and justly esteemed gentleman with whose name I thank your convention for associating mine. I receive and welcome it as a spontaneous and deserved tribute to that admirable platform of principles wherein your convention so tersely, so lucidly, so forcibly set forth the convictions which impelled, and the purposes which guided its course; a platform which, casting behind it the wreck and rubbish of worn-out contentions and by-gone feuds, embodies in fit and few words the needs and aspirations of to-day. Though thousands stand ready to condemn your every act, hardly a syllable of criticism or cavil has been aimed at your platform, of which the substance may be fairly epitomized as follows:

1. All the political rights and franchises which have been acquired through our late bloody convulsion must and shall be guaranteed, maintained, enjoyed, respected evermore.

2. All the political rights and franchises which have been lost through that convulsion should and must be promptly restored and re-established, so that there shall be henceforth no proscribed class and no disfranchised caste within the limits of our Union, whose long-estranged people shall unite and fraternize upon the broad basis of universal amnesty with impartial suffrage.

3. That, subject to our solemn constitutional obligation to maintain the equal rights of all citizens, our policy should aim at local self-government and not at centralization; that the civil authority should be supreme over the military; that the writ of habeas corpus should be jealously upheld as the safeguard of personal freedom; that the individual citizen should enjoy the largest liberty consistent with public order, and that there shall be no federal subversion of the internal polity of the several States and municipalities, but that each shall be left free to enforce the rights and promote the well-being of its inhabitants by such means as the judgment of its own people shall prescribe.

4. There shall be a real and not merely a simulated reform in the civil service of the republic; to which end it is indispensable that the chief dispenser of its vast official patronage shall be shielded from the main temptation to use his power selfishly, by a rule inexorably forbidding and precluding his re-election.

5. That the raising of revenues, whether by tariff or otherwise, shall be recognized and treated as the people's immediate business, to be shaped and directed by them through their representatives in Congress, whose action thereon the President must neither over-rule by his veto, attempt to dictate, nor presume to punish, by bestowing office only on those who agree with him or withdrawing it front those who do not. [163]

6. That the public lands must be sacredly reserved for occupation and acquisition by cultivators, and not recklessly squandered on the projectors of railroads, for which our people have no present need, and the premature construction of which is annually plunging us into deeper and deeper abysses of foreign indebtedness.

7. That the achievement of these grand purposes of universal beneficence is expected and sought at the hands of all who approve them, irrespective of past affiliations.

8. That the public faith must at all hazards be maintained and the national credit preserved.

9. That the patriotic devotedness and inestimable services of our fellow-citizens, who, as soldiers or sailors, upheld the flag and maintained the unity of the republic, shall ever be gratefully remembered and honorably requited.

These propositions, so ably and forcibly presented in the platform by your convention, have already fixed the attention and commanded the assent of a large majority of our countrymen, who joyfully adopt them as I do, as the basis of a true, beneficent national reconstruction — of a new departure from jealousies, strifes, and hates, which have no longer adequate motive or even plausible pretext, into an atmosphere of peace, fraternity, and mutual good-will. In vain do the drill-sergeants of decaying organizations flourish menacingly their truncheons and angrily insist that the files shall be closed and straightened; in vain do the whippers-in of parties once vital, because rooted in the vital needs of the hour, protest against straying and bolting, denounce men nowise their inferiors as traitors and renegades, and threaten them with infamy and ruin. I am confident that the American people have already made your cause their own, fully resolved that their brave hearts and strong arms shall bear it on to triumph. In this faith and with the distinct understanding that, if elected, I shall be the President not of a party but of the whole people, I accept your nomination, in the confident trust that the masses of our countrymen North and South are eager to clasp hands across the bloody chasm which has too long divided them, forgetting that they have been enemies in the joyful consciousness that they are and must henceforth remain brethren.

Yours gratefully,

Horace Greeley.


The National Democratic Convention met in Baltimore on July 9, and also gave its nomination to Mr. Greeley. To the address of the committee on notifications Mr. Greeley responded as follows:

Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen of the Committee of the Convention,--I should require time and consideration to reply fitly to the very important and, I need not say, gratifying communication that you have presented to me. It may be that I should present in writing some reply to this. However, as I addressed the Liberal convention, of Cincinnati, in a letter somewhat widely considered, it is, perhaps, unnecessary that I should make any formal reply to the communication made, other than to say I accept your nomination, and accept gratefully with it the spirit in which it has been presented. My position is one which many would consider a proud one, which, at the same time, is embarrassing, because it subjects me to temporary—I trust only temporary —misconstruction on the part of some old and lifelong friends. I feel assured that time only is necessary to vindicate, not only the disinterestedness, but the patriotism, of the course which I determined to pursue, which I had determined long before I had received so much sympathy and support as has, so unexpectedly to me, been bestowed upon me. I feel certain that time, and, in the good Providence of God, an opportunity, will be afforded me to show that, while you, in making this nomination, are not less Democratic, but rather more Democratic, than you would have been in taking an opposite course, I am no less thoroughly and earnestly Republican than ever I was. But these matters require grave consideration before I should make anything that seems a formal response. I am not much accustomed to receiving nominations for the Presidency, and cannot make responses so fluently as some other might do. I can only say that I hope some, or all, if you can make it convenient, will come to my humble farm-house, not far distant in the country, where I shall be glad to meet all [164] of you, and where we can converse more freely and deliberately than we can here, and where I shall be glad to make you welcome—well, to the best the farm affords. I hope that many of you—all of you—will be able to accept this invitation, and I now simply thank you and say farewell. Take the 8.15 train.


On July 18, he addressed a fuller expression of his views on the political sitution to the committee in the following letter:

Gentlemen,—Upon mature deliberation, it seems fit that I should give to your letter of the 10th inst. some further and fuller response than the hasty, unpremeditated words in which I acknowledged and accepted your nomination at our meeting on the 12th.

That your convention saw fit to accord its highest honor to one who had been prominently and pointedly opposed to your party in the earnest and sometimes angry controversies of the last forty years is essentially noteworthy. That many of you originally preferred that the Liberal Republicans should present another candidate for President, and would more readily have united with us in the support of Adams or Trumbull, Davis or Brown, is well known. I owe my adoption at Baltimore wholly to the fact that I had already been nominated at Cincinnati, and that a concentration of forces upon any new ticket had been proved impracticable. Gratified as I am at your concurrence in the nominations, certain as I am that you would not have thus concurred had you not deemed me upright and capable, I find nothing in the circumstance calculated to inflame vanity or nourish self-conceit.

But that your convention saw fit, in adopting the Cincinnati ticket, to reaffirm the Cincinnati platform, is to me a source of profoundest satisfaction. That body was constrained to take this important step by no party necessity, real or supposed. It might have accepted the candidates of the Liberal Republicans upon grounds entirely its own, or it might have presented them (as the first Whig national convention did Harrison and Tyler) without adopting any platform whatever. That it chose to plant itself deliberately, by a vote nearly unanimous, upon the fullest and clearest enunciation of principles which are at once incontestably Republican and emphatically Democratic, gives trustworthy assurance that a new and more auspicious era is dawning upon our long-distracted country.

Some of the best years and best efforts of my life were devoted to a struggle none the less earnest or arduous because respect for constitutional obligations constrained me to act, for the most part, on the defensive, in resistance to the diffusion rather than in direct efforts for the extension of human bondage. Throughout most of those years my vision was uncheered, my exertions were rarely animated by even so much as a hope that I should live to see my country peopled by freemen alone. The affirmance by your convention of the Cincinnati platform is a most conclusive proof that not merely is slavery abolished, but that its spirit is extinct; that, despite the protests of a respectable but isolated few, there remains among us no party and no formidable interests which regret the overthrow or desire the re-establishment of human bondage, whether in letter or in spirit. I am thereby justified in my hope and trust that the first century of American independence will not close before the grand elemental truths on which its rightfulness was based by Jefferson and the Continental Congress of 1776 will no longer be regarded as “glittering generalities,” but will have become the universally accepted and honored foundations of our political fabric.

I demand the prompt application of those principles to our existing conditions. Having done what I could for the complete emancipation of blacks, I now insist on the full enfranchisement of all my white countrymen. Let none say that the ban has just been removed from all but a few hundred elderly gentlemen, to whom eligibility to office can be of little consequence. My view contemplates not the hundreds proscribed, but the millions who are denied the right to be ruled and represented by the men of their unfettered choice. Proscription were absurd if these did not wish to elect the very men whom they were forbidden to choose. [165]

I have a profound regard for the people of that New England wherein I was born, in whose common schools I was taught. I rank no other people above them in intelligence, capacity, and moral worth. But, while they do many things well, and some admirably, there is one thing which I am sure they cannot wisely or safely undertake, and that is the selection, for States remote from and unlike their own, of the persons by whom those States shall be represented in Congress. If they do all this to good purpose, then republican institutions were unfit, and aristocracy the only true political system.

Yet what have we recently witnessed? Zebulon B. Vance, the unquestionable choice of a large majority of the present legislature of North Carolina—a majority backed by a majority of the people who voted at its election—refused the seat in the federal Senate to which he was fairly chosen, and the legislature thus constrained to choose another in his stead or leave the State unrepresented for years. The votes of New England thus deprived North Carolina of the Senator of her choice, and compelled her to send another in his stead—another who, in our late contest, was, like Vance, a Confederate, and a fighting Confederate, but one who had not served in Congress before the war as Vance had, though the latter remained faithful to the Union till after the close of his term. I protest against the disfranchisement of a State—presumptively, of a number of States—on grounds so narrow and technical as this. The fact that the same Senate which refused Vance his seat proceeded to remove his disabilities after that seat had been filled by another only serves to place in stronger light the indignity to North Carolina, and the arbitrary, capricious tyranny which dictated it.

I thank you, gentlemen, that my name is to be conspicuously associated with yours in the determined effort to render amnesty complete and universal in spirit as well as in letter. Even defeat in such a cause would leave no sting, while triumph would rank with those victories which no blood reddens and which invoke no tears but those of gratitude and joy.

Gentlemen, your platform, which is also mine, assures me that Democracy is not henceforth to stand for one thing and Republicanism for another, but that those terms are to mean in politics, as they always have meant in the dictionary, substantially one and the same thingnamely, equal rights regardless of creed, or clime, or color. I hail this as a genuine new departure from out-worn feuds and meaningless contentions, in the direction of progress and reform. Whether I shall be found worthy to bear the standard of the great liberal movement which the American people have inaugurated is to be determined not by words but by deeds. With me if I steadily advance, over me if I falter, its grand army moves on to achieve for our country her glorious, beneficent destiny.

I remain, gentlemen, yours,

Horace Greeley.


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