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Horace Greeley 1892

by Alexander Doyle

It’s a much loved story that after Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech, he went to McSorley’s pub for a beer. It is also said that he and Horace Greeley went to the New-York Tribune building to watch over the typesetting and proofing of the speech for publication in the next day’s paper. But when standing in Greeley Square at 33rd St and 6th Ave, in front of the bronze statue of Horace Greeley, created in 1892 by Alexander Doyle – it’s a little easier to believe the story about the Tribune.

Horace Greeley, born February 3, 1811, was famous for founding The New-York Tribune. The paper began publishing on April 10, 1841 and set a standard for journalistic integrity in stark contrast to the sensationalism of rival publications, such as the New York Herald. Semi-independent, it represented a editorial innovation – it tempered its Whig political leanings with a social conscience. It gave ink to many of Greeley’s strongly held causes including workers’ rights, women’s rights, scientific farming and most notably the abolition of slavery. Those views on slavery led to one of the most famous exchanges of the Civil War. On August 19th 1862, Greeley wrote an open letter in the paper to then President Lincoln, criticizing his failure to make slavery the dominant issue of the war. Lincoln responded,”My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it.” Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation one month later.

Because of Greeley’s political convictions, he aspired to be more than a newspaperman. Having briefly served as Congressman from 1848 to 1849, he ran unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives in 1850, 1868, and 1870, for the U.S. Senate in 1861 and 1863 and for President in 1872. During his presidential bid, his ardent positions were attacked and derided. He was depicted as a fool in the press, most notably by political cartoonist Thomas Nast. He lost the campaign – Ulysses S. Grant beat him in the popular vote and later, after he died, defeated him in the electoral vote as well. He was the only candidate in history to pass away before the electoral vote was cast. It was just one of the losses Greeley faced at the very end of his life. His wife passed and he lost control of the Tribune to Whitelaw Reid.

The posture of the figure of Greeley, sitting in a chair, with a copy of the The New-York Tribune in one hand, seems to convey a sense of defeat. Maybe Lincoln should have bought him a beer.

– Lily Herzan, Ali Houston and Carol Cofone