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Lot 65: Greeley ALS Telling His Reporter Go West while Commenting on the Recently Developed Telegraph

Lion Heart Autographs

October 27, 2021
New York, NY, US

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GREELEY, HORACE. (1811-1872). American editor, reformer, and political leader, famous for popularizing the sentiment, “Go West, young man!” ALS. (“H. Greeley”). 2pp. 4to. New York, July 19, 1846. To Washington correspondent WILLIAM E. ROBINSON (1814-1892) who wrote under the pseudonym “Richelieu” and later served in Congress.

“I have just received yours of the 18th. I say go it by all means. I wish I stood in your shoes. I would go for my expenses if I could not do better, but with such an offer as you have, I see not how you can hesitate. It will give you a glorious opportunity to visit the very places you are to have seen years ago. And when you are once at Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and Milwaukee, you will flog yourself for having staid [sic.] away so long.

You can of course have the chance to do for us whatever there is to do at Washington next winter, though the telegraph is rather killing letters. Be careful to give us a good account of every Saturday’s doings, and as many choice bits as you can besides. See what bills are reported and make abstracts of the most important. I have today been showing up a Post Office bill reported by Thomasson, which he ought to be spanked for touching. It is a Cave Johnson bill, which no thing should have touched. Find out what the prospect is for the River and Harbors bill, and when the sub – treasury is coming forward. In this way you can make your letters still interesting. See who Old Bullion is intimate with and give us frequent bulletins of what he and Semple mean to do about the tariff Harrington [?] might let you know some things if he will. A daily illusion to the prospect of the passage or defeat of the tariff bill will be very acceptable. Divide your letter into two or three when you can. This makes it more attractive and readable.

Rob, don’t fail to improve this opportunity to make the grand tour. Goose Hill from St. Louis to Alton, Quincy and Galena, thence across to Chicago if possible. It will give you a glorious view of things. Thence to Milwaukee and see our friend Gen Rufus King, formally of Albany, who will like to meet you. At Detroit Morgan Bates, George C Bates, Gen. Zina Pitcher. …Jones and Jacob M Howard, an M[ember of] C[ongress] are of the right sort. At Alton, Gen. George T. M. Davis, lawyer, will welcome you for my sake. At Quincy, some miles above, on the Mis[sissi]p[i] C. A. Harvey a lawyer will do you hospitality on my account. At Galena, E. B. Washburne… lawyer d[itt]o. At St. Louis Chambers of The Republican, is a crony of mine. Just say you was [sic.] commended by me to call on them and that you are Richelieu of the Tribune, the man that got… and you’ll do. Weissinger of the Louisville Journal is No. 1. Vaughan of the Cinc[innati] Gazette ditto.

Old fellow, it is time you were getting settled and married, and were driving your stakes for life. Resolve to make your pitch this fall. Then if you want to spend another winter in Washington do it, but you won’t. The telegraph is killing Washington letters but making alive western papers by enabling them to anticipate the seaport papers in news… improve it. Yours unwell, in debt, &c. H. Greeley.”

Greely left the poverty of his New England youth to find his fortune in New York City, working his way up from printer’s apprentice to publisher of the influential New York Tribune, which he founded in 1841 and which became one of the nation’s foremost newspapers with Greeley himself one of America’s greatest moral leaders. An intellectual and idealist, Greely promoted all manner of reform philosophies in his paper including pacifism, feminism, unionization, and regulation of labor (to the point of hiring Karl Marx as a Tribune foreign correspondent!). Among his editorial points of view, was the notion that the unemployed, immigrants and others seeking opportunity should settle in the American West. On the subject, he wrote “Fly, scatter through the country, go to the Great West, anything rather than remain here... the West is the true destination,” and, addressing Civil War veterans in 1865, “Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country,” (Horace Greeley: Champion of American Freedom, Williams).

In 1859, Greely himself had gone west to report on the need for a transcontinental railroad and promote the nascent Republican Party through speeches and lectures. From Kansas, Greeley, en route to California, boarded the newly established Overland Stage Line to Denver, at the time a bourgeoning mining camp founded as part of the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush that lasted from 1858-1861. Inspired by the land he saw around the South Platte and Cache la Poudre rivers, and proving that he was not merely paying lip service to the idea of westward expansion, Greely set about organizing a religious utopian colony in the Colorado Territory in 1869, the Union Colony of Colorado (also known as the Greeley Colony and The Union Temperance Colony). Its success, made possible by the construction of irrigation ditches, inspired some of the original colonists to establish a second community, the Fort Collins Agricultural Colony, upstream on the Poudre River, in the fall of 1872.

Greeley ran as a Democrat in the 1872 presidential race which he lost decisively to the incumbent, President Grant. He died one month after the election; his funeral in New York was better attended than Lincoln’s.

Born and educated in Ireland before attending Yale and lecturing at Yale Law School, Robinson became an assistant editor of the New York Tribune in 1843 and served as the only Washington correspondent for the paper, using the pseudonym Richelieu, after Cardinal de Richelieu, whose fierce defense of royal power helped shape the French state and who was the central villain in Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1839 play Richelieu; or The Conspiracy has the cardinal saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” possibly inspiring Robinson’s choice of a nom de plume. After advising his Washington correspondent on various politicians and journalists to contact on his “grand tour” through Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Missouri as well as suggesting he settle down and get married, Greeley references the current economic troubles at the Tribune in his closing. Several 1846 letters to Robinson are included in the Horace Greeley Papers at the New York State Library, including one dated December 15, 1846, in which Greeley discusses the financial difficulties of the newspaper and his determination not to sell. Rather than continue his journalistic career, Robinson became an attorney practicing in New York City and, after President Lincoln appointed him to an assessor of internal revenue, he was elected to Congress for the first time in 1866 and again in 1880 and 1882.

In 1844, two years prior to our letter, the first telegraph message had been sent from the chamber of the U.S. Supreme Court to the B&O Railroad depot in Baltimore, after which the development of telegraphy accelerated. The first public telegraph office opened in 1845, regulated by the Postmaster General, former Tennessee lawyer and Congressman Cave Johnson (1845-1849) who was appointed by President Polk.

“Old Bullion” was the nickname for longtime Missouri Democratic Senator Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858), best known for championing the ideology of American westward expansion, known as “Manifest Destiny.” Andrew Jackson’s aide during the War of 1812, Benton was elected to Congress in 1821 and remained there until 1855. During his long tenure, he called for the annexation of Texas in 1845, supported the 1846 Oregon Treaty which settled the border dispute with the British in the Pacific Northwest and authored the first of the Homestead Acts, which gave land, mostly west of the Mississippi, to American settlers. Benton also advocated for the development of an intercontinental railway and telegraph system.

A War of 1812 veteran, James Semple (1798-1866) lived in Kentucky and Missouri before becoming a prominent attorney in Illinois. An anti-slavery Democrat, he served as Illinois attorney general, fought in the Black Hawk War, held a diplomatic post in Grenada and, in 1843, was elected to the Senate, where he focused on the Oregon boundary dispute, where he found himself at odds with the Polk administration. In addition to his military and political careers, Semple developed a forerunner of the automobile, a steam-powered wagon he called a “prairie car.”

Thomasson may be Kentucky lawyer, War of 1812 veteran and Whig politician William Poindexter Thomasson (1797-1882) who served in Congress from 1843-1847 and fought with the Union Army during the Civil War.

The Rivers and Harbors Bill, an early example of infrastructure legislation, allocated $500,000 to improve rivers and harbors, many in the Great Lakes. Despite passing both houses of Congress, Polk vetoed it in August 1846 on the grounds that the problems it aimed to correct were local and that federal funding of such a project would lead to corruption.

In addition to the numerous Washington politicians mentioned in our letter, Greeley gives Robinson a list of journalistic contacts including Rufus King (1814-1876) who worked at the Whig newspapers Albany Daily Advertiser and Albany Evening Journal. In 1845, he moved to the Wisconsin Territory where he was editor of the Milwaukee Sentinel and Gazette. His journalistic career was overshadowed by his Civil War service, where he commanded Wisconsin’s Iron Brigade and earned the rank of brigadier general. King later represented the United States as minister to the Papal States, in which capacity he helped apprehend one of the conspirators involved with Lincoln’s assassination.

Morgan Bates (1806-1874), an early colleague of Greeley in New York, published the Detroit Advertiser from 1839-1858, after which he started the Alta California, the first newspaper west of the Rockies. He was later active in Michigan and Republican politics.

Zina Pitcher (1797-1872) was a medical doctor and army surgeon and mayor of Detroit from 1840-1841 and during 1843.

Jacob M. Howard (1805-1871) had represented Michigan in Congress from 1841-1843 and help draft the new Republican Party’s platform in 1854. He served as Michigan’s attorney general and was a member of the Senate from 1862-1871.

Illinois attorney George T. M. Davis (1810-1888) began his editorship of the Alton Telegraph in 1841, transforming it into a Whig publication. He served in the Mexican-American War and worked in the War Department before editing the Louisville Courier, later making a fortune in railroads.

Elihu Benjamin Washburne (1816-1887) wrote for several Maine newspapers before embarking on a law career in Illinois. He was active in Whig politics during the 1840s and 1850s before joining the Republican Party and becoming a close ally of Abraham Lincoln. Washburne served in Congress and was Ulysses S. Grant’s Secretary of State and later Minister to France under Grant and President Hayes.

George Weissinger (?-?) published the Whig Louisville Journal.

John Champion Vaughan (1807?-1893), an attorney from South Carolina, began editing the Cincinnati Gazette in 1834. A vociferous opponent of slavery in the pages of the True Democrat and Leader, Vaughan helped found the Chicago Tribune before moving to Kansas where he was active in the Free State party.

Written on both sides of a lined sheet. Folded and lightly creased with two tiny punch holes along the left edge and in fine condition, with the holograph address leaf. Content letters by Greeley are quite rare. [indexhistory]

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