March 22

Horace Greeley

In 1834 upon this day a new sixteen page weekly named the New Yorker was published. It was edited by a young compositor from Vermont by the name of Horace Greeley, then just twenty-three years of age. In his opening statement, the youthful editor wrote, “Our paper is not blazoned through the land as ‘The Cheapest Periodical in the World,’ or any of the captivating clap-traps wherewith enterprising gentlemen are wont to usher in their excessive experiments on the gullibility of the Public.”

Although the periodical began with just fifty paid subscriptions, within a year the number had risen to 4,500, justifying the skill of Greeley as an editor. Just twelve years previously, when he was eleven years old, Horace Greeley had walked eight miles from his home in the village of Westhaven, Vermont to Whitehall in adjoining New York state to ask for the job of apprentice in a printing office. He was turned down as being too young. Four years later, when there was a similar opening in the office of the Northern Spectator in East Poultney, Vermont, the boy again applied. This incident was related by Greeley’s first biographer, James Parton, in The Life of Horace Greeley, written in 1855.

Greeley tramped the twelve miles down the Rutland Road to the home of Amos Bliss, publisher of the weekly, and found him planting potatoes in his garden.

“Are you the man that carries on the printing office?” he enquired.

Bliss later recalled that he saw a boy in rough farmer’s clothes, worn-down shoes, no stockings and an old hat that looked more like a two-quart measure inverted than anything else. He admitted that he was the man.

“Don’t you want a boy to learn the trade?” asked the stranger.

“Well,” said Bliss, “we have been thinking of it. Do you want to learn to print?”

“I’ve had some notion of it,” said the backwoods boy.

Bliss gazed at him in astonishment. “Well, my boy,—but, you know, it takes considerable learning to be a printer. Have you been to school much?”

“No, I haven’t had much chance at school. I’ve read some.”

“What have you read?”

“Well, I’ve read some history, and some travels, and a little of most everything.”

“Where do you live?”

“At Westhaven.”

“How did you come over?”

“On foot.”

Bliss sent Greeley over to see his foreman, who sent the boy back with a note saying that he should be taken on. That evening one of the other apprentices asked whether Bliss was going to hire “that tow-head” and the publisher replied, “I am, and if you boys are expecting to get any fun out of him, you’d better do it quick, or you’ll be too late. There’s something in that tow-head.”

There was indeed. After his original success with the New Yorker Greeley launched the New York Tribune which soon became the best newspaper in New York. He went on to become America’s most respected editor for a period of thirty years. In 1872 he was nominated to run for the office of President of the United States, against the incumbent, U.S. Grant. He was defeated by a wide margin, carrying only six states. The disappointments and hard work of the campaign, during which he was seriously villified, contributed to his death less than a month after the close of the campaign.

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