Horace Greeley's New-York Tribune: Civil War-Era Socialism and the Crisis of Free Labor

By Rbodes, Sonny | Journalism History, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Horace Greeley's New-York Tribune: Civil War-Era Socialism and the Crisis of Free Labor


Rbodes, Sonny, Journalism History


Tuchinsky, Adam. Horace Greeley's New-York Tribune: Civil War-Era Socialism and the Crisis of Free Labor. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2010. 312 pp. $59.95.

It is appropriate that I finished this book on Labor Day. Besides newspaper editor Horace Greeley, it partly focuses on nineteenth-century labor problems, and it was a labor to get through a few of its chapters. That is not to say that the book is not worthwhile. It provides a thoughtful analysis of politics and labor problems during America's early years and also offers insights into one of the most-influential journalists of the 1800s.

Greeley, born on a New Hampshire farm in 1811, was mostly self-educated and moved around in his early career as a printer, settling in 1831 in New York City, where he opened a print shop. In 1834, he made his first foray into publishing with a literary periodical, the New-Yorker, in which, alongside reprinted jokes and popular songs, he opined on such topics as slavery, the treatment of Native Americans, and labor. A reformer, he became involved in Whig politics and, after the New-Yorker folded during a financial crisis in 1 837, he worked as editor of a campaign newspaper, The Jeffersonian, which was later renamed the Log Cabin.

He founded the Tribune in 1 84 1 , making it a platform for his literary and political interests, and through it, he would become a national leader. By 1860, the newspaper had editions on both coasts and a circulation totaling 247,000, making it the largest paper in the country. Greeley ultimately made an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1 872 and died shortly after his defeat.

Tuchinsky devoted a decade to researching and writing about Greeley. At first, intending to write a history of New York's 1 850s counterculture, he changed the focus to Greeley and the Tribune after a year of research. The depth of this research is reflected throughout the well-documented 241 -page narrative, which is followed by forty-one pages of notes and a twenty-page bibliography. He thoroughly discusses Greeley, who used his Tribune to further such causes as socialism, vegetarianism, and abolitionism. He also pictures the journalist as a person of contradictions, such as advocating peaceful secession in 1860-61, and then, within a year, urging aggressive civil war.

The author includes sections on notable Tribune editors and correspondents, including Albert Brisbane, Charles Dana, and Margaret Fuller. Tuchinsky credits Brisbane and Greeley with launching socialism in the United States. Brisbane was a New Yorker who studied in Europe and was tutored by Charles Fourier, the founder of a form of communitarian socialism that came to bear his name.

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