February 3, 2013

Birth of Greeley: We are all born poets

Though born in New Hampshire on February 3, 1811, Horace Greeley made his biggest impact in New York. Founder of the New York Tribune, mentor and booster to people like Charles A. Dana, Margaret Fuller and Rufus W. Griswold, Greeley flourished at a time when journalists were powerhouses, and took his influence to a national scale when he ran for President of the United States just before his death.

He started his life on a poor farm in Amherst, New Hampshire but his father's bankruptcy forced the family to move to Vermont. Young Greeley knew early on that he wanted to get into the printing business and began looking for an apprenticeship at age 11. After stints with a couple newspapers, he finally made his way — partially by foot — to New York in August 1831. As he began earning some success as a printer and burgeoning newspaper man, he also began actively involving himself with Whig politics even while looking into more radical ideas, including Fourierism. In 1841, he produced the first issue of the New York Tribune (a venture he held for the rest of his life). After his death, he was honored in New York City and Chappaqua, New York.

Greeley recognized his humble beginnings even as he became famous and influential. His autobiography, Recollections of a Busy Life, published in 1872, was dedicated to those who had the same potential:

To our American boys, who, born in poverty, cradled in obscurity, and early called from school to rugged labor, are seeking to convert obstacle into opportunity, and wrest achievement from difficulty

A deep thinker and political activist (as well as a frequent target for critics and caricaturists), with a great appreciation for literature and poetry, Greeley was often erudite. "We are all born poets," he once wrote. From the "Miscellanies" section of his autobiography:

The world is a seminary; Man is our class-book; and the chief business of life is Education. We are here to learn and to teach, — some of us for both of these purposes, — all at least for the former. Happy he, and greatly blest, who comes divinely qualified for a Teacher, —fitted by nature and training to wrestle with giant Ignorance and primal Chaos, to dispel unfounded Prejudice, and banish enshrouding Night. To govern men, in the rude, palpable sense, is a small achievement; a grovelling, purblind soul, well provided with horsemen and artillery, and thickly hedged with bayonets and spears, may do this

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