is remembered by the men of his own day as a great editor and a somewhat eccentric genius.
While we like to hear about a man's personal characteristics, in studying his biography the lessons of a life like Greeley
's are to be found in his works.
When a “gawky” country lad, with a limited education and a slight acquaintance with the printer's trade, comes to the principal city of the land with a few dollars in his pocket and a single suit of clothes, and fights a fight the result of which is the founding of the most influential newspaper of his day, and the acquirement of a reputation as its editor which secures for him a nomination for the presidency of the United States
-in such a man's career there must be material for useful study.
And the place to study Horace Greeley
is in his newspapers.
He made these newspapers; he gave them their character; and, in doing so, he left on them his mental photograph.
Such a study is most interesting.
No other editor has ever given opportunity for it. Beginning his editorial labors when both the tariff and the slavery questions were quiescent, we find in the files of the New Yorker, the Jeffersonian, the Log Cabin
, and the New York Tribune, in order, an expression of the growing national interest in these subjects, and a discussion of them which pictures, better than any mere recital of results can do, the building up of a public sentiment that had so far-reaching results.
This is especially true of the slavery question; because Greeley
was not an early Abolitionist-not an Abolitionist at all, in the technical sense.
He was one of those who were content to leave the South
alone with its slavery as that institution was defined in the Federal Constitution
and restricted by the Missouri Compromise
But he was foremost in the ranks of those who called for the observance of that compromise, who refused to concede to the South
new slave territory, and who assisted in arousing the national conscience to the pitch that made an armed attempt to save the Union
in the sixties a possibility.
Why this valiant warrior stepped aside into the ranks of the timid and the compromisers when the issue was drawn, each reader
may decide for himself.
Why he was not content with his position and influence as an editor, and sacrificed a good deal of consistency in an effort to reach the office of President, may also be left to the reader's opinion.
His weaknesses throughout his editorial career are almost as marked as his strength, and a lack of foresight often played havoc with his judgment.
An editor of large experience said, on the occasion of his death: “The editor of a daily paper is the object of unceasing adulation from a crowd of those who shrink from fighting the slow and doubtful battle of life in the open field, and crave the kindly shelter of editorial plaudits, ‘puffs,’ and ‘mentions’; and he finds this adulation offered freely, and by all classes and conditions, without the least reference to his character or talents or antecedents.
What wonder if it turns the heads of unworthy men, and begets in them some of the vices of the despots-their unscrupulousness, their cruelty, and their impudence; what wonder, too, if it should have thrown off his balance a man like Mr. Greeley
, whose head was not strong, whose education was imperfect, and whose self-confidence had been fortified by a brave and successful struggle with adversity.”
's honesty and purity of motive
there was never any question.
In his days of poverty no suggestions of a need that he remain quiet about some matter in which he believed, but which was not on the popular side, had any influence with him. In the days of the slavery contest, when the business interests of his city were ready for almost any concessions to Southern customers, he defied the “priests of the god Cotton,” as he called them, and rebuked them in most scathing terms.
When the war was over, and the questions of adjustment and reconstruction were to be solved, he took a stand immediately and openly in favor of pardon and renewed brotherhood which cost him the favor of thousands of old associates, and lost him an election to the United States Senate.
However much his judgment swayed, it never swayed “on that side fortune leans.”