The Scotch-Irish Race in the United States—Mr. Greeley a Partly Reversed Specimen of it—His Birth and Boyhood—Learns to Read Books Upside Down—His Apprenticeship on a Newspaper—The Town Encyclopaedia—His Industry at his Trade—His First Experience of a Fugitive Slave Chase—His First Appearance in New York. The Work on the Polyglot Testament—Mr. Greeley as "the Ghost"—The First Cheap Daily Paper—The Firm of Greeley & Story—The New Yorker, the Jeffersonian and the Log Cabin—Mr. Greeley as Editor of the New Yorker—Beginning of The Tribune—Mr. Greeley's Theory of a Political Newspaper—His Love for The Tribune—The First Week of that Paper—The Attack of the Sun and its Result—Mr. McElrath's Partnership—Mr. Greeley's Fourierism—"The Bloody Sixth"—The Cooper Libel Suits—Mr. Greeley in Congress—He goes to Europe—His course in the Rebellion—His Ambition and Qualifications for Office—The Key-Note of his Character.

No race has stronger characteristics, bodily or mental, than that powerful, obstinate, fiery, pious, humorous, honest, industrious, hard-headed, intelligent, thoughtful and reasoning people, the Scotch-Irish. The vigorous qualities of the Scotch-Irish have left broad and deep traces upon the history of the United States. As if with some hereditary instinct, they settled along the great Allegheny ridge, principally from Pennsylvania to Georgia, in the fertile valleys and broader expanses of level land on either side, especially to the westward. In the healthy and genial air of these regions, renowned for the handsomest breed of men and women in the world, the Scotch-Irish acted out with thorough freedom, all the vigorous and often violent impulses of their nature. They were pioneers, Indian-fighters, politicians, theologians; and they were as polemic in everything else as in theology. Jackson and Calhoun were of this blood. An observant traveller in Tennessee described to the writer the interest with which he found in that state literally hundreds of forms and faces with traits so like the lean erect figure, high narrow head, stiff black hair, and stern features of the fighting old President, that they might have been his brothers. Many of our eminent Presbyterian theologians like the late Dr. Wilson, of Cincinnati, have been Scotch-Irish too, and with their spiritual weapons they have waged many a controversy as unyielding, as stern and as unsparing as the battle in which Jackson beat down Calhoun by showing him a halter, or as that brutal knife fight in which he and Thomas H. Benton nearly cut each other's lives out.

Horace Greeley is of this Scotch-Irish race, and after a rule which physiologists well know to be not very uncommon, he presents a direct reverse of many of its traits, more especially its physical ones. Instead of a lean, erect person, dry hard muscles, a high narrow head, coarse stiff black hair, and a stern look, he tends to be fat, is shambling and bowed over in carrying himself, thinskinned and smooth and fair as a baby, with a wide, long, yet rounded head, silky-fine almost white hair, and a habitually meek sort of smile, which however must not be trusted to as an index of the mind within. Meek as he looks, no man living is readier with a strong sharp answer. Non-resistant as he is physically, there is not a more uncompromising an opponent and intense combatant in these United States. Mentally, he shows a predominance of Scotch-Irish blood modified by certain traits which reveal themselves in his readiness to receive new theories of life.

Mr. Greeley was born Feb. 3d, 1811, at his father's farm, in Amherst, New Hampshire. The town was part of a district first settled by a small company of sixteen families of Scotch-Irish from Londonderry. These were part of a considerable emigration in 1718 from that city, whose members at first endeavored to settle in Massachusetts; but they were so ill received by the Massachusetts settlers that they found it necessary to scatter away into distant parts of the country before they could find rest for the soles of their feet.

The ancestors of Mr. Greeley were farmers, those of the name of Greeley being often also blacksmiths. The boy was fully occupied with hard farm work, and he attended the American farmers' college, the District School. He had an intense natural love for acquiring knowledge, and learned to read of himself. He could read any child's book when he was three, and any ordinary book at four; and having, as his biographer, Mr. Parton, suggests, still an overplus of mental activity, he learned to read as readily with the book sideways or upside down, as right side up.

Mr. Greeley, like a number of men who have grown up to become capable of a vast quantity of hard work and usefulness, was extremely feeble at birth, and was even thought scarcely likely to live when he first entered the world. During his first year he was feeble and sickly. His mother, who had lost her two children born next before him, seemed to be doubly fond of her weak little one, both for the sake of those that were gone, and of his very weakness, and she kept him by her side much more closely than if he had been strong and well; and day after day, she sung and repeated to him an endless store of songs and ballads, stories and traditions. This vivid oral literature doubtless had great influence in stimulating the child's natural aptitude for mental activity.

Mr. Greeley's father was not a much better financier than his son. In 1820, in spite of all the honest hard-work that he could do, he became bankrupt, and in 1821 moved to a new residence in Vermont.

Mr. Greeley seems to have had such an inborn instinct after newspapers and newspaper work, as Mozart had for music and musical composition. He himself says on this point, in his own "Recollections" in The New York Ledger, "Having loved and devoured newspapers—indeed every form of periodical—from childhood, I early resolved to be a printer if I could." When only eleven years old he applied to be received as an apprentice in a newspaper office at Whitehall, Vt., and was greatly cast down by being refused for his youth. Four years afterwards, in the spring of 1826, he obtained employment in the office of the Northern Spectator, at East Poultney, Vt., and thus began his professional career.

As a young man, Mr. Greeley was not only poorly but most extremely carelessly dressed; absent minded yet observant; awkward and indeed clownish in his manners; extremely fond of the game of checkers, at which he seldom found an equal; and of fishing and bee-hunting. Fonder still he was of reading and acquiring general knowledge, for which a public library in the town offered valuable advantages; and he very soon became, as a biographer says, a "town encyclopedia," appealed to as a court of last resort, by every one who was at a loss for information. In the local debating society of the place he was assiduous and prominent, and was noticeable both for the remarkable body of detailed facts which he could bring to bear upon the questions discussed, and for his thorough devotion to his argument. Whatever his opinion was, he stuck to it against either reasoning or authority.

In his calling as a printer, he was most laborious, and quickly became the most valuable hand in the office. He also began here his experience as a writer—if that may be called written which was never set down with a pen. For he used to compose condensations of news paragraphs, and even original paragraphs of his own, framing his sentences in his mind as he stood at the case, and setting them up in type entirely without the intermediate process of setting them down in manuscript. This practice was exactly the way to cultivate economy, clearness, and directness of style; as it was necessary to know accurately what was to be said, or else the letters in the composing stick would have to be distributed and set up again; and it was natural to use the fewest and plainest possible words.

While Horace was thus at work, his father had again removed beyond the Alleghanies, where he was doing his best to bring some new land under cultivation. The son, meanwhile, and for some time after his apprenticeship too, used to send to his father all the money that he could save from his scanty wages. He continued to assist his father, indeed, until the latter was made permanently comfortable upon a valuable and well stocked farm; and even paid up some of his father's old debts in New Hampshire thirty years after they were contracted.

Mr. Greeley has recorded that while in Poultney he witnessed a fugitive slave chase. New York had then yet a remainder of slavery in her, in the persons of a few colored people who had been under age when the state abolished slavery, and had been left by law to wait for their freedom until they should be twenty-eight years old. Mr. Greeley tells the story in the N. Y. Ledger, in sarcastic and graphic words, as follows:

"A young negro who must have been uninstructed in the sacredness of constitutional guaranties, the rights of property, &c., &c., &c., feloniously abstracted himself from his master in a neighboring New York town, and conveyed the chattel personal to our village; where he was at work when said master, with due process and following, came over to reclaim and recover the goods. I never saw so large a number of men and boys so suddenly on our village-green, as his advent incited; and the result was a speedy disappearance of the chattel, and the return of his master, disconsolate and niggerless, to the place whence he came. Everything on our side was impromptu and instinctive, and nobody suggested that envy or hate of the South, or of New York, or of the master, had impelled the rescue. Our people hated injustice and oppression, and acted as if they couldn't help it."

In June 1830, the Northern Spectator was discontinued, and our encyclopedic apprentice was turned loose on the world. Hereupon he traveled, partly on foot and partly by canal, to his father's place in Western Pennsylvania. Here he remained a while, and then after one or two unsuccessful attempts to find work, succeeded at Erie, Pa., where he was employed for seven months. During this time his board with his employer having been part of his pay, he used for other personal expenses six dollars in cash. The wages remaining due him amounted to just ninety-nine dollars. Of this he now gave his father eighty-five, put the rest in his pocket and went to New York.

He reached the city on Friday morning at sunrise, August 18th, 1831, with ten dollars, his bundle, and his trade. He engaged board and lodging at $2.50 a week, and hunted the printing offices for employment during that day and Saturday in vain; fell in with a fellow Vermonter early Monday morning, a journeyman printer like himself, and was by him presented to his foreman. Now there was in the office a very difficult piece of composition, a polyglot testament, on which various printers had refused to work. The applicant was, as he always had been, and will be, very queer looking; insomuch that while waiting for the foreman's arrival, the other printers had been impelled to make many personal remarks about him. But though equally entertained with his appearance, the foreman, rather to oblige the introducer than from any admiration of the new hand, permitted him a trial, and he was set at work on the terrible Polyglot. We transcribe Mr. Parton's lively account of the sequel:

"After Horace had been at work an hour or two, Mr. West, the 'boss,' came into the office. What his feelings were when he saw the new man may be inferred from a little conversation on the subject which took place between him and the foreman:

"'Did you hire that d—— fool?' asked West, with no small irritation.

"'Yes; we must have hands, and he's the best I could get,' said the foreman, justifying his conduct, though he was really ashamed of it.

"'Well,' said the master, 'for Heaven's sake pay him off to-night, and let him go about his business.'

"Horace worked through the day with his usual intensity, and in perfect silence. At night he presented to the foreman, as the custom then was, the 'proof' of his day's work. What astonishment was depicted in the good-looking countenance of that gentleman, when he discovered that the proof before him was greater in quantity and more correct than that of any other day's work on the Polyglot! There was no thought of sending the new journeyman about his business now. He was an established man at once. Thenceforward, for several months, Horace worked regularly and hard on the Testament, earning about six dollars a week."

While a journeyman here, he worked very hard indeed, as he was paid by the piece, and the work was necessarily slow. At the same time, according to his habit, he was accustomed to talk very fluently, his first day's silent labor having been an exception; and his voluble and earnest utterance, singular, high voice, fullness, accuracy, and readiness with facts, and positive though good-natured tenacious disputatiousness, together with his very marked personal traits, made him the phenomenon of the office. His complexion was so fair, and his hair so flaxen white, that the men nicknamed him "the Ghost." The mischievous juniors played him many tricks, some of them rough enough, but he only begged to be let alone, so that he might work, and they soon got tired of teasing from which there was no reaction. Besides, he was forever lending them money, for like very many of the profession, the other men in the office were profuse with whatever funds were in hand, and often needy before pay-day; while his own unconscious parsimony in personal expenditures was to him a sort of Fortunatus' purse—an unfailing fountain.

For about a year and a half Mr. Greeley worked as a journeyman printer. During 1832 he had become acquainted with a Mr. Story, an enterprising young printer, and also with Horatio D. Sheppard, the originator of the idea of a Cheap Daily Paper. The three consulted and co-operated; in December the printing firm of Greeley & Story was formed, and on the first of January, 1833, the first number of the first cheap New York Daily, "The Morning Post," was issued, "price two cents," Dr. Sheppard being editor. Various disadvantages stopped the paper before the end of the third week, but the idea was a correct one. The New York Sun, issued in accordance with it nine months later, is still a prosperous newspaper; and the great morning dailies of New York, including the Tribune, are radically upon the same model.

Though this paper stopped, the job printing firm of Greeley & Story went on and made money. At Mr. Story's death, July 9, 1833, his brother-in-law, Mr. Winchester, took his place in the office. In 1834 the firm resolved to establish a weekly; and on March 22d, 1834, appeared the first number of the Weekly New Yorker, owned by the firm, and with Mr. Greeley as editor. He had now found his proper work, and he has pursued it ever since with remarkable force, industry and success.

This success, however, was only editorial, not financial, so far as the New Yorker was concerned. The paper began with twelve subscribers, and without any flourishes or promises. By its own literary, political and statistical value, its circulation rose in a year to 4,500, and afterwards to 9,000. But when it stopped, Sept. 20, 1841, it left its editor laboring under troublesome debts, both receivable and payable. The difficulty was manifold; its chief sources were, Mr. Greeley's own deficiencies as a financier, supplying too many subscribers on credit, and the great business crash of 1837.

During the existence of the New Yorker, Mr. Greeley also edited two short-lived but influential campaign political sheets. One of these, the Jeffersonian, was published weekly, at Albany. This was a Whig paper, which appeared during a year from March, 1838, and kept its editor over-busy, with the necessary weekly journey to Albany, and the double work. The other was the Log Cabin, the well-known Harrison campaign paper, issued weekly during the exciting days of "Tippecanoe and Tyler too," in 1840, and which was continued as a family paper for a year afterwards. Of the very first number of this famous little sheet, 48,000 were sold, and the edition rapidly increased to nearly 90,000. Neither of these two papers, however, made much money for their editor. But during his labors on the three, the New Yorker, Jeffersonian, and Log Cabin, he had gained a standing as a political and statistical editor of force, information and ability.

Mr. Greeley's editorial work on the New Yorker was a sort of literary spring-time to him. The paper itself was much more largely literary than the Tribune now is. In his editorial writing in those days, moreover, there is a certain rhetorical plentifulness of expression which the seriousness and the pressures of an overcrowded life have long ago cut sharply and closely off; and he even frequently indulged in poetical compositions. This ornamental material, however, was certainly not his happiest kind of effort. Mr. Greeley does his best only by being wholly utilitarian. Poetry and rhetoric appear as well from his mind as a great long red feather would, sticking out of his very oldest white hat.

The great work of Mr. Greeley's life, however—The New York Tribune—had not begun yet, though he was thirty years old. Its commencement was announced in one of the last numbers of the Log Cabin, for April 10, 1841, and its first number appeared on the very day of the funeral solemnities with which New York honored the memory of President Harrison. Mr. Greeley's own account, in one of his articles in the New York Ledger, is an interesting statement of his Theory of a Political Newspaper. He says:

"My leading idea was the establishment of a journal removed alike from servile partizanship on the one hand, and from gagged, mincing neutrality on the other. Party spirit is so fierce and intolerant in this country, that the editor of a non-partizan sheet is restrained from saying what he thinks and feels on the most vital, imminent topics; while, on the other hand, a Democratic, Whig, or Republican journal is generally expected to praise or blame, like or dislike, eulogize or condemn, in precise accordance with the views and interest of its party. I believed there was a happy medium between these extremes—a position from which a journalist might openly and heartily advocate the principles and commend the measures of that party to which his convictions allied him, yet dissent frankly from its course on a particular question, and even denounce its candidates if they were shown to be deficient in capacity, or (far worse) in integrity. I felt that a journal thus loyal to its own convictions, yet ready to expose and condemn unworthy conduct or incidental error on the part of men attached to its party, must be far more effective, even partywise, than though it might always be counted on to applaud or reprobate, bless or curse, as the party prejudices or immediate interest might seem to prescribe."

Mr. Greeley has now been the chief editor of the Tribune for twenty-six years, and the persistent love with which he still regards his gigantic child strikingly appears in the final paragraph of the same article:

"Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; riches take wings; the only earthly certainty is oblivion—no man can foresee what a day may bring forth; and those who cheer to-day will often curse to-morrow; and yet I cherish the hope that the Journal I projected and established will live and flourish long after I shall have moldered into forgotten dust, being guided by a larger wisdom, a more unerring sagacity to discover the right, though not by a more unfaltering readiness to embrace and defend it at whatever personal cost; and that the stone which covers my ashes may bear to future eyes the still intelligible inscription, 'Founder of The New York Tribune.'"

The Tribune began with some 600 subscribers. Of its first number 5,000 copies were printed, and, as Mr. Greeley himself once said, he "found some difficulty in giving them away." At the end of the first week the cash account stood, receipts, $92; expenditures, $525. Now the proprietor's whole money capital was $1,000, borrowed money. But—as has more than once been the case with others—an unjust attack on the Tribune strengthened it. An unprincipled attempt was made by the publisher of the Sun, to bribe and bully the newsmen and then to flog the newsboys out of selling the Tribune. The Tribune was prompt in telling the story to the public, and the public showed that sense of justice so natural to all communities, by subscribing to it at the rate of three hundred a day for three weeks at a time. In four weeks it sold an edition of six thousand, and in seven it sold eleven thousand, which was then all that it could print. Its advertising patronage grew equally fast. And what was infinitely more than this rush of subscribers, a steady and judicious business man became a partner with Mr. Greeley in the paper, at the end of July, not four months from its first issue. This was Mr. Thomas McElrath, whose sound business management undoubtedly supplied to the concern an element more indispensable to its continued prosperity, than any editorial ability whatever.

The Tribune, as we have seen, like the infant Hercules in the old fable, successfully resisted an attempt to strangle it in its cradle. From that time to this, the paper and its editor have lived in a healthy and invigorating atmosphere of violent attacks of all sorts, on grounds political, social, moral and religious. The paper has not been found fault with, however, for being flat or feeble or empty. The first noticeable disturbance after the Sun attack was the Fourierite controversy. Perhaps Mr. Greeley's Fourierism—or Socialism, as it might be better called—was the principal if not the sole basis of all the notorious uproars that have been, made for a quarter of a century about his "isms," and his being a "philosopher." During 1841 and several following years, the Tribune was the principal organ in the United States of the efforts then made to exemplify and prove in actual life the doctrines of Charles Fourier. The paper was violently assaulted with the charge that these doctrines necessarily implied immorality and irreligion. The Tribune never was particularly "orthodox," and while it vigorously defended itself, it could not honestly in doing so say what would satisfy the stricter doctrinalists of the different orthodox religious denominations. Moreover, the practical experiments made to organize Fourierite "phalanxes" and the like, all failed; so that in one sense, both the Fourierite movement was a failure, and The Tribune was vanquished in the discussion. But the controversy was a great benefit to the cause of associated human effort; and there can be no doubt that the various endeavors at the present day in progress to apply the principle of association to the easing and improving of the various concerns of life, present a much more hopeful prospect than would have been the case without the ardent and energetic advocacy of The Tribune.

The next quarrel was with "the Bloody Sixth," as it was called, i. e. the low and rowdy politicians of the Sixth Ward, then the most corrupt part of the city. These politicians and their followers, enraged at certain exposures of their misdeeds in the spring of 1842, demanded a retraction, and only getting a hotter denunciation than before, promised to come down and "smash the office." The whole establishment was promptly armed with muskets; arrangements were made for flinging bricks from the roof above and spurting steam from the engine boiler below; but the "Bloody Sixth" never came.

The Cooper libel suits were in consequence of alleged libelous matter about J. Fenimore Cooper, who was a bitter tempered and quarrelsome man, and to the full as pertinacious as Mr. Greeley himself. This matter was printed November 17, 1841. The first suit in consequence was tried December 9, 1842. The damages were laid at $3,000. Cooper and Greeley each argued on his own side to the Court, and Cooper got a verdict for $200. Mr. Greeley went home and wrote a long and sharp narrative of the whole, for which Cooper instantly brought another suit; but he found that his prospect this time did not justify his perseverance, and the suit never came to trial.

In 1844 Mr. Greeley worked with tremendous intensity for the election of Henry Clay, but to no purpose. In February, 1845, the Tribune office was thoroughly burnt out, but fortunately with no serious loss. The paper was throughout completely opposed to the Mexican War. In 1848, and subsequently, the paper at first with hopeful enthusiasm and at last with sorrow chronicled the outbreak, progress and fate of the great Republican uprising in Europe. During the same year Mr. Greeley served a three months' term in Congress, signalizing himself by a persistent series of attacks both in the House and in his paper, on the existing practice in computing and paying mileage—a comparatively petty swindle, mean enough doubtless, in itself, but very far from being the national evil most prominently requiring a remedy. This proceeding made Mr. Greeley a number of enemies, gained him some inefficient approbations, and did not cure the evil. In 1857 he went to Europe, to see the "Crystal Palace" or World's Fair at London, in that year. He was a member of one of the "juries" which distributed premiums on that occasion; investigated industrial life in England with some care; and gave some significant and influential information about newspaper matters, in testifying before a parliamentary committee on the repeal of certain oppressive taxes on newspapers. He made a short trip to France and Italy; and on his return home, reaching the dock at New York about 6 A. M., he had already made up the matter for an "extra," while on board the steamer. He rushed at once to the office, seizing the opportunity to "beat" the other morning papers, by an "exclusive" extra, sent off for the compositors, who had all gone to bed at their homes; began setting up the matter himself; worked away along with the rest until his exclusive extra was all ready, and then departed contentedly to his own home.

Mr. Greeley had always been a natural abolitionist; but, with most of the Whig party, he had been willing to allow the question of slavery to remain in a secondary position for a long time. He was however a willing, early, vigorous and useful member of the Republican party, when that party became an unavoidable national necessity, as the exponent of Freedom. With that party he labored hard during the Fremont campaign, through the times of the Kansas wars, and for the election of Mr. Lincoln. When the Rebellion broke out he stood by the nation to the best of his ability, and if he gave mistaken counsels at any time, his mistakes were the unavoidable results of his mental organization, and not in the least due to any conscious swerving from principle, either in ethics or in politics.

Mr. Greeley has at various times been spoken of as a candidate for State offices, and he undoubtedly has a certain share of ambition for high political position—an ambition which is assuredly entitled to be excused if not respected by American citizens. Yet any sound mind, it is believed, must be forced to the belief that his highest and fittest place is the Chief Editor's chair in the office of The Tribune. There he wields a great, a laboriously and honestly acquired influence, an influence of the greatest importance to Society. His friends would be sorry to see him leave that station for any other.

Mr. Greeley's character and career as an editor and politician can be understood and appreciated by remembering his key note:—Benevolent ends, by utilitarian means.

He desires the amelioration of all human conditions and the instrumentalities which he would propose are generally practical, common sense ones. Of magnificence, of formalities, of all the conventional part of life, whether in public or private, he is by nature as utterly neglectful as he is of the dandy element in costume, but he has a solid and real appreciation of many appreciable things, which go to make up the sum total of human advancement and happiness.

D. G. Farragut

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook