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Horace Greeley

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

band, 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

their words.

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

journalistic ability.

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.'"