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Chapter 17: the Tribune's second year.

  • Increase of price
  • -- the Tribune offends the Sixth Ward fighting-men -- the office threatened -- novel preparations for defense -- Charles Dickens defended -- the editor travels -- visits Washington, and sketches the Senators -- at Mount Vernon -- at Niagara -- a hard hit at Major Noah.

The Tribune, as we have seen, was started as a penny paper. It began its second volume, on the eleventh of April 1842, at the increased price of nine cents a week, or two cents for a single number, and effected this serious advance without losing two hundred of its twelve thousand subscribers. At the same time, Messrs. Greeley and McElrath started the “American laborer,” a monthly magazine, devoted chiefly to the advocacy of Protection. It was published at seventy-five cents for the twelve numbers which the prospectus announced.

When it was remarked, a few pages back, that the word with the Tribune was fight, no allusion was intended to the use of carnal weapons. ‘The pen is mightier than the sword,’ claptraps Bulwer in one of his plays; and the Pen was the only fighting implement [218] referred to. It came to pass, however, in the first month of the Tribune's second year, that the pointed nib of the warlike journal gave deadly umbrage to certain fighting men of the Sixth Ward, by exposing their riotous conduct on the day of the Spring elections. The office was, in consequence, threatened by the offended parties with a nocturnal visit, and the office, alive to the duty of hospitality, prepared to give the expected guests a suitable reception by arming itself to the chimneys.

This (I believe) was one of the paragraphs deemed most offensive:

It appears that some of the “Spartan band,” headed by Michael Walsh, after a fight in the 4th District of the Sixth Ward, paraded up Centre street, opposite the Halls of Justice, to the neighborhood of the poll of the 3d District, where, after marching and counter-marching, the leader Walsh recommenced the work of violence by knocking down an unoffending individual, who was following near him. This was the signal for a general attack of this band upon the Irish population, who were knocked down in every direction, until the street was literally strewed with their prostrate bodies. After this demonstration of “ Spartan valor,” the Irish fled, and the band moved on to another poll to re-enact their deeds of violence. In the interim the Irish proceeded to rally their forces, and, armed with sticks of cord-wood and clubs, paraded through Centre street, about 300 strong, attacking indiscriminately and knocking down nearly all who came in their way—some of their victims, bruised and bloody, having to be carried into the Police Office and the prison, to protect them from being murdered. A portion of the Irish then dispersed, while another portion proceeded to a house in Orange street, which they attacked and riddled from top to bottom. Re-uniting their scattered forces, the Irish bands again, with increased numbers, marched up Centre street, driving all before them, and when near the Halls of Justice, the cry was raised, “ Americans, stand firm!” when a body of nearly a thousand voters surrounded the Irish bands, knocked them down, and beat them without mercy—while some of the fallen Irishmen were with difficulty rescued from the violence that would have destroyed them, had they not been hurried into the Police Office and prison as a place of refuge. In this encounter, or the one that preceded it, a man named Ford, and said to be one of the “ Spartans,” was carried into the Police Office beaten almost to death, and was subsequently transferred to the Hospital.

On the morning of the day on which this appeared, two gentlemen, more muscular than civil, called at the office to say, that the Tribune's account of the riot was incorrect, and did injustice to [219] Individuals, who expected to see a retraction on the following day. No retraction appeared on the following day, but, on the contrary, a fuller and more emphatic repetition of the charge. The next morning, the office was favored by a second visit from the muscular gentlemen. One of them seized a clerk by the shoulder, and requested to be informed whether he was the offspring of a female dog who had put that into the paper, pointing to the offensive article. The clerk protested his innocence; and the men of muscle swore, that, whoever put it in, if the next paper did not do them justice, the Bloody Sixth would come down and “smash the office.” The Tribune of the next day contained a complete history of the riot, and denounced its promoters with more vehemence than on the days preceding. The Bloody Sixth was ascertained to be in a ferment, and the office prepared itself for defense.

One of the compositors was a member of the City Guard, and through his interest, the muskets of that admired company of citizen—soldiers were procured; as soon as the evening shades prevailed, they were conveyed to the office, and distributed among the men. One of the muskets was placed near the desk of the Editor, who looked up from his writing and said, he “guessed they wouldn't come down,” and resumed his work. The foreman of the press-room in the basement caused a pipe to be conveyed from the safety valve of the boiler to the steps that led up to the sidewalk. The men in the Herald office, near by, made common cause, for this occasion only, with their foemen of the Tribune, and agreed, on the first alarm, to rush through the sky-light to the flat roof, and rain down on the heads of the Bloody Sixth a shower of brick-bats to be procured from the surrounding chimneys. It was thought, that what with volleys of musketry from the upper windows, a storm of bricks from the roof, and a blast of hot steam from the cellar, the Bloody Sixth would soon have enough of smashing the Tribune office. The men of the allied offices waited for the expected assault with the most eager desire. At twelve o'clock, the partners made a tour of inspection, and expressed their perfect satisfaction with all the arrangements. But, unfortunately for the story, the night wore away, the paper went to press, morning dawned, and yet the Bloody Sixth had not appeared! Either the Bloody Sixth had thought better of it, or the men of muscle had had no [220] right to speak in its awful name. From whatever cause—these masterly preparations were made in vain; and the Tribune went on its belligerent way, unsmashed. For some weeks, “it kept at” the election frauds, and made a complete exposure of the guilty persons.

Let us glance hastily over the rest of the volume.

It was the year of Charles Dickens' visit to the United States. The Tribune ridiculed the extravagant and unsuitable honors paid to the amiable novelist, but spoke strongly in favor of international copyright, which Mr. Dickens made it his mission “ to advocate. When the American Notes for General Circulation” appeared, the Tribune was one of the few papers that gave it a “ favorable notice.” ‘We have read the book,’ said the Tribune, ‘very carefully, and we are forced to say, in the face of all this stormy denunciation, that, so far as its tone toward this country is concerned, it is one of the very best wars of its class we have ever seen. There is not a sentence it which seems to have sprung from ill-nature or contempt; not a word of censure is uttered for its own sake or in a fault-finding spirit; the whole is a calm, judicious, gentlemanly, unexceptionable record of what the writer saw—and a candid and correct judgment of its worth and its defects. How a writer could look upon the broadly-blazoned and applauded slanders of his own land which abound in this—how he could run through the pages of Lester's book—filled to the margin with the grossest, most unfounded and illiberal assaults upon all the institutions and the social phases of Great Britain—and then write so calmly of this country, with so manifest a freedom from passion and prejudice, as Dick-Ens has done, is to us no slight marvel. That he has done it is infinitely to his credit, and confirms us in the opinion we had long since formed of the soundness of his head and the goodness of his, heart.’

In the summer of 1842, Mr. Greeley made an extensive tour, visiting Washington, Mount Vernon, Poultney, Westhaven, Londonderry, Niagara, and the home of his parents in Pennsylvania, from all of which he wrote letters to the Tribune. His letters from Washington, entitled “Glances at the Senate,” gave agreeable sketches of Calhoun, Preston, Benton, Evans, Crittenden, Wright, and others. Silas Wright he thought the “keenest logician in the Senate,” the “Ajax of plausibility,” the “Talleyrand of the forum.” [221] Calhoun he described as the “compactest speaker” in the Senate; Preston, as the “most forcible declaimer;” Evans, as the “most dexterous and diligent legislator;” Benton, as an individual, ‘gross and burly in person, of countenance most unintellectual, in manner pompous and inflated, in matter empty, in conceit a giant, in influence a cipher!’

From Mount Vernon, Mr. Greeley wrote an interesting letter, chiefly descriptive. It concluded thus:—‘Slowly, pensively, we turned our faces from the rest of the mighty dead to the turmoil of the restless living—from the solemn sublime repose of Mount Vernon to the ceaseless intrigues, the petty strifes, the ant-hill bustle of the Federal City. Each has its own atmosphere; London and Mecca are not so unlike as they. The silent, enshrouding woods, the gleaming, majestic river, the bright, benignant sky—it is fitly here, amid the scenes he loved and hallowed, that the man whose life and character have redeemed Patriotism and Liberty from the reproach which centuries of designing knavery and hollow profession had cast upon them, now calmly awaits the trump of the archangel. Who does not rejoice that the original design of removing his ashes to the city has never been consummated—that the<*> where the pilgrim may reverently approach them, unvexed<*> light laugh of the time-killing worldling unannoyed by the vain or vile scribblings of the thoughtless or the base? Thus may they repose forever I that the heart of the patriot may be invigorated, the hopes of the philanthropist strengthened and his aims exalted, the pulse of the American quickened and his aspirations purified by a visit to Mount Vernon!’

From Niagara, the traveller wrote a letter to Graham's Magazine:

‘Years,’ said he,

though not many, have weighed upon me since first, in boyhood, I gazed from the deck of a canal-boat upon the distant cloud of white vapor which marked the position of the world's great cataract, and listened to catch the rumbling of its deep thunders. Circumstances did not then permit me to gratify my strong desire of visiting it; and now, when I am tempted to wonder at the stolidity of those who live within a day's journey, yet live on through half a century without one glance at the mighty torrent, I am checked by the reflection that I myself passed within a dozen miles of it no less than five times before I was able to enjoy its magnificence. The propitious hour came at last, however; and, after a disappointed gaze from the [222] upper terrace on the British side, (in which I half feared that the sheet of broken and boiling water above was all the cataract that existed,) and rapid tortuous descent by the woody declivity, I stood at length on Table Rock, and the whole immensity of the tremendous avalanche of waters burst at once on my arrested vision, while awe struggled with amazement for the mastery of my soul.

This was late in October; I have twice visited the scene amid the freshness and beauty of June; but I think the late Autumn is by far the better season. There is then a sternness in the sky, a plaintive melancholy in the sighing of the wind through the mottled forest foliage, which harmonizes better with the spirit of the scene; for the Genius of Niagara, 0 friend! is never a laughterloving spirit. For the gaudy vanities, the petty pomps, the light follies of the hour, he has small sympathy. Let not the giddy heir bring here his ingots, the selfish aspirant his ambition, the libertine his victim, and hope to find enjoyment and gaiety in the presence. Let none come here to nurse his pride, or avarice, or any other low desire. God and his handiwork here stand forth in lone sublimity; and all the petty doings and darings of the ants at the base of the pyramid appear in their proper insignificance. Few can have visited Niagara and left it no humbler, no graver than they came.

On his return to the city, Horace Greeley subsided, with curious abruptness, into the editor of the Tribune. This note appears on the morning after his arrival:

The senior editor of this paper has returned to his post, after an absence of four weeks, during which he has visited nearly one half of the counties of this State, and passed through portions of Pennsylvania, Vermont, Massachusetts, etc. During this time he has written little for the Tribune save the casual and hasty letters to which his initials were subscribed; but it need hardly be said that the general course and conduct of the paper have been the same as if he had been at his post.

Two deductions only from the observations he has made and the information he has gathered during his tour, will here be given. They are these:

1. The cause of Protection to Home Industry is much stronger throughout this and the adjoining States than even the great party which mainly upholds it; and nothing will so much tend to ensure the election of Henry Clay next President as the veto of an efficient Tariff bill by John Tyler.

2. The strength of the Whig party is unbroken by recent disasters and treachery, and only needs the proper opportunity to manifest itself in all the energy and power of 1840. If a distinct and unequivocal issue can be made upon the great leading questions at issue between the rival parties—on Protection to Home Industry and Internal Improvement—the Whig ascendency will be triumphantly vindicated in the coming election.


I need not dwell on the politics of that year. For Protection—for Clay—against Tyler—against his vetoes—for a law to punish seduction—against capital punishment—imagine countless columns.

In October, died Dr. Channing. ‘Deeply,’ wrote Mr. Greeley, ‘do we deplore his loss, most untimely, to the faithless eye of man does it seem—to the cause of truth, of order and of right, and still more deeply do we lament that he has left behind him, in the same department of exertion, so few, in proportion to the number needed, to supply the loss occasioned by his death.’ Soon after, the Tribune gave Theodore Parker a hearing by publishing sketches of his lectures.

An affair of a personal nature made considerable noise about this time, which is worth alluding to, for several reasons. Major Noah, then the editor of the “ Union,” a Tylerite paper of small circulation and irritable temper, was much addicted to attacks on the Tribune. On this occasion, he was unlucky enough to publish a ridiculous story, to the effect that Horace Greeley had taken his breakfast in company with two colored men at a boarding-house in Barclay street. The story was eagerly copied by the enemies of the Tribune, and at length Horace Greeley condescended to notice it. The point of his most happy and annihilating reply is contained in these, its closing sentences: ‘We have never associated with blacks; never eaten with them; and yet it is quite probable that if we had seen two cleanly, decent colored persons sitting down at a second table in another room just as we were finishing our breakfast, we might have gone away without thinking or caring about the matter. We choose our own company in all things, and that of our own race, but cherish little of that spirit which for eighteen centuries has held the kindred of M. M. Noah accursed of God and man, outlawed and outcast, and unfit to be the associates of Christians, Mussulmen, or even self-respecting Pagans. Where there are thousands who would not eat with a negro, there are (or lately were) tens of thousands who would not eat with a Jew. We leave to such renegades as the Judge of Israel the stirring up of prejudices and the prating of “usages of society,” which over half the world make him an abhorrence, as they not long since would have done here; we treat all men according to what they are and not whence they spring. That he is a knave, we think much to his discredit; [224] that he is a Jew nothing, however unfortunate it may be for that luckless people.’ This was a hit not more hard than fair. The “ Judge of Israel,” it is said, felt it acutely.

The Tribune continued to prosper. It ended the second volume with a circulation of twenty thousand, and an advertising patronage so extensive as to compel the issue of frequent supplements. The position of its chief editor grew in importance. His advice and co-operation were sought by so many persons and for so many objects, that he was obliged to keep a notice standing, which requested ‘all who would see him personally in his office, to call between the hours of 8 and 9 A. M., and 5 and 6 P. M., unless the most imperative necessity dictate a different hour. If this notice be disregarded, he will be compelled to abandon his office and seek elsewhere a chance for an hour's uninterrupted devotion to his daily duties.’

His first set lecture in New York is thus announced, January 3d, 1843: ‘Horace Greeley will lecture before the New York Lyceum at the Tabernacle, this evening. Subject, “Human life.” The lecture will commence at half past 7, precisely. If those who care to hear it will sit near the desk, they will favor the lecturer's weak and husky voice.’

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