A Glimpse of the Young Newspaperman Horace Greeley

Horace-Greeley with the staff of his New York Tribune, prior to 1860 (Courtesy Library of Congress)

Most surviving likeness of the New-York Tribune editor Horace Greeley (1811-1872) are either caricatures or photographs taken in his later years.  In political cartoons, he is often depicted wearing tiny spectacles, a top hat, and a voluminous overcoat with bulging pockets (one of his sartorial trademarks).  In the post-Civil War photographs, Greeley is plump and sports a fringe of white beard, a little like Santa Claus but with beady eyes.

Now a group portrait of Greeley with his editorial staff (above) has surfaced.  The photograph, in the Library of Congress’s collections, dates from before the Civil War and captures the influential newspaperman’s appearance when he was fairly young.  Greeley is seated second from the right.  He is clean-shaven, slope-shouldered, slight, and un-bespectacled.  Like his associates, he has a rumbled and rakish appearance.  What hair he has hangs down in locks; he is already going bald.

Greeley’s story was well-known to his contemporaries: how he had left his impoverished parents, who were farmers in upstate New York, to become a printer’s apprentice at an early age.  How, after learning the trade, he had followed the path of the Erie Canal east and, from Albany, eventually reached New York City.  How he had risen to power publishing papers that supported the interests of William Seward and his brilliant political manager Thurlow Weed.  And how Greeley had built the New-York Tribune from nothing into one of the most widely read papers in the United States.  This he did by assembling great talent around him, as well as by writing voluminously himself.  Supposedly, he wrote standing at a lectern rather than sitting at a desk.  In 1872, distressed with the low condition of the political parties, he allowed himself to be persuaded to run for the presidency.  Aside from a few months’ service as a US congressman in 1848-9, he had never held political office.  Even before his defeat became official, Horace Greeley died.

Image: Courtesy of the Library of Congress
via this source

Seated (left to right) with Greeley in the front row are financial editor George M. Snow, noted author Bayard Taylor, and literary editor George Ripley.  Standing, left to right, are music editor William Henry Fry, Greeley’s right-hand man Charles Anderson Dana, and Henry J. Raymond, who would go on to found a competing paper, The New York Times.  Mathew Brady, or someone who worked for him, took the picture.

2 responses

  1. Nice article about an important historical man. Were his writings conservative or liberal ?

    • Good question. Before the Civil War, he was slow to join the anti-slavery movement because, in his view, the Northern economy was prone to what in those days was called ‘wage slavery.’ He had very ambivalent feelings about industrialization and about the growth of an economy that drew people off the land. Greeley wanted everyone to have freedom and enjoy financial autonomy, preferably by owning and working their own land. He saw this was vanishing as a reality in the 1850s, so he felt it was hypocritical to criticize the slave-holding South. As sectionalism heightened in the mid-1850s, however, he did become a convert to the anti-slavery movement, lending his newspaper’s influence to the cause.
      As a presidential candidate in 1872, he represented a third-party movement that opposed the direction President US Grant was taking and the corruption of his administration.