Part 1:
How Do We Want to Express Ourselves?


Part 3:
How Do We Want to Express Ourselves?


Aesthetic Realism seminar:
How Do We Want to Express Ourselves?
with a discussion about Horace Greeley, part 2
By Michael Palmer

Expression For and Against the World

One of the important persons in the history of America is Horace Greeley, founder and editor of the newspaper The Tribune, who lived from 1811 to 1872.   Horace GreeleyAs a powerful force against slavery and unfair economics, Greeley used the printed word to have people’s lives better.  He stands for the ethical purpose editors need and should have today—to enable people to meet what they most need for their lives.  As I write this, I can’t think of anything people need more to know than the knowledge of Aesthetic Realism. 

        In December, 1974, Eli Siegel wrote an issue of  The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known titled “Letter to Horace Greeley.”  In sentences beautiful and exact, he said:

You, Horace Greeley were the editor most welcoming of new causes in the early years of Andrew Jackson and the last years of Abraham Lincoln.  You were for the French socialist Fourier; you were for the intellect of Margaret Fuller; you were for abolition; you were for “association” among laborers; you were for the justice in the mind of Abraham Lincoln; and also you were for the good sense of the American farmer.
        Horace Greeley’s feeling for people and what would be just to them had its beginning on the rural farms of New England.  He was born in Amherst, New Hampshire.  His parents were farmers and very poor and Greeley had to help in the fields at a very young age.   But he found time to be interested in things.  In his lecture  Aesthetic Realism and Expression,  Mr. Siegel writes:
The question of expression has to do with how much we take in and how we take it in.  If we cannot respond to what comes to us, we can never express ourselves.
Horace Greeley is important because, to a large degree, he responded to what came to him.  With his mother’s encouragement he read the Bible at the age of five and later studied the poets Lord Byron, Robert Burns, and William Shakespeare.   He read any kind of newspaper or periodical he could find.
        Greeley cared for words and how they could be placed on a page and be useful to people.  When he was only 15, he became an apprentice printer for a journal in East Poultney, Vermont.  Then in 1831, at the age of 20, with only a few dollars in his pocket and all his possessions on his back, Greeley came to New York City to begin a career that was to have a great and lasting meaning for the City and Nation.

        In New York he found a city of great energy but also of tremendous economic misery.   There were cholera plagues in the 1830’s in which many people died, and an economic depression in 1837.  Nearly one-fifth of the population of the city—about 80 thousand people—were on some type of relief or charity.  Greeley saw what people were made to endure as horribly unjust, and in various publications he expressed his objection with deep feeling.  Then in 1841, with no experience as either editor or publisher of a daily paper, he began the New York Tribune.  He wrote its proud, beautiful purpose in the first issue:

The Tribune…will labor to advance the interest of the People and to promote their moral, social and political well-being.
Greeley was determined to back up that purpose even if it made him unpopular with political and influential people, and I respect him tremendously.   He wrote:
While I remain where I am I cannot afford to despise myself.  Besides I owe what little chance for usefulness that I may have to the impression that I do no man’s bidding, but speak my own thoughts.
Greeley’s writing had a wide effect.  As Henry Luther Stoddard pointed out in his biography,  Horace Greeley, Printer, Editor Crusader , “Even Capitalists read Greeley.  They resented his ideas, yet they respected the man they could never control.”  Greeley was an early opponent of slavery and spoke out strongly in editorials against the U.S. war with Mexico which he rightly felt was designed to grab Texas and extend slavery to that territory.  He was also intensely critical of what he likened to slavery—men, women, and even children working in New England mills under terrible, inhuman conditions for little money.   He wrote about:
The errors, crimes and miseries that have made this earth a place of hell for too many….
And he said there would be:
a reign of truth….thriftless Pretense and Slavery shall no longer prosper while Labor vainly seeks  employment even at a scant living wage.
         As The Tribune  began to prosper, Greeley sold most of his shares in the newspaper to his employees for little or no money.  And in one of the most beautifully surprising things, though he was technically the head of the newspaper,  Greeley proceeded to organize the printers at the paper into a union and was selected as their first president.   Stoddard writes:
Greeley did not stop there.  He became the printer’s union’s first negotiator for collective bargaining and agitated for a fixed scale of wages and hours for printers.  In six months time he had the union established in most printing offices.

To Part 3, click here

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  Michael Palmer