Published in Agricultural History, VII, 18 (January, 1933): 18-41. Transcribed into hypertext by Andrew Chrucky, August 11, 2004.


"Go West, young man, go forth into the Country."


The year 1836 found Horace Greeley the editor and joint-owner of a none too successful literary sheet, the New Yorker. A happy society luxuriating in prosperity was oblivious of his editorial efforts. Greeley, satisfied with existing conditions, was praising the goodness of everything and everyone.1 Only occasionally was his attention diverted to the theme of politics. He found little fault with the social and economic structure of the country, and all classes received substantial support in his paper. Even the principle of speculation was upheld as safe and sound.2

Then came the Panic of 1837. Banks suspended specie payments, industry slowed down, and the country found itself in the throes of a great business depression. It would seem that something was wrong with the economic and social structure of the country. The discouraging situation sorely needed constructive criticism and Greeley was prepared to give it. His oft-repeated epigram, "Go West, young man, go forth into the Country," dates from the beginning months of the year 1837.

On April 27, 1837, Greeley warned his friends in the West that they might expect to be overwhelmed with newcomers. The pecuniary troubles, high rents, dear living, and the reduced demand for labor would drive many to emigration who had never dreamed of it. He advised "every laborer, of whatever trade, to take up the march for the new country. . . . If he go prepared to throw off his coat, fare rudely, work heartily, sleep soundly, and rise reasonably, he will likely thrive there. . . . Ahem!"3 At least twenty thousand mechanics and thirty thousand seamstresses, he declared, were unemployed in New York City alone, and ought to be in the West. These laborers had a winter in prospect of fearful, unexampled severity. "Do not wait to share and increase its horrors. Fly -- scatter through the country -- go to the Great West -- anything rather than remain here. . . . Away then, hardy adventurers, to Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin . . . the West is the true destination."4 He preached emigration not as a cure for the distresses of the time, but as an alleviation of their most malignant consequences.

As might be expected, few people heeded Greeley's advice. His prediction of a terrible winter was fulfilled. There was untold misery among the unemployed. "As the cold months wore slowly on, the sufferings of the poor became so aggravated, and the number of unemployed increased to such a degree, that the ordinary means were inadequate to relieve even those who were destitute. . . . Some died of starvation. Some were frozen to death. . . . There had never been such suffering in New York before."5 That winter Greeley lived in the sixth ward, "then eminent for filth, squalor, rags, dissipation, want and misery."6 He was too poor to give money for the relief of the suffering, but he served on one of the visiting committees appointed to canvass his ward. "I thus saw extreme destitution more closely than I had ever before observed it," he declared. Worst of all was the pitiful plea of stout, resolute, single young men and women who answered: "We do not want alms; we are not beggars; we hate to sit here day by day idle and useless; help us to work, we want no other help: why is it that we have nothing to do?"7

The conditions incident to the Panic of 1837 made Greeley a socialist even more perhaps than the wretched environment of his youth. He pondered over them for two decades, their memory constantly rankling his brain to action. In 1837, he demanded restriction of immigration and revision of the naturalization laws, claiming that paupers were arriving in New York City at the rate of a thousand a day,8 but his old plea for laborers to take up agriculture remained his leading proposal.9 Throughout the year 1838 when he began the publication of the Jeffersonian, Greeley supported the farming industry. His ardor for the West as a haven for young men never waned.10

The failure of the country to return to better times forthwith caused many people to join the crusade for reform. No phase of American life, no matter how insignificant, escaped these individuals, eager to build a new Columbia. Many of the intellectuals of the country studied conditions in England, fearing that the United States might follow in her footsteps. In 1840, Greeley published a series of articles by William Ellery Channing in his new weekly, the Log Cabin.11 This series entitled "The Elevation of the Working Classes" was spiritual in its appeal, yet the author concluded with the stern economic advice that improvement in steam navigation would soon place Europe and America side by side. Channing hailed this development, but asked, "what is to be the effect of bringing the laboring classes of Europe twice as near as they are now. . . . Anything, everything should be done to save us from the social evils which deform the old world. . . . One thing is plain, that our present civilization contains strong tendencies to the intellectual and moral depression of a large portion of the community."12

Before the Harrison campaign of 1840, Greeley had become a Whig, looking to Henry Clay as his political idol. Thurlow Weed, as manipulator of the Whig Party, solicited Greeley's services in editing the campaign journal, the Log Cabin. Traditionally the Whigs were associated with the aristocratic interests of the country, but in 1840, they made an open plea for the laboring classes, and Greeley joined whole-heartedly in support of their cause.13 First, according to Greeley, the currency problem must be solved in the interests of the working masses.14 Secondly, a protective tariff was sorely needed to raise the standards of American labor.15

In 1842 Greeley embraced a new idea, a project in conflict with the philosophy of Whig leaders. Radical, extreme, and foolish in the eyes of most Americans, it was quite in keeping with his unbounded interest in the struggle of the lower classes. While groping for some solution of the nation's ills, he became acquainted with Albert Brisbane, an earnest advocate of Fourieristic socialism, who had just returned from France. Apparently Greeley came under his influence in 1840, for the word "phalanx," an expression of Fourierism, appeared in Log Cabin editorials for that year.

However, it was not until 1842 that Greeley included Brisbane's ideas in the columns of the Weekly Tribune, the paper launched the previous year by merging the New Yorker and the Log Cabin. As yet he had not wholly accepted Fourierism as a cure for all ills, for during this time he was still advising the redundant population to "go into the country" and advocating the formation of emigrant companies to aid poor men to move West.16 Yet he challenged those who ridiculed Brisbane's socialistic endeavors: "Do not stand there quarreling with those who have devised or adopted a scheme which you consider absurd or impracticable, but take hold and devise something better. For, be assured, friend! that this generation will not, must not pass without the discovery and adoption of some method whereby the Right to Labor and to receive and enjoy the honest reward of such labor, shall be secured to the poorest and least fortunate of our people."17

For three years Greeley preached a new order of society with Brisbane's socialistic ideas as its basis. Despite criticism from all sides, and especially from Thurlow Weed and other Whig leaders, he even went so far as to accept the presidency of the North American Association in 1844. At this time Brisbane was busily engaged in developing Brook Farm. All sorts of reforms found support in the Tribune, the Greeley heresies even embraced the antirenters, the Economites of Pennsylvania, the Zoarites and the Shakers. However, in 1847, after a series of printed debates with Henry J. Raymond of the New York Courier and Express, Fourierism was dropped abruptly from the columns of the Tribune.18 Either he found that it jeopardized his political connections with the Whig Party, or he came to believe that Brisbane's ideas were impracticable.

In 1844, Greeley became interested in George Henry Evans, a labor leader whose hopes for a new industrial order had been undermined by the Panic of 1837. Realizing the inefficaey of gain ing the desired ends by organizing labor, Evans, in the early forties, resolved upon the idea of free land as a means of attracting the redundant population westward, and consequently bringing about higher wages and better working conditions for the laboring man in the eastern industrial areas. For many years the public domain had been regarded as the safety valve of the American political and economic order.19 In 1841, the westerners secured the passage of the Preemption Act, an agrarian measure which democratized the land system, legalized trespassing on the public domain, and allowed persons who had settled a quarter-section of land the preference of buying that land at the established minimum price to the exclusion of all other persons.20 With the eastern laboring interests launching a crusade for free land in 1844, the time seemed ripe for an East and West agrarian alliance. The West naturally favored free land; it was the logical consequence of the preemption victory of 1841. The success of such a union would depend very largely upon the strength of eastern labor forces, for the East was the stronghold of conservatism, a region of manufactures, employers, and property holders fearful of all leveling influences and determined upon maintaining the established order.

That Horace Greeley, supporter of Whig principles and the exemplar of Clay conservatism, should connect himself with this radical, agrarian movement for Land Reform seems almost incredible. His deep humanitarian feeling is the explanation of his crusade for free land. Throughout 1844 and 1845 Greeley carefully watched the activities of Evans and his crusade to establish "the Right to Labor and the Right to the Soil." The reports of the workingmen's associations and their conversion to ; Land Reform were printed in the columns of the Tribune. To the charge by the Courier and Express that he was a "Fourierist, an Agrarian, and an Infidel," Greeley replied,

"We admit and insist on the legal right of the owner of wild lands to keep them uninhabited forever, but we do not consider it morally right that he should do so when land becomes scarce and subsistence for the landless scanty and precarious. . . . yes, . . . something will be done, in spite of any stupid clamor that can be raised about 'Infidelity' and 'Agrarianism,' to secure future generations against the faithful evils of Monopoly of Land by the few."21

On October 1, 1845, the World's Convention of Reformers met in New York City, adopting as their motto, "Let's All be Unhappy Together." Robert Owen was elected president of the gathering. John A. Collins, in diagnosing the nation's ills, said, "All agree that society is sick -- very sick -- but few can agree as to the nature of the complaint whether it is dispepsia or dropsy -- headache or heartache. . . . But all agree in one thing -- that it is high time to send for the doctor." L. W. Rychman insisted that the lands are owned by society, -- that "the only true title to land is the obligation to cultivate." George Henry Evans declared in favor of free land, representing the plea of his organization of National Reformers. And finally, Alvan E. Bovay "contended for the right of every individual to a free use of the soil for the purposes of subsistence."22

Greeley was more than lukewarm in his sympathy for the principles of these reformers. He studied the columns of Evans's paper, Young America; he attended their weekly meetings; and finally, when they decided to enter politics by nominating individuals for the state elections, he reprinted their ideas in the Tribune. Placards reading "Vote Yourself a Farm" were distributed everywhere.23 They also aspired to form a true American party which would advocate the cessation of public land sales and the establishment of the principle of allowing every landless man a quarter-section from the public domain.24 If this measure could be enacted, wealth would consist of the accumulated products of human labor, instead of the "hoggish Monopoly of the products of God's Labor;" and it was thought that strife between capital and labor would then cease.

On October 14, 1845, the Industrial Congress of Workingmen met and the Young Americans were admitted into the Industrial Brotherhood.25 The principles of the Land Reformers were incorporated in the platform of the Industrial Brotherhood, and thus organized labor became a sponsor of the Land Reform movement.26 The eastern Land Reformers, by mustering the strength of the workingmen's associations of New England and the Middle States, attracted much attention, but as yet they lacked a real spokesman for their cause. Evans, in his Workingman's Advocate, together with a number of other reform papers, could not gain the consideration of all the classes. Greeley had not, up to this time, accepted the cause of the Land Reformers. After an attack by the New York Courier and Express, Greeley openly denied support of the Land Reformers and dared the Express to state just why it opposed the idea of free land.27

When the winter of 1845-46 brought intense suffering to the less fortunate in New York City, Greeley once more championed their cause. He estimated the number of jobless at thirty thousand heads of families, and called attention to the daily increases from immigration.28 This problem of destitution was peculiar to New York City alone, no other American city having a similar amount of poverty. Therefore, it was difficult for the rest of the country to understand Greeley's plea. Still under the influence of Fourierism, he proposed the erection of a charitable institution on an estate two miles square with workshops, cotton and woolen factories, and surrounded by farms. He asked for private aid and demanded a public levy, but these bounties would serve only as temporary expedients. He advised the unemployed to go to the farming districts, but the unemployed did not respond to his "back to the farm" ideas. None had money to buy land, and few knew anything about farming.

Under such conditions Greeley decided to risk a new adventure, one which he hoped would prove more successful than his participation in the Fourieristic movement. On January 23, 1846, he stated the problem and made his resolution: "Every day's reflection inclines us more and more to the opinion that the plan of holding and settling the Public Lands of our Union proposed by the little band who have taken the name of 'National Reformers' is the best that can be devised. . . . This system, with such modifications and safeguards as wisdom and experience may suggest would rapidly cover the yet unappropriated Public Domain with an independent, substantial yeomanry, enjoying a degree of Equality in Opportunities and advantages such as the world has not seen. . . . Secure all, so far as possible, a chance to earn a living; then if they will run away from the Soil and shiver and starve in cities, why there is no help for them but such as Charity will afford. But shame on the laws which send an able, willing man to the Alms-House or to any form of beggary when the Soil on which he would gladly work and produce is barred against Poverty and accorded by this Government of Freedmen to those alone who have money to pay for it, and therefore are to some extent able to do without it."29

This new proposal brought a storm of objurgation and vituperation from the opposition press. The Express declared that "the Tribune certainly deserves the cap and bells."30 From the Goshen Democrat came the statement: "If the plan should be adopted, we should soon have the whole contents of European poorhouses emptied down upon our fertile West." To this Greeley replied in a two-column editorial: "If 'the whole contents of European Poor-Houses' are to be 'emptied down' on us anywhere we certainly prefer that they should be planted on our Public Lands rather than in our Alms Houses."31 Similar attacks appeared in the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser and the Boston Daily Mail, the latter declaring, "We think it is much better in the long run for, that a man should purchase his land, and pay for it, than take it as a pauper entail."32

The fire of the opposition newspapers continued throughout 1846. In July, Greeley, boldly addressing the New York Constitutional Convention, asked that august body to declare itself in favor of Land Reform, adding that "To save the Public Lands from . . . monopoly -- to make them practically Free to actual settlers, otherwise landless, . . . is the duty of Congress, but there are still duties devolving upon you. . . . The Convention can forbid future aggregations of great Landed Estates. . . by breaking up of those which now exist in our State."33 He also asserted: "Our plan would save our city a good part of the heavy expense of Pauperism. . . . WTio ever heard of a farmer starving on his land?" The Philadelphia Public Ledger and the New York Globe answered Greeley in threatening tones; the latter, although admitting the frightful nature of poverty in New York City, stated that it could have no sympathy with the idea of land for the landless.34 The Express asserted that it had knocked Fourierism out of the Tribune and that very shortly it would knock Land Reform out of it.35

Regardless of the severe indictment which Greeley received at the hands of the opposition press, no editor was to be successful in forcing Land Reform out of the Tribune. Greeley's agrarian crusade bode ill for the conservative interests of the East and created dissension within the Whig Party.36 As a party it appealed to the laboring classes, but did little for them. Thurlow Weed was delighted to get the support of the Tribune, but deplored Greeley's adventure on the land question. In 1847, the New York Courier and Express attempted to read Greeley out of the party.37 Judged from its beginning, it looked as though Land Reform might very shortly become a national political issue. Such would have been its destiny had the issue not been engulfed in the slavery controversy, appearing daily amidst the politics connected with the Mexican War.

Greeley watched the progress of the homestead bill introduced in Congress by Representative Herrick of New York on March 9, 1846. This bill was backed by the National Reform Association. The House of Representatives refused to print it. On the same day, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee introduced his bill on this subject. Greeley reprimanded the House for refusing to print Herrick's bill and at the same time allowing the introduction of Johnson's. As for the latter, Greeley claimed that its idea was borrowed from the Land Reformers. While he was glad to see the principle perpetuated, yet he felt that Johnson's bill was not "speculative proof."38

Throughout 1847 Greeley's interest in Land Reform was constant. He pointed to Britain with its unemployment problem and the famine in Ireland. He elaborated Lord John Russell's proposal of devoting one million pounds sterling to the improvement of nearly five million acres of waste land in Ireland. He lauded Roebuck, a leading Liberal of the House, who had exclaimed, "Sir, I say that it is the duty of England . . . to insist that the Land shall maintain the People of Ireland." And in biting sarcasm he concluded his discussion: "Where are the Courier and Enquirers and Expresses of Great Britain?"39

In the light of Greeley's interest in Land Reform it is not difficult to understand his unbounded sympathy for the Irish. The opposition to his Irish program was considerable in New York and elsewhere, but he put his humanitarian crusade on a worldwide basis when he averred: "Put it in the strongest, most offensive light, and it affirms that the Right of the Human Race to live is older, stronger, more sacred, than the right of any individual to retain uncultivated or to exact his own price for liberty to cultivate a whole County or Province of God's earth."40 The Irish should be welcomed, for they will "bring and create wealth to an indefinite extent. The untilled lands of the great West, that require but moderate attention to be abundantly productive, can receive, occupy and reward a nation of industrious laborers. . . . Judging of the Future by the Past, the completion of this Century will exhibit a mighty empire resting upon the Great Lakes and the Northern Mississippi."41

After this spirited fight, Greeley took a trip into the Northwest, the first west of the Alleghenies since 1831. He showed considerable interest in the development of the copper mines in the Superior region.42 In Illinois he deplored the amount of vacant land held for speculation. His sincere belief in the imminent greatness of the West caused him to predict that by 1900 Chicago would surpass New York City in population.43 His proposal of a Pacific railroad is further evidence of his interest.44 Wisconsin received much praise for adopting the principle of homestead-exemption.45

With considerable pride Greeley surveyed the growth of Land Reform: "None who have not taken a decided interest in the subject can realize the rapidity with which the idea of a Reform in the Laws governing the acquisition and disposition of Land is spreading and finding favor in this country. Hardly two years have passed since it first attracted any share of public regard, yet at this moment we think not less than fifty periodicals earnestly advocate it."46

Attention now began to center around the campaign and election of 1848. In 1847, the Industrial Congress, in its second session, agreed to support the Liberty Party if it selected a candidate favoring Land Reform.47 Greeley, in October, 1847, expressed hope that the Whig Party would adopt measures pertaining to the improvement of social relations, especially Land Reform.48 With little hope of their doing so, he continued his flirtations with the Liberty Party, which was headed by Gerrit Smith and was already displaying Land Reform on its banners. At the same time he urged the Free-Soilers to "secure to each and all . . . a really Free Soil! -- especially free from the hated speculators."49

At the beginning of 1848 Greeley again denounced Congress for its failure to take up Land Reform. "Wages in many sections are falling while rents and food grow dearer, and employment becomes more and more scanty and precarious."50 He hailed with delight the convention of National Reformers, meeting at Cleveland, Ohio, on May 17, declaring that "these are among the first mutterings of a gathering tempest."51 The Industrial Congress in its third annual meeting at Philadelphia nominated Gerrit Smith of New York for president and William S. Wait of Illinois for vice-president, putting forward "Land Reform" as their main plank.62 The Land Reform movement was rapidly spreading westward to the region where it would naturally find ready support.

The force of slavery and the expansionist issue kept Land Reform from the limelight in 1848. Greeley caused much disruption in the Whig ranks by his refusal to support General Taylor, the Whig nominee; at the same time he bitterly attacked General Cass, the Democratic candidate, for his extensive speculation in western lands.53 Cass had just repudiated free soil. Taylor was an expansionist, and the Mexican War had resulted in the addition of territory which might prove suitable to the slavery-extension interests. Greeley desired the West to remain open to free institutions.

Probably Greeley would have supported any party in 1848 which openly favored Land Reform. When the Free-Soil Party met in convention at Buffalo in July, there was much hope among the Land Reformers that it would adopt the principle of free land as well as free soil. It nominated Martin Van Buren for president, but hedged on the issue of free land.64 Greeley, at first, did not feel that the Free-Soil platform was ambiguous. He wrote to Schuyler Colfax, "If I could make Van Buren president tomorrow, I would. . . . I do like the principles he now embodies -- Free Soil and Land Reform. . . . The Free Soil party is the only live party around us."65 But the Free-Soilers "missed a great opportunity of drawing in a large Western vote by not featuring the homestead issue."56 In the East, besides the Tribune, the principle had the open support of the New York Globe and the Philadelphia Daily Sun. With only Gerrit Smith's party having embraced Land Reform, the campaign was not too far gone to win Greeley back to the Whig fold. The Whigs sorely needed his support; Thurlow Weed placed Greeley's name on the New York ticket as a candidate for Congress to fill an unexpired term, and the Tribune returned to the support of Taylor and the Whigs.

With the Whig victory, Greeley became a member of the short session of Congress opening in December, 1848. On the second day of the session he gave notice that he would introduce a homestead bill. This he did on December 13, but it was not again referred to until February 27 when the committee asked to be released from further consideration of the subject.57 A western member of the House wanted to know why a New Yorker should busy himself with the disposition of the public domain. Greeley replied that "he represented more landless men than any other member" on the floor of Congress.58 The bill was tabled, only twenty members seeming to favor it,59 and thus ended Greeley's attempt to convert Congress to Land Reform. Neither party wanted to sponsor a measure so akin to the dangerous slavery issue. With the conservatives of both parties in control, there was little hope for Land Reform.

Notwithstanding, economic forces were rapidly moulding a situation that would make for the fruition of the Land Reform movement. The influx of immigrants from Ireland and Germany afforded a supply of labor which could not be drained off by the West. An oceanic transportation system was being developed which would aid in the maintenance of the labor reserve in the East. The growth of the factory system called for wide markets. Farms carved from the forests and prairies would supply this need. The development of canals and railroads was creating an East and West economic alliance. Never before were prospects brighter for the realization of Clay's American System which Greeley advocated daily in the columns of the Tribune. If the Whigs were to sponsor this new economic order, then it was necessary that they discard their old scruples on western agrarianism and admit the principle of free land. This gradual shifting of the economic center of gravity was soon to cause many manufacturers and employers to align themselves with the Land Reformers.

Greeley was not slow in sensing these economic tendencies. In the 1840's he had emphasized the advantages of free land to the working classes; in the 1850's his philosophy of the soil broadened, and included a direct appeal to the manufacturers and employers of the East. This new turn in the crusade for free land was clearly evident in the columns of the Daily Tribune, its main circulation being in the population centers of the East.60

"Every smoke that rises in [the] Great West marks a new customer to the counting rooms and warehouses of New York," declared Greeley.61 Fewer paupers and fewer tenants would mean more produce, more markets, and consequently more wealth.62 "Every thousand hardy, efficient workers who float West on Free Lands would leave places open for as many others; and these taking a step upward, would leave room for advancement of as many more and so on. Even to those workers who will never migrate, Free Land at the West would be a great and lasting benefit."63 And lastly, he avowed, "It [free land] will enable us to appeal forcibly to the settler of the New States for Protection to the exposed Industry of their Atlantic brethren by whom they have been dealt with generously."64

Greeley's appeal also became broader in its humanitarian aspects. The soil, he declared, was God's gift to man. Frequent references were made to the laws promulgated by Moses.65 At one time he quoted from Leviticus 25:23, "The land shall not be sold forever; for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me."66 From this quotation he deduced that to sell land as "mere merchandise, like molasses or mackerel" was a sin.67 Later he asserted that "Every bird, every beast has a home, which he inhabits and enjoys without apprehension of ejection or deprivation, at least by his own species. Man alone erects houses for others to inhabit and enjoy. And is the time not at hand when every free citizen shall have his own home if he will?"68

The first and second editions of his book, Hints Toward Reforms, appearing in 1851 and 1853, respectively, included important essays on "The Right to Labor," "Land Reform," and "Coming to the City." His deep agrarian sympathy is asserted in the following statement: "The defeasance or confiscation of Man's natural right to use any portion of the Earth's surface not actually in use by another is an important fact, to be kept in view in every consideration of the duty of the affluent and comfortable to the poor and unfortunate."69 "What Nature indicates and Justice requires is Equal Opportunities to All."70 "National Reform is the broad and sure basis whereon all other Reforms may be safely erected. . . . It would hardly be possible to exaggerate the ultimate benefits of the proposed Reform, and the day of its triumph should be hailed by the poor and lowly as the birthday of their independence, as the Fourth of July is celebrated as that of the Nation."71

In 1850, Daniel Webster introduced a resolution in the Senate on free land which attracted considerable attention.72 It conformed quite closely to the bills put forward by the Land Reformers.73 In the same session of Congress, William H. Seward of New York introduced his bill providing for free land.74 Slowly, the northern Whig leaders were attracted to the ideals of the Land Reformers.

The Democratic Party, on the other hand, was confused on the land question. Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri had inaugurated the fight for free land in the early 1820's, and the West was almost completely won over to homesteading by 1852.75 Conspicuous in the organization of the movement in the Northwest was the National Reform Association of Chicago.76 By 1850, such progressive Democratic leaders as Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, and Sam Houston of Texas, had taken up the cause and were embarrassing the conservative slavery interests of the Old South, who already realized that free land meant free soil.77 More dissension was added to the ranks of the party in 1852 when a leading representative of northern Democracy, Galusha A. Grow, from David Wilmot's district in Pennsylvania, considering himself the true inheritor of Benton's views, entered the crusade for Land Reform in the interests of the laboring classes.73

So far as the politics of the years 1849 to 1854 was concerned, Greeley's columns of the Tribune were alive with editorials, letters, and comments relating to the progress of Land Reform. He was highly pleased when such Whig leaders as Seward and Webster took up the issue. He carefully reported the details of the Sixth Industrial Congress in the Tribune, for Seward and he had been earnestly considered by these Industrialists as possible candidates for president of the United States, and were only passed over at the last moment in favor of Isaac Walker of Wisconsin.79 Of the homestead bills in Congress in 1851-52, Greeley had been most vehement in support of Walker's bill, and when it went down to defeat early in 1852, he sarcastically remarked that "Land Reform was slapped in the face on Wednesday by that illustrious body, the United States Senate."80 Finally, in May of the same year, the House passed its first homestead bill, and Greeley joyfully proclaimed, "Free Homes for the Homeless is thus affirmed as American principle and American policy. May it never be departed from! That one vote [107 to 56] is worth more to our country and to Mankind than all Congress has done for the last half-dozen years."81 Congress had been so zealous in granting land bounties to soldiers and railroads, -- measures for the speculator, -- "now," asked Greeley, "why can't it grant the poor man a break?"82

There was considerable doubt in Greeley's mind that Land Reform could be made an issue in the campaign and election of 1852. The old parties "are exceedingly shy of the new questions which come up to divide the country," he charged; "For the moment at least, compact and thoroughgoing parties exist only with reference to a few questions of long standing. . . What chance is there of the Northern party, of which we have heard and spoken in times past?"83 He seemed to agree with the stand taken by the Albany State Register that "The Whig party needs purification."84 He was more than lukewarm in support of Webster for president, but he doubted that his connection with the Fugitive Slave Law would make him a desirable candidate.85

General Winfield Scott, in a letter accepting his nomination by the Whigs, stated that he favored settlement of the public domain by actual occupants only.86 But this was only a "hedge" on the issue. The Democrats made a worse muddle, and Greeley bitterly took both parties to task for dodging Land Reform.87 With the overwhelming Democratic victory, the homestead issue received a setback. The Democratic Party was daily becoming more and more embarrassed by the Land Reform movement.

With the election of Pierce, Greeley's hopes seemed shattered. At times he declared he was through with politics. He became more and more dissatisfied with the Whig Party and talked earnestly in favor of a Northern party. Because of this frame of mind, the rise of the Kansas-Nebraska question started him on a new course. Before 1853, he had been an antislavery advocate in the interest of humanitarianism, but in the Kansas-Nebraska measure of 1854 he saw both his humanitarian and economic principles thwarted. To Douglas's endeavor, Greeley curtly replied, "If Slavery is determined upon the conquest of free territory it will inevitably be resisted and paid in kind. . . . Let but the sentiment gain foothold that Slavery intends to make war upon the territory of freedom, and seize and appropriate whatever it can wrest from the hands of free labor, and the banner of reclamation will be raised."88 If slavery were allowed to enter the great Northwest, then every true Northerner would declare that "You have smitten the land with a curse which averts immigration, and prevents it from bearing its due part in the industry of civilization. You have spoiled an immense future market for the future product of our northwestern hive."89

The hard times of 1854 caused Greeley to become more bitter with everything and everyone. When hundreds of willing mechanics and laborers asked what they were to do, the editor of the Tribune answered them "in a lump:" "Go straight into the country -- go at once!"90 "Make the lands free tomorrow," he declared, "and millions of acres would be rapidly claimed and settled by men now loitering about our towns and villages."91 Although one might expect him to have been jubilant over the passage of a homestead bill in the House on March 6, he was discouraged, for, as he said, the real danger was not in the House but in the Senate. "A body that would pass so atrocious an act as the Nebraska iniquity will not be likely to follow it by one so beneficent."92 When the Senate passed the Graduation Act, which he termed a "speculator's boon," and defeated the homestead bill, he remarked "That the wisest and most beneficent idea of our age . . . should be rejected and defeated by the present Senate can surprise no one . . . it is perfectly well understood that the slave-breeding states cherish a special and intense hatred of this measure."93

To arrest the spread of slavery into the territories, a new party arose to take the place of the old Whig Party, and in its organization Greeley played a prominent part.94 While his main interest now centered in the antislavery crusade, he still found time to continue his prosecution of Land Reform, although such a measure could not be adopted immediately by the Republican Party. While on the platform committee of the Republican state convention at Syracuse in 1855, he had submitted a resolution demanding free land.95 Many labor organizations had joined the Republican Party, and they demanded free land second only to free soil.96 But homesteading could not be made an issue in 1856 as the Republican Party had all it could do to keep its various elements united on the plank of free soil.

The Panic of 1857 brought more suffering to the redundant thousands in the eastern cities. Western farmers were as hard pressed as the eastern laborers.97 Not until 1858 did the land question again become prominent in Congress. As Greeley justly claimed at the time, the action on the principle had been postponed "by the votes of those who supported the Lecompton and English bills."98 But "besides this 'peculiar interest'," he observed, "there is the great Railroad Land-Grant interest, which supposes it would be sadly damaged. . . . The Bounty Land warrant interest cannot be easily reconciled. . . . But, gentlemen speculators! you have had a long day and a merry one! . . . Your sun has shone and you have made your hay; now stand back and give the settlers a chance."99

Andrew Johnson and Galusha Grow received considerable attention in the columns of the Tribune as they marshalled the free-land forces in Congress.100 After looking over the legislation of the Thirty-fifth Congress, Greeley claimed that tribute was due to two champions above all others, namely, Benjamin Wade of Ohio and Galusha Grow of Pennsylvania. On February 25, 1859, Wade had summarized the slavery-homestead crisis as the question of whether "we give niggers to the niggerless, or land to the landless."101 At a Republican meeting in Toledo on April 21, 1860, Wade was hailed as the father of homesteading.102 "The rights of Free Labor," declared Greeley, "have seldom had a more clear-sighted and effective champion in Congress than old Ben Wade. . . . And Mr. Grow, whom we have seldom praised, and never greatly admired, has this Session evinced a fertility of resource . . . such as has rarely been exhibited on that floor. The passage of the homestead bill under Mr. Grow's leadership would of itself have suffered to confer honorable distinction."103

When the Homestead Bill reached the Senate Greeley was relentless in his efforts to persuade its passage by that body. "Why should the Senate hold back? Twice ere this had the House voted that every landless American citizen should be authorized to choose a patch of the Public Domain. . . . The Senate has repeatedly debated it. No Committee could shed fresh light upon it. Conscript Fathers! spare us your eloquence and give us the Yea's and Nay's! . . . The passage of the Free Homestead Bill will be a new Declaration of Independence -- the Emancipation of the industrious poverty. It would be fitly commemorated through future years."104 He warned the Democrats: "Can you afford to throw the question over into the next Presidential Election?"105 He then printed the names of the Senators from the free states who opposed the principle, and demanded that they get in line. As the time for the vote approached he expressed doubt that the bill would pass and prophesied that if it did President Buchanan would veto it.106

The Homestead Bill was destined to go through another stage of hectic wrangling, in which Grow and Johnson played the conspicuous parts. On March 8, 1860, before the Republican Party had held its convention, Greeley published in pamphlet form Grow's speech made in the House on February 29, 1860, claiming it to be "an advocacy of the Republican policy of granting the Public Lands in limited tracts to actual settlers for the bare cost of survey and sale."107 The Homestead Bill passed the House on March 12, and as it went to the Senate, Greeley again urged that the policy of evasion should not be continued. To the Democrats he hurled the biting statement: "Credible rumors import that Mr. Buchanan's Southern masters have pledged him to veto it. . . . And if it shall be again throttled whether by President or Senate, we shall be consoled by the hope that his act will go far to insure the triumph of the friends of Free Homesteads in the approaching Presidential election."108 Although Greeley did not like the provisions of the compromise bill passed by the Senate, he stated that it was better to take "a half-loaf" than no bread at all.109

The veto of President Buchanan on June 22, which could not be overridden, brought forth columns of wrath in the Tribune. After printing the bill in full and refuting every sentence of the veto message, Greeley concluded, "Such a veto as this of Buchanan's is one of the natural consequences of elevating to the Presidency a man who from past associations has no sympathy with the poor, and who regards only the interests of speculators. Does anybody suppose that Abraham Lincoln would ever veto such a bill?"110

The pressure of the slavery issue in 1860 caused the Republican Party to seek a compromise candidate from the West. The manner in which the platform of the Chicago convention was drawn indicates that the Northwest was considered the key to the election.111 Greeley, serving as a delegate from Oregon, arrived in Chicago several days before the convention opened.112 In January, after viewing the political possibilities in the Northwest, he had written from Davenport that no Democrat other than Douglas or Johnson, the latter an active proponent of the home-steading principle, could hope for success against the rising Republicanism.113 As a member of the platform committee, Greeley probably wrote the homestead plank.114 It is hardly an overstatement to say that all the new planks of the Republican platform were not so much the result of antislavery as of the growing industrial needs.115

Abraham Lincoln was elected president, but his victory did not secure the immediate enactment of the Republican platform. Only after the Southern states seceded was there a majority in both houses favorable to the program. Greeley, observing an attitude of watchful waiting, refused to allow the issues to rest. Early in 1862, he reminded Congress that the Chicago platform of 1860 was still up-to-date and that it was not an old-fashioned document.116 And still he advised the redundant thousands in the eastern cities: "Young men! Poor men! Widows! resolve to have a home of your own! If you are able to buy and pay for one in the East, very well; if not, make one in the broad and fertile West!"117 Go West, young man, go forth into the country!

When the Homestead Bill finally passed the Senate on May 6, 1862, Greeley, knowing that its progress henceforth would not be impeded, burst forth in the columns of his Tribune with unbounded praise: "We may congratulate the country on the consummation of one of the most beneficent and vital reforms ever attempted in any age or clime -- a reform calculated to diminish sensibly the number of paupers and idlers and increase the proportion of working, independent, self-subsisting farmers in the land evermore. Its blessings will be felt more and more . . . widely for the next twenty years. . . . The clouds that have darkened our National prospects are breaking away, and the sunshine of Peace, Prosperity and Progress, will ere long irradiate the land. Let us rejoice in and gather strength from the prospect."118

  1. New Yorker, Oct. 15, 1836.
  2. Ibid., Feb. 18, 1837.
  3. Ibid., April 22, 1837.
  4. Ibid., June 3, 1837.
  5. James Parton, The Life of Horace Greeley, 165-166 (Boston, 1889).
  6. Horace Greeley, Recollections of a Busy Life, 145 (New York, 1869).
  7. Ibid.
  8. New Yorker, June 17, 1837.
  9. Ibid., Sept. 23, Oct. 7, 1837.
  10. Jeffersonian, June 16, 23, 1838.
  11. Log Cabin, May 9 to July 18, 1840.
  12. Ibid., July 18, 1840.
  13. Both Webster and Harrison appealed to the laboring classes. See Ibid., Sept. 5, Oct. 3, 1840.
  14. Ibid., Sept. 26, 1840.
  15. New York Weekly Tribune, Jan. 1, 5, Nov. 12, 1842.
  16. Ibid., July 23, 1842; April 6, 1843.
  17. Ibid., July 20, 1843.
  18. Association Discussed; or, The Socialism of the Tribune Examined (New York, 547). These debates are printed in Charles Sotheran, Horace Greeley and Other Pioneers of American Socialism, 192-219 (New York, 1915).
  19. In the first labor newspaper in America, printed in 1828, there appeared a labor memorial to Congress in which one of the demands was for free land. See Mechanics' Free Press, Oct. 25, 1828, quoted in John R. Commons, and others, editors, A Documentary History of American Industrial Society, vol. 5, Labor Movement, 43-45, 46-47 (Cleveland, 1910).
  20. Roy M. Robbins, "Preemption, A Frontier Triumph," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 18:331-349 (December, 1931).
  21. New York Weekly Tribune, Aug. 4, 1845. For a discussion of Horace Greeley and the National Reform Association, see B. H. Hibbard, A History of the Public Land Policies, 358-365 (New York, 1924).
  22. Ibid., Oct. 11, 1845.
  23. See Commons, op. cit., 7:305-307.
  24. New York Weekly Tribune, Oct. 18, 1845.
  25. Evans's followers were called Land Reformers, National Reformers, Young Americans, etc.
  26. New York Weekly Tribune, Oct. 25, 1845.
  27. Ibid., Dec. 6, 1845.
  28. Ibid., Jan. 3, 1846.
  29. Ibid., Jan. 26, 1846; New York Daily Tribune, Jan. 23, 1846.
  30. From the New York Courier and Express, quoted in the New York Weekly Tribune, Jan. 31, 1846.
  31. Ibid., Feb. 14, 1846.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ibid., July 4, 1846.
  34. Philadelphia Public Ledger, July 11, 1846; New York Globe, July 11, 1846.
  35. Quoted from the Courier and Express in the New York Weekly Tribune, July 11, 1846.
  36. New York Weekly Tribune, Dec. 2, 1846.
  37. New York Courier and Express, Aug. 14, 1847.
  38. New York Weekly Tribune, April 18, 1846.
  39. Ibid. March 6, 1847.
  40. Ibid. April 24, 1847.
  41. Ibid.
  42. Ibid. July 17, 1847.
  43. Ibid. July 31, 1847.
  44. Ibid. June 26, Sept. 8, 1847
  45. Ibid. Sept. 11, 1847.
  46. Among these journals Greeley named the Herald of Truth (Cincinnati); Young America (New York City); Spirit of Freedom (Cleveland); Homestead Journal (Salem, Ohio); the Albany Freeholder; and National Reformer (Rochester). See New York Weekly Tribune, Oct. 9, 1847. Greeley forgot to mention any of the German newspapers, such as the Volk's Tribune.
  47. New York Weekly Tribune, June 12, 1847.
  48. Ibid., Oct. 2, 1847.
  49. Ibid., Nov. 20, 1847.
  50. Ibid., April 1, 1848.
  51. Ibid., June 3, 1848.
  52. Ibid., July 1, 1848.
  53. Ibid., Aug. 5, 1848.
  54. George M. Stephenson, The Political History of the Public Lands, from 1840 to 1862, 136 (Boston, 1917).
  55. Quoted in Constance M. Rourke, The Political History of the Public Lands, from 1840 to 1862, 136 (Boston, 1917).
  56. Stephenson, op. cit., 138.
  57. Congressional Globe, 30 Congress, 2 Session, p. 13 and 605.
  58. Greeley, Recollections of a Busy Life, 217.
  59. The Whig Almanac, 37-38 (New York, 1850).
  60. In 1845 it was estimated that there were two thousand newspapers published in the United States, and that six hundred of these supported Land Reform in 1850. See Selig Perlman, A History of Trade Unionism in the United States, 38 (New York, 1922). In one year, 1852-53, the circulation of the New York Daily Tribune increased from 17,640 to 26,880; the Semi-Weekly Tribune, from 3,120 to 11,400; and the Weekly Tribune, which circulated mostly in the mid-west, from 51,000 to 103,680. By 1854 Greeley's Tribune wielded more influence in America than any other newspaper. See Willard G. Bleyer, Main Currents in the History of American Journalism, 228 (New York, 1927). Bayard Taylor wrote that it came next to the Bible throughout the West. See James Ford Rhodes, Lectures on the Civil War, 30 (New York, 1913). The Tribune grew in circulation and influence until in 1860 the Weekly Tribune reached the almost incredible figure of 217,000.
  61. New York Daily Tribune, March 9, 1849.
  62. Ibid.
  63. Ibid., May 6, 1852.
  64. Ibid.
  65. Ibid., Dec. 28, 1849.
  66. Ibid., March 9, 1849.
  67. Ibid.
  68. Ibid., May 6, 1852.
  69. Horace Greeley, Hints Toward Reforms, 318 (New York, 1853).
  70. Ibid., 315.
  71. Ibid., 317.
  72. Congressional Globe, 31 Congress, 1 Session, p. 616.
  73. Stephenson, op. cit., 142; Senate Miscellaneous Document 32, 31 Congress, 1 Session.
  74. Congressional Globe, 31 Congress, 1 Session, p. 263.
  75. Stephenson, op. cit., 165.
  76. Arthur C. Cole, The Era of the Civil War, 1848-1870, 91 (Springfield, Ill., 1919).
  77. Andrew Johnson was the leading advocate of the principle in Congress. His first bill was introduced in 1846. See supra, p. 27. For Douglas' bill, see Congressional Globe, 31 Congress, 1 Session, p. 87. For Houston's bill, see Ibid., 262.
  78. See his speech of March 30, 1852 in the Appendix to the Congressional Globe, 32 Congress, 1 Session, p. 426-427. Grow's speeches contain many expressions that are the replica of those of the Land Reformers. Inasmuch as he was a close observer of the columns of the Tribune, having taken that newspaper since its first issue, one may conclude that Greeley, as well as Benton, had considerable influence upon Grow. See James T. Du Bois and Gertrude S. Mathews, Galusha A. Grow, Father of the Homestead Law, 288 (New York, 1917). Professor Commons declared that Grow's speeches were "merely an oratorical transcript" from the Working Man's Advocate; see John R. Commons, "Horace Greeley and the Working Class Origins of the Republican Party," Political Science Quarterly, 24:484 (September, 1909).
  79. New York Weekly Tribune, June 14, 1851.
  80. Ibid., Jan. 24, 1852.
  81. Ibid., May 15, 1852.
  82. Ibid., May 22, 1852.
  83. Ibid., June 14, 1851.
  84. Quoted in Ibid., June 12, 1852.
  85. Ibid., March 20, 1852.
  86. Stephenson, op. cit., 146.
  87. New York Weekly Tribune, June 12, 1852.
  88. New York Semi-Weekly Tribune, Jan. 13, 1854.
  89. Ibid., Feb. 17, 1854.
  90. Ibid., July 3, 1854.
  91. Ibid., July 21, 1854.
  92. New York Weekly Tribune, March 7, 1854.
  93. New York Semi-Weekly Tribune, July 21, 1854.
  94. Professor Commons states that in the rise of the Republican Party "the greatest single factor was Horace Greeley and the New York Tribune." See, "Horace Greeley and the Working Class Origins of the Republican Party," op. cit., 488. At Ripon, Wisconsin, in 1854, Alvan E. Bovay, formerly associated with Evans and the Land Reformers of New York City, manipulated the first political organization to protest the Kansas-Nebraska Bill. See Ibid., 484.
  95. New York Weekly Tribune, Oct. 6, 1855.
  96. Ibid., Oct. 11, 1856.
  97. New York Daily Tribune, Dec. 25, 1858.
  98. New York Semi-Weekly Tribune, May 18, 1858.
  99. Ibid., Feb. 9, 1859.
  100. Ibid., May 21, 1858, Feb. 9, 1859.
  101. Congressional Globe, 35 Congress, 2 Session, p. 1354.
  102. New York Weekly Tribune, May 21, 1860. The same title was claimed by Andrew Johnson in 1858. See Robert W. Winston, Andrew Johnson: Plebeian and Patriot, 139 (New York, 1928).
  103. New York Semi-Weekly Tribune, May 8, 1859.
  104. Ibid., Feb. 9, 1859.
  105. Ibid., Feb. 22, 1859.
  106. Ibid., March 4, 1859.
  107. New York Daily Tribune, March 8, 1860. This speech was later included in the Political Textbook for 1860 (New York, 1860), prepared by Greeley and John F. Cleveland; see p. 182-193.
  108. New York Daily Tribune, March 19, 1860.
  109. New York Weekly Tribune, June 23, 1860.
  110. Ibid., June 30, 1860.
  111. William E. Dodd, "The Fight for the Northwest, 1860," American Historical Review, 16:774-788 (July, 1911). Professor Dodd feels that the homestead issue greatly influenced the vote in Illinois and perhaps the rest of the Northwest; see Ibid., 787.
  112. Parton, op. cit., 445.
  113. Dubuque Herald, Sept. 26, 1860, quoted in Stephenson, op. cit., 234. The support of the homesteading principle by the German and Scandinavian element should not be overlooked; see, Emerson D. Fite, The Presidential Campaign of 1860, 250, 262 (New York, 1911).
  114. Greeley spent much time in an effort to bring the doubtful states in line with the principles of the platform. See, Fite, op. cit., 126.
  115. Ibid., xiii.
  116. New York Daily Tribune, March 21, 1862.
  117. Ibid., June 6, 1862.
  118. New York Semi-Weekly Tribune, May 9, 1862. The Homestead Act was printed in full in the issue of May 23. Act of May 20, 1862, Statutes at Large, 12: 392.