Horace Greeley and the Politics of Reform in Nineteenth-Century America

By Williams, Robert C. | The Historian, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

Horace Greeley and the Politics of Reform in Nineteenth-Century America


Williams, Robert C., The Historian


Horace Greeley and the Politics of Reform in Nineteenth-Century America. By Mitchell Snay. (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2011. Pp. x, 198. $40.00.)

This splendid, short biography of Horace Greeley [1811-1872] situates him effectively in the historical context of reform and republicanism in nineteenth-century America. Better known in his time than in ours, Greeley gained fame as the slang-writing and sharp-tongued editor of the New York Tribune, antislavery advocate, reformer, founder of the new Republican Party, and losing candidate for US president at the end of his life.

Mitchell Snay, a historian who has written about race, religion, and slavery in the Civil War era, traces Greeley's career from his Vermont boyhood through his discovery of print culture and Whig politics in New York City to the antebellum politics of reform, antislavery, and Union and then to the era of Reconstruction that followed the bloody Civil War. He emphasizes the values that ran through Greeley's entire life--the moral significance of labor and hard work, the need to reform society so that all citizens would be free and equal, and the universalist belief in the salvation of each and every person. Greeley hoped for virtuous citizens who would keep corruption from the corridors of power in the Republic. He believed in progress, improvement, and freedom. And he fought for harmony, rather than conflict, between laboring and capitalist classes.

Greeley was antislavery but not abolitionist. He befriended Margaret Fuller and Elizabeth Cady Stanton but could not bring himself to support women's suffrage. He was a capitalist who flirted with Fourier's associationism and published Marx and Engels. …

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