A comprehensive biography of Greeley (1811–72), deftly analyzing the price he paid to brook no intrusion, partisan or otherwise, on his principles.
Fresh from apprenticing as a typesetter in small printing shops in New England and upstate New York, the 23-year-old Greeley arrived in New York City to found the weekly opinion journal, the New Yorker, in 1834. Seven years later, he started a newspaper, the Herald Tribune. By hiring savvy reporters and columnists like Samuel Clemens (even Karl Marx was a foreign contributor) Greeley built the Trib into perhaps the world’s most widely read daily, and the most trusted in America at the time of the Civil War. He beat the drum for an expansionist—“go West”—America based on freedom and equal opportunity for all; free, that is, from the institution of slavery Greeley had come to abhor. To maintain integrity by his own standard, Williams stresses, Greeley not only had to turn against the Republican Party he helped found, but also to criticize the president he had anointed. (Lincoln himself, however, never wavered in his regard for Greeley, once a fellow Congressman who, when appointed to fill an open seat, dared call Honest Abe to account for padding his travel expenses.) Even after he had “committed political suicide,” Williams notes, by funding a bail bond for former Confederate president Jefferson Davis, Greeley entered the 1872 campaign opposing U.S. Grant as the presidential candidate of the reformist Liberal Republican party and, without seeking it, also won the Democrats’ nomination. His former Republican cohorts promptly moved to discredit him with vicious attacks tying him to everything from the Ku Klux Klan to New York’s ultra-corrupt Boss Tweed administration. The experience, the author reckons, likely hastened his death.
Powerful portrait of a publisher who became the voice of Middle America during the nation’s deepest crisis.