Horace Greeley and the Necessity of a Free Press

A free society relies upon the freedom of the press to facilitate open dialogue and a transparent government. This principle was the driving force behind Horace Greeley’s career. A newspaper founder, editor, an outspoken reformer and unique politician, Greeley understood the necessity of a free press. His publication, The New York Tribune, played a critical role in the politics of the era. Encompassing a circulation of 200,000 in the 1850s, in which New York City’s population was just over half a million, the newspaper greatly influenced issues the nation faced.

Although Horace Greeley used The New York Tribune to promote Whig and Republic party causes, he criticized figures and issues on every side of the aisle. One of his primary issues was emancipation for slaves before and during the Civil War. Greeley’s outspokenness against slavery illustrates his adherence to the virtue of a free press. A free press allows the citizenry to keep the government in check. Investigative journalism and commentary help to expose the truth.

From last minute rallying to support Lincoln for the Republican party nomination, to criticizing him for not moving fast enough on emancipation, Greeley sought reason and accountability on many contentious issues through his advocacy and writing. For example, Greeley helped edit the major publication Log Cabin in 1840 which was a contributing factor in the election of William Henry Harrison. Greeley also utilized The New York Tribune’s editorial page to advocate for western expansion that he believed to be the future of the nation. His powerful words truly captured the spirit of the age, “Go west, young man, and grow up with the country.”

As Greeley’s career evolved, he faced more criticism for his controversial work. Greeley sought greater reform and a faster recovery in the South. After the Civil War, rights of freedmen became his focus – an unpopular stance with many. Additionally, Greeley’s criticism of the notorious corruption in Ulysses S. Grant administration put him at odds with the Republican party. At the end of his life, Greeley even ran for president as a Liberal Republican. Throughout his career, Greeley positioned himself as an activist as a writer, editor, and U.S. Congressman. Horace Greeley was an advocate for American liberty who continuously pushed the envelope on many contentious issues, by illustrating the necessity of a free press.

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