At his death in 1878, William Cullen Bryant had been, for fifty-one years, the chief editor and a principal owner of the New York Evening Post. The paper had been started in 1801 by another young lawyer, William Coleman, in association with the Federalist politician Alexander Hamilton. Coleman was still in effective control of the Post when he was disabled in a carriage accident in 1827, having the previous year hired Bryant as a reporter on his journal.
Though Coleman may have sought his services on the Evening Post in 1826 because of his distinction as a poet, Bryant was by then already a proficient writer for both magazines and newspapers. During the past eight years he had published more than fifty critical and familiar essays. He had been the editor of and chief writer for the New York Review and the United States Review, and was known as well for lectures on artistic subjects: one a series of four on poetry before the New York Athenaeum, and another of five on mythology to the students of the National Academy of Design. Before he wrote the first editorial in the present collection in 1829, he had proved himself, in three annual volumes of the holiday gift book The Talisman, proficient in wit and irony.
When Bryant began to define the Evening Post's policies in 1829, he brought that staid journal to the support of the Democratic administration of President Andrew Jackson, and held it consistently thereafter to liberal principles, advocating free trade, free labor, and Free Soil.
Except for the years from 1829 to 1836, when he had as partner and assistant editor the ex-sailor and author of sea stories William Leggett, Bryant kept the editorial pen largely in his hands until after the Civil War. In 1848 he took into his firm as managing editor young John Bigelow. After Bigelow sold his shares in 1860 to Bryant's son-in-law, Parke Godwin, to become in 1861 the American consul general at Paris, Bryant engaged in succession several competent managing editors: William Sydney Thayer, a Harvard graduate who was later consul general in Cairo; Charles Nordhoff, like Leggett a former sailor and writer of sea tales who, after a decade on the Post, became Washington correspondent for the New York Herald; Charlton T. Lewis, a clergyman and classical scholar; Joshua Levitt, previously editor of the Congregational paper the Independent; Sydney Howard Gay, formerly an editor of the American Anti-SlaveryStandard