Horace Greeley, founder and editor of the New York Tribune, was a favorite target of political cartoonists. He was tall and skinny, and walked the streets of Manhattan wearing wrinkled trousers, a white linen coat, knee-high boots, and a top hat. His pockets overflowed with scraps of notepaper bearing his illegible scrawl. His face was wreathed in an ear-to-ear set of white whiskers. His appearance was that of a harmless eccentric or absent-minded professor.
In fact, inside his unusual exterior lay the most brilliant, influential, and incorruptible newspaperman of the momentous era of 1840-1872—the creator, historians have said, of modern journalism.
Greeley was a born crusader, and his lucid Tribune editorials railed against business monopolies, crooks in Congress, capital punishment, withholding the vote and equal rights for women, and above all, the evils of slavery. In other campaigns, he wrote against the unhealthy effects of corsets on the female body, and he urged young men to “go west.”
Early in his career as editor, he advised young and ambitious Americans to escape the smothering boundaries of the eastern seaboard. An early version of this counsel appeared in an August, 1838 issue of his short-lived journal, New Yorker: “If any young man is about to commence in the world, we say to him, publicly and privately, Go to the West.”
In those days, before the great wagon train migrations to Oregon and California, “West” for Greeley and other Yankees lay not far beyond Erie, Penn. In his later rendering of the line, he meant the far West and by then had taken his own advice. In 1859 he traveled, mostly by stagecoach, from New York to California. (Later, Greeley, Colo., was founded by reporter Nathan C. Meeker, who named the town in honor of his famous editor at the New York Tribune.)
While a man of many accomplishments, Horace Greeley is remembered today for the words of advice he gave to disgruntled young bureaucrats in Washington, who were underpaid and barely surviving the capitol’s ruinous cost of living: “Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.”