The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (190721).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.
XXI. Newspapers, 17751860.
§ 20. Horace GreeleyThe New York Tribune.
|The New York Tribune under Horace Greeley exhibited the best features of the new and semi-independent personal journalism based upon political beginnings and inspired with an enthusiasm for service that is one of the fine characteristics of the period. In editing the New Yorker Greeley had acquired experience in literary journalism and in political news; his Jeffersonian and Log Cabin, popular campaign papers, had brought him into contact with politicians and extended his acquaintance with the masses. Being with all his independence a staunch party man, he was chosen to manage a party organ when one was needed to support the Whig administration of Harrison, and the prospectus of the New York Tribune appeared 3 April, 1841. Greeleys ambition was to make the Tribune not only a good party paper, but also the first paper in America, and he succeeded by imparting to it a certain idealistic character with a practical appeal which no other journal possessed. His sound judgment appeared in the unusually able staff which he gathered about him. Almost from the first, the staff which made the Tribune represented a broad catholicity of interests and tastes, in the world of thought as well as in the world of action, and a solid excellence in ability and in organization which were largely the result of the genius of Greeley and over which he was the master spirit. It included Henry J. Raymond, who later became Greeleys rival on the Times, George M. Snow, George William Curtis, Charles A. Dana, Bayard Taylor, George Ripley, William H. Fry, Margaret Fuller, Edmund Quincy, and Charles T. Congdon. It is easy to understand how with such a group of writers the idea of the literary newspaper, which had been alive from the beginning of the century, should have advanced well-night to its greatest perfection.
| The great popular strength of the Tribune doubtless lay in its disinterested sympathy with all the ideals and sentiments which stirred the popular mind in the forties and fifties. We cannot afford, Greeley wrote, to reject unexamined any idea which proposes to improve the moral, intellectual, or social condition of mankind. He pointed out that the proper course of an editor, in contrast to that of the time-server, was to have an ear open to the plaints of the wronged and suffering, though they can never repay advocacy, and those who mainly support newspapers will be annoyed and often exposed by it; a heart as sensitive to oppression and degradation in the next street as if they were practiced in Brazil or Japan; a pen as ready to expose and reprove the crimes whereby wealth is amassed and luxury enjoyed in our own country as if they had only been committed by Turks or Pagans in Asia some centuries ago. In conformity with these principles Greeley lent his support to all proposals for ameliorating the condition of the labouring men by industrial education, by improved methods of farming, or even by such radical means as the socialistic Fourier Association. He strongly advocated the protective tariff because he believed that it was for the advantage of the workingman; and the same sympathy led him to give serious attention to the discussion of womens rights with special reference to the equal economic status of women. There were besides many lesser causes in which the Tribune displayed its spirit of liberalism, such as temperance reform, capital punishment, the Irish repeals, and the liberation of Hungary.
| On the most important question of the time, the abolition of slavery, Greeleys views were intimately connected with party policy. His antipathy to slavery, based on moral and economic grounds, placed him from the first among the mildly radical reformers. But his views underwent gradual intensification. Acknowledged the most influential Whig editor in 1844, he had by 1850 become the most influential anti-slavery editorthe spokesman not of Whigs merely but of a great class of Northerners who were thoroughly antagonistic to slavery but who had not been satisfied with either the non-political war of Garrison or the one-plank political efforts of the Free Soil party. This influence was greatly increased between 1850 and 1854 by some of the most vigorous and trenchant editorial writing America has ever known. The circulation of the Tribune in 1850 was, all told, a little less than sixty thousand, two-thirds of which was the Weekly. In 1854 the Weekly alone had a circulation of 112,000 copies. But Rhodes has pointed out that even this figure is not the measure of the Tribunes peculiar influence, for it was pre-eminently the journal of the rural districts, and one copy did service for many readers. To the people in the Adirondack wilderness it was a political bible, and the well-known scarcity of Democrats there was attributed to it. Yet it was as freely read by the intelligent people living on the Western Reserve of Ohio, and in Wisconsin and Illinois. The work of Greeley and his associates in these years gave a new strength and a new scope and outlook to American journalism.