Among the hills of New Hampshire, in a lonely, unpainted house, Horace
Greeley was born, Feb. 3, 1811, the third of seven children. His father
was a plain farmer, hard-working, yet not very successful, but aided by
a wife of uncommon energy and good spirits, notwithstanding her many
cares. Besides her housework, and spinning, and making the children's
clothes, she hoed in the garden, raked and loaded hay to help her
husband, laughing and singing all day long, and telling her feeble
little son, Horace, stories and legends all the evening. Her first two
children having died, this boy was especially dear. Mrs. Greeley was a
great reader of such books as she could obtain, and remembered all she
read. It requires no great discernment to see from whence Horace Greeley
derived his intense love for reading, and his boundless energy.
He learned to read, one can scarcely tell how. When two years old, he
would pore over the Bible, as he lay on the floor, and ask questions
about the letters; at three, he went to the "district school," often
carried through the deep snow on the shoulders of one of his aunts, or
on the back of an older boy. He soon stood at the head of his little
class in spelling and reading, "and took it so much to heart when he did
happen to lose his place, that he would cry bitterly; so that some boys,
when they had gained the right to get above him, declined the honor,
because it hurt Horace's feelings so."
Before he was six years old he had read the Bible through, and
"Pilgrim's Progress." Their home contained only about twenty books, and
these he read and re-read. As he grew older, every book within seven
miles was borrowed, and perused after the hard day's work of farming was
over. He gathered a stock of pine knots, and, lighting one each night,
lay down by the hearth, and read, oblivious to all around him. The
neighbors came and made their friendly visits, and ate apples and drank
cider, as was the fashion, but the lad never noticed their coming or
their going. When really forced to leave his precious books for bed, he
would repeat the information he had learned, or the lessons for the next
day, to his brother, who usually, most ungraciously, fell asleep before
the conversation was half completed.
When Horace was nearly ten years old, his father, who had speculated in
a small way in lumber, became a bankrupt; his house and furniture were
sold by the sheriff, and he was obliged to flee from the State to avoid
arrest. Some of these debts were paid, thirty years afterward, by his
noble son. Going to Westhaven, Vt., Mr. Greeley obtained work on a farm,
and moved his family thither. They were very poor, the children sitting
on the floor and eating their porridge together out of a tin pan; but
they were happy in the midst of their hard work and plain food. The
father and the boys chopped logs, and the little sisters, with the
mother, gathered them in heaps, the voice of the latter, says Mr. James
Parton, in his biography, "ringing out in laughter from the tangled
brushwood in which she was often buried." Would there were thousands
more of such women, who can laugh at disaster, and keep their children
and themselves from getting soured with life. Everybody has troubles;
and very wise are they who do not tell them, either in their faces or by
Horace earned a few pennies all his own; sometimes by selling nuts, or
bundles of the roots of pitch-pine for kindling, which he carried on his
back to the store. This money he spent in books, buying Mrs. Hemans's
poetry and "Shakspeare." No wonder that the minister of the town said,
"Mark my words; that boy was not made for nothing."
He could go to school no longer, and must now support himself. From
earliest childhood he had determined to be a printer; so, when eleven
years of age, he walked nine miles to see the publisher of a newspaper,
and obtain a situation. The editor looked at the small, tow-haired boy,
shook his head, and said, "You are too young." With a heavy heart the
child walked the long nine miles back again. But he must do something;
and, a little later, with seventy-five cents in his pocket, and some
food tied in a bundle, which he hung on the end of a stick, slung over
his shoulder, he walked one hundred and twenty miles back to New
Hampshire, to see his relatives. After some weeks he returned, with a
few more cents in his purse than when he started!
The father Greeley ought to have foreseen that such energy and will
would produce results; but because Horace, in a fit of abstraction,
tried to yoke the "off" ox on the "near" side, he said, "Ah! that boy
will never get along in the world. He'll never know more than enough to
come in when it rains." Alas! for the blindness of Zaccheus Greeley,
whose name even would not be remembered but for his illustrious son.
When Horace was fourteen, he read in a newspaper that an apprentice was
wanted in a printing-office eleven miles distant. He hastened thither,
and, though unprepossessing, from his thin voice, short pantaloons, lack
of stockings, and worn hat, he was hired on trial. The first day he
worked at the types in silence. Finally the boys began to tease him with
saucy remarks, and threw type at him; but he paid no attention. On the
third day, one of the apprentices took a large black ball, used to put
ink on the type, and remarking that Horace's hair was too light, daubed
his head four times. The pressman and editor both stopped their labors
to witness a fight; but they were disappointed, for the boy never turned
from his work. He soon left his desk, spent an hour in washing the ink
from his hair, and returned to his duties. Seeing that he could not be
irritated, and that he was determined to work, he became a great
When at his type, he would often compose paragraphs for the paper,
setting up the words without writing them out. He soon joined a debating
society, composed of the best-informed persons of the little town of
East Poultney,--the minister, the doctor, the lawyer, the
schoolteachers, and the like. What was their surprise to find that the
young printer knew almost every thing, and was always ready to speak, or
read an essay.
He was often laughed at because of his poor clothes, and pitied because,
slender and pale as he was, he never wore an overcoat; but he used to
say, "I guess I'd better wear my old clothes than run in debt for new
ones." Ah! they did not know that every penny was saved and sent to the
father, struggling to clear a farm in the wilderness in Pennsylvania.
During his four years' apprenticeship he visited his parents twice,
though six hundred miles distant, and walked most of the way.
Soon after he had learned his trade, the newspaper suspended, and he was
thrown out of work. The people with whom he boarded gave him a brown
overcoat, not new, and with moistened eyes said good-by to the poor
youth whom they had learned to love as their own. He remained a few
weeks with his family, then walked fifty miles east to a town in New
York State, where he found plenty of work, but no money, and in six
weeks returned to the log-cabin. After trying various towns, he found a
situation in Erie, taking the place of a workman who was ill, and for
seven months he did not lose a day. Out of his wages--eighty-four
dollars--he had used only six, less than one dollar a mouth! Putting
fifteen dollars in his pocket, he took the balance of sixty-three in a
note, and gave it to his father. A noble son indeed, who would not buy a
single garment for himself, but carried the money home, so as to make
the poor ones a trifle more comfortable!
He had become tired of working in the small towns; he determined to go
to the great city of New York, and "be somebody." He walked a part of
the way by the tow-path along the canal, and sometimes rode in a scow.
Finally, at sunrise, Friday, Aug. 18, 1831, he landed close to the
Battery, with ten dollars in his pocket, knowing, he says, "no human
being within two hundred miles." His first need was a boarding-place.
Over a saloon, kept by an Irishman, he found room and board for two
dollars and a half a week. Fortunately, though it was the almost
universal custom to use liquors, Horace was a teetotaler, and despised
chewing or smoking tobacco, which he regarded "as the vilest, most
detestable abuse of his corrupted sensual appetites whereof depraved man
is capable;" therefore he had no fear of temptation from these sources.
All day Friday and Saturday he walked the streets of New York, looking
for work. The editor of the "Journal of Commerce" told him plainly that
he was a runaway apprentice from the country, and he did not want him.
"I returned to my lodging on Saturday evening, thoroughly weary,
disheartened, disgusted with New York, and resolved to shake its dust
from my feet next Monday morning, while I could still leave with money
in my pocket, and before its almshouse could foreclose upon me." On
Sunday he went to church, both morning and afternoon. Late in the day, a
friend who called upon the owner of the house, learning that the printer
wanted work, said he had heard of a vacancy at Mr. West's, 85 Chatham
The next morning Horace was at the shop at half-past five! New York was
scarcely awake; even the newsboys were asleep in front of the paper
offices. He waited for an hour and a half,--a day, it seemed to
him,--when one of the journey-men arrived, and, finding the door locked,
sat down beside the stranger. He, too, was a Vermonter, and he
determined to help young Greeley, if possible. He took him to the
foreman, who decided to try him on a Polyglot Testament, with marginal
references, such close work that most of the men refused to do it. Mr.
West came an hour or two later, and said, in anger, "Did you hire that
"Yes; we need help, and he was the best I could get," said the foreman.
"Well, pay him off to-night, and let him go about his business."
When night came, however, the country youth had done more and better
work, than anybody who had tried the Testament. By beginning his labors
before six in the morning, and not leaving his desk till nine in the
evening, working by the light of a candle stuck in a bottle, he could
earn six dollars a week. At first his fellow-workmen called him "the
ghost," from his white hair and complexion; but they soon found him
friendly, and willing to lend money, which, as a rule, was never
returned to him; they therefore voted him to be a great addition to the
shop. As usual, though always scrupulously clean, he wore his poor
clothes, no stockings, and his wristbands tied together with twine. Once
he bought a second-hand black suit of a Jew, for five dollars, but it
proved a bad bargain. His earnings were sent, as before, to his parents.
After a year, business grew dull, and he was without a place. For some
months he worked on various papers, when a printer friend, Mr. Story,
suggested that they start in business, their combined capital being one
hundred and fifty dollars. They did so, and their first work was the
printing of a penny "Morning Post," which suspended in three weeks, they
losing sixty dollars. The partner was drowned shortly after, and his
brother-in-law took his place.
Young Greeley, now twenty-three, and deeply interested in politics,
determined to start a weekly paper. Fifteen of his friends promised to
subscribe for it. The "New Yorker" was begun, and so well conducted was
it that three hundred papers throughout the country gave it
complimentary notices. It grew to a subscription list of nine thousand
persons; but much of the business was done on trust, times were hard,
and, after seven years, the enterprise had to be abandoned. This was a
severe trial to the hard-working printer, who had known nothing but
struggles all his life. Years after this he wrote, "Through most of this
time I was very poor, and for four years really bankrupt, though always
paying my notes, and keeping my word, but living as poorly as possible.
My embarrassments were sometimes dreadful; not that I feared
destitution, but the fear of involving my friends in my misfortunes was
very bitter.... I would rather be a convict in a State prison, a slave
in a rice-swamp, than to pass through life under the harrow of debt.
Hunger, cold, rags, hard work, contempt, suspicion, unjust reproach, are
disagreeable, but debt is infinitely worse than them all. Avoid
pecuniary obligation as you would pestilence or famine. If you have but
fifty cents, and can get no more for a week, buy a peck of corn, parch
it, and live on it, rather than owe any man a dollar."
Meantime the young editor had married Miss Mary Y. Cheney, a
schoolteacher of unusual mind and strength of character. It was, of
course, a comfort to have some one to share his sorrows; but it pained
his tender heart to make another help bear his burdens. Beside editing
the "New Yorker," he had also taken charge of the "Jeffersonian," a
weekly campaign paper published at Albany, and the "Log-Cabin,"
established to aid in the election of General Harrison to the
Presidency. The latter paper was a great success, the circulation
running up to ninety thousand, though very little money was made; but it
gave Mr. Greeley a reputation in all parts of the country for
President Harrison died after having been a month in office; and seven
days after his death, Mr. Greeley started, April 10, 1841, a new paper,
the "New York Tribune," with the dying words of Harrison as its motto:
"I desire you to understand the true principles of the government. I
wish them carried out. I ask nothing more." The paper had scarcely any
money for its foundation,--only a thousand dollars loaned by a
friend,--but it had a true man at its head, strong in his hatred of
slavery, and the oppression of the laboring man, and fearless in the
advocacy of what he believed to be right.
Success did not come at first. Of the five thousand copies published and
to be sold at a cent each, Mr. Greeley says, "We found some difficulty
in giving them away." The expenses for the first week were five hundred
and twenty-five dollars; receipts, ninety-two. But the boy who could
walk nearly six hundred miles to see his parents, and be laughed at for
poor clothes, while he saved his money for their use, was not to be
overcome at thirty years of age, by the failure of one or of a dozen
papers. Some of the New York journals fought the new sheet; but it lived
and grew till, on the seventh week, it had eleven thousand subscribers.
A good business-manager was obtained as partner. Mr. Greeley worked
sixteen hours a day. He wrote four columns of editorial matter (his
copy, wittily says Junius Henri Browne, "strangers mistook for diagrams
of Boston"), dozens of letters, often forgot whether he had been to his
meals, and was ready to see and advise with everybody. When told that he
was losing time by thus seeing people, he said, "I know it; but I'd
rather be beset by loafers, and stopped in my work, than be cooped up
where I couldn't be got at by men who really wanted to and had a right
to see me." So warm as this were his sympathies with all humanity!
In 1842, when he was thirty-one, he visited Washington, Niagara, and
his parents in Pennsylvania, and wrote delightful letters back to his
paper. How proud the mother must have felt of the growing fame of her
son! What did Zaccheus think now of his boy of whom he prophesied "would
never know more than enough to come in when it rains"?
The years passed on. Margaret Fuller came upon the editorial staff; for
Mr. Greeley was ever the advocate of the fullest liberty for woman in
any profession, and as much pay for her work as for that of men. And now
came a great sorrow, harder to bear than poverty. His little son Pickie,
called "the glorious boy with radiant beauty never equalled," died
suddenly. "When at length," he said, "the struggle ended with his last
breath, and even his mother was convinced that his eyes would never
again open upon the scenes of this world, I knew that the summer of my
life was over; that the chill breath of its autumn was at hand; and that
my future course must be along the down-hill of life." He wrote to
Margaret Fuller in Italy, "Ah, Margaret, the world grows dark with us!
You grieve, for Rome is fallen; I mourn, for Pickie is dead." His hopes
were centered in this child; and his great heart never regained its full
In 1848 he was elected to Congress for three months to fill out the
unexpired term of a deceased member, and did most effective work with
regard to the mileage system and the use of the public lands. To a high
position had come the printer-boy. At this time he was also prominently
in the lecture-field, speaking twice a week to large audiences all over
the country. In 1850 his first book was published by the Harpers, "Hints
toward Reform," composed of ten lectures and twenty essays. The
following year he visited England as one of the "jury" in the awarding
of prizes; and while there made a close study of philanthropic and
social questions. He always said, "He, who by voice or pen strikes his
best blow at the impostures or vices whereby our race is debased and
paralyzed, may close his eyes in death, consoled and cheered by the
reflection that he has done what he could for the emancipation and
elevation of his kind."
In 1855 he again visited Europe; and four years later, California, where
he was received with great demonstrations of honor and respect. In 1860
he was at the Chicago Convention, and helped to nominate Abraham Lincoln
in preference to William H. Seward. Mr. Greeley had now become one of
the leading men of the nation. His paper molded the opinions of hundreds
of thousands. He had fought against slavery with all the strength of his
able pen; but he advocated buying the slaves for four hundred million
dollars rather than going to war,--a cheaper method than our subsequent
conflict, with enormous loss of life and money. When he found the war
inevitable, after General McClellan's defeat at the Chickahominy, he
urged upon Mr. Lincoln immediate emancipation, which was soon adopted.
The "New York World" said after his death, "Mr. Greeley will hold the
first place with posterity on the roll of emancipation."
In the draft riots in New York, in 1863, the mob burst into the Tribune
Building, smashing the furniture, and shouting, "Down with the old white
coat!" Mr. Greeley always wore a coat and hat of this hue. Had he been
present, doubtless he would have been killed at once. When urged to arm
the office, he said, "No; all my life I have worked for the workingmen;
if they would now burn my office and hang me, why, let them do it."
The same year he began his "History of the Civil War" for a Hartford
publisher. Because so constantly interrupted, he went to the Bible
House, and worked with an amanuensis from nine in the morning till four
in the afternoon, and then to the "Tribune" office, and wrote on his
paper till eleven at night. These volumes, dedicated to John Bright,
have had a sale of several hundred thousand copies.
After the war Mr. Greeley, while advocating "impartial suffrage" for
black as well as white, advocated also "universal amnesty." He believed
nothing was to be gained by punishing a defeated portion of our nation,
and wanted the past buried as quickly as possible. He was opposed to the
hanging of Jefferson Davis; and with Gerritt Smith, a well-known
abolitionist, and about twenty others, he signed Mr. Davis's bail-bond
for one hundred thousand dollars, which released him from prison at
Fortress Monroe, where he had been for two years. At once the North was
aflame with indignation. No criticism was too scathing; but Mr. Greeley
took the denunciations like a hero, because he had done what his
conscience approved. He said, "Seeing how passion cools and wrath
abates, I confidently look forward to the time when thousands who have
cursed will thank me for what I have done and dared in resistance to
their own sanguinary impulses.... Out of a life earnestly devoted to the
good of human kind, your children will select my going to Richmond and
signing that bail-bond as the wisest act."
In 1872 considerable disaffection having arisen in the Republican party
at the course pursued by President Grant at the South, the "Liberal
Republicans," headed by Sumner, Schurz, and Trumbull, held a convention
at Cincinnati, and nominated Horace Greeley for President. The
Democratic party saw the hopelessness of nominating a man in opposition
to Grant and Greeley, and accepted the latter as their own candidate.
The contest was bitter and partisan in the extreme. Mr. Greeley received
nearly three million votes, while General Grant received a half million
No doubt the defeat was a great disappointment to one who had served his
country and the Republican party for so many years with very little
political reward. But just a month before the election came the
crushing blow of his life, in the death of his noble wife. He left his
speech-making, and for weeks attended her with the deepest devotion. A
few days before she died, he said, "I am a broken down old man. I have
not slept one hour in twenty-four for a month. If she lasts, poor soul,
another week, I shall go before her."
After her death he could not sleep at all, and brain-fever soon set in.
Friday, Nov. 29, the end came. At noon he said distinctly, his only
remaining children, Ida and Gabriella, standing by his bedside, "I know
that my Redeemer liveth;" and at half-past three, "It is done." He was
ready for the great change. He had written only a short time before,
"With an awe that is not fear, and a consciousness of demerit which does
not exclude hope, I await the opening, before my steps, of the gates of
the eternal world." Dead at sixty-one! Overworked, not having had "a
good night's sleep in fifteen years!"
When his death became known, the whole nation mourned for him.
Newspapers from Maine to Louisiana gave touching tributes to his
greatness, his purity, and his far-sightedness as a leader of the
people. The Union League Club, the Lotos, the Typographical Society, the
Associated Press, German and colored clubs, and temperance organizations
passed resolutions of sorrow. Cornell University, of whose Board he was
a member, did him honor. St. Louis, Albany, Indianapolis, Nashville,
and other cities held memorial meetings. John Bright sent regrets over
"our friend, Horace Greeley." Congress passed resolutions of respect for
his "eminent services and personal purity and worth."
And then came the sad and impressive burial. In the governor's room in
the City Hall, draped in black, surrounded by a guard of honor composed
of the leading men of New York, the body of the great journalist lay in
state. Over fifty thousand persons, rich and poor, maimed soldiers and
working people, passed in one by one to look upon the familiar face.
Said one workman, "It is little enough to lose a day for Horace Greeley,
who spent many a day working for us." Just as the doors of the room were
being closed for the night, a farmer made his way, saying, "I've come a
hundred miles to be at the funeral of Horace Greeley. Can't you possibly
let me in to have one last look?" The man stood a moment by the open
coffin, and then, pulling his hat low down to hide the tears, was lost
in the crowd.
From there the body was taken to Dr. Chapin's church, where it rested
under a solid arch of flowers, with the words, "I know that my Redeemer
liveth"; and in front of the pulpit, "It is done." The coffin was nearly
hidden by floral gifts; one of the most touching being a plow made of
white camelias on a ground of violets, from the "Tribune" workmen,--a
gift to honor the man who honored labor, and ennobled farm-life at his
country home at Chappaqua, a few miles from New York.
And then through an enormous concourse of people, Fifth Avenue being
blocked for a mile, the body was borne to Greenwood Cemetery. Stores
were closed, and houses along the route were draped in black. Flags on
the shipping, in the harbor, were at half-mast; and bells tolled from
one to three o'clock. Two hundred and fifty carriages, containing the
President of the United States, governors, senators, and other friends,
were in the procession. By the side of his wife and their three little
children the great man was laid to rest, the two daughters stepping into
the vault, and laying flowers tenderly upon the coffin.
The following Sabbath clergymen all over the country preached about this
wonderful life: its struggles succeeded by world-wide honor. Mr.
Greeley's one great wish was gratified, "I cherish the hope that the
journal I projected and established will live and flourish long after I
shall have mouldered into forgotten dust; and that the stone which
covers my ashes may bear to future eyes the still intelligible
inscription, 'Founder of the NEW YORK TRIBUNE.'"