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Skagit River Journal

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Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
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"Go West, Young Man"
Who wrote it? Greeley or Soule?

(Horace Greeley)
Horace Greeley
      That is a question that is still being argued more than a century later. Horace Greeley (1811-72), founder of the New York Tribune, has long been quoted for his line in a July 13, 1865 editorial. The authorship was disputed, however, in the 1981 book, The People's Almanac, by David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace. They were not the first to dispute the parentage, but they certainly popularized the argument. They claimed that John B. Soule (1815-1891) penned the line 14 years earlier, in 1851, in an editorial in the Terra Haute, Indiana, Express.
      That was not the end of the argument and all its permutations, however, because in September, 2004, author Thomas Fuller confused the matter even further when he published an article in the Indiana Magazine of History in which he claimed that he could not find any such quote by Soule. In fact, he could not even find a published claim for Soule's parentage before 1890. That revelation intrigued us because we have always noticed how odd it is that a date in 1851 has never been supplied. The lack thereof always rings an alarm and suggests that the writer is merely quoting someone else. So, let us look at the evidence.
      Hal Gordon wrote this summary of Greeley's editorial:

      Greeley's editorial in the New York Tribune in 1865 was addressed specifically to young civil servants in Washington, D.C. who were complaining that the government didn't pay them enough, given the high cost of living in the nation's capital. Greeley had scant sympathy for them. He wrote: "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."
      In 1981, Wallechinsky and Wallace disputed Greeley's authorship:
      Who Said It: John Babsone Lane Soule. When: 1851. The Story behind It: Horace Greeley, New York newspaper publisher and U.S. presidential candidate, is usually credited with giving this piece of advice. Actually, Greeley did not originate it. In 1851 John Babsone Lane Soule first published these words in the Terre Haute, Ind., Express. Horace Greeley then picked them up and used them on the editorial page of his powerful New York Tribune. Incidentally, when Greeley repeated, "Go west, young man, and grow up with the country," he meant no further west than Erie County, Pa.
Theirs was not the first debunking, but it certainly influenced many other sources. In a December 2000 edition of Soul Search magazine Tim Sole wrote:
      Horace Greeley (1811-1872). In 1869, Harper's Weekly called Horace Greeley "the most perfect Yankee the country has ever produced." Editor, politician, and founder of the New York Tribune, Greeley began his career as a Whig and in 1856 helped establish the new Republican Party. Greeley advocated reform in every sphere, supporting temperance, Transcendentalism, labour unions, and scores of other, less significant causes. His ability to express his idealistic, moral positions in clear, memorable prose won loyal readers for the Tribune. In the 1840s, he urged a generation to "Go West, young man." John Soule, an Indiana newspaperman, was the one who actually used those words, "Go West, young man" in 1851, over ten years after Greeley wrote in his weekly New Yorker that "If you have no family or friends to aid you . . . turn your face to the Great West and there build up your home and fortune." It was the first of many such pronouncements, and Soule, like most of his colleagues in what was then considered "the West," regularly exchanged intelligence with the Tribune.
(John B. Soule)
John B. Soule
      Like many other founders and early members of the new Republican Party in the mid-1850s, Greeley was originally a Whig. Leaders of that party selected Greeley in 1838 to edit their campaign newspaper, The Jeffersonian, which had circulation of at least 15,000. In 1840 he also edited another Whig campaign newspaper, The Log Cabin, with 90,000 subscribers nationwide. With those organs he helped elect William Henry Harrison as president on the Whig ticket. In 1841 he merged his campaign newspapers into the New York Tribune. Greeley edited the paper for 30 years until he became too ill to continue.
      Many historians have called Greeley the greatest newspaperman of his day, both for the high standards he enforced and for his leadership of the Northern anti-slavery movement. Unlike many papers of the day, Greeley's Tribune refused advertisements for quack cures and de-emphasized scandals and glorification of society personalities. He may have also popularized book reviews in newspapers, as well as extracting and serializing books of the day. He was also prone to publicize radicals and radical ideas of the time. Along that end, he hired both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels as European correspondents.
      By the time the Republican Party was organized in 1854, Greeley was soon on board and with the Tribune as the party's informal campaign paper, circulation reached nearly 300,000. He became a Radical Republican during the Civil War, opposing many of Abraham Lincoln's moderate positions. Early on, in 1862, he penned an editorial, "The Prayer of Twenty Millions," that demanded more aggressive moves on the Confederate Army. Unfortunately Lincoln did not have a general at the time who could carry that out. Observers were shocked, therefore, when Greeley sided with the Copperhead Democrats who pressed Lincoln for a peace commission; Lincoln appointed Greeley to the commission.
      The "Go West" editorial of 1865 came during the period when his hands-on operation of the Tribune lessened. He personally guaranteed bail for Jefferson Davis in 1867, causing many subscribers to cancel. In 1872, after supporting Ulysses Grant in the prior election, Greeley decided to run for president on the Liberal Republican slate and the Democrats also nominated him. He had served as a Congressman for three months in 1848-49 after the incumbent had been unseated. He was badly defeated and then discovered that he had been defrauded by Philip Arnold in a gemstone hoax. Meanwhile, Whitelaw Reid, the owner of the rival New York Herald, had gained control of the Tribune. Before the electoral votes were cast, Greeley's wife died, Greeley went mad and was committed to a private hospital, where he died on Nov. 29, 1872. Because he died before the electoral college convened, he officially received no electoral votes even though he won 86. Three votes from Georgia may have been awarded posthumously, but that was moot because all of Greeley's electoral votes were disallowed by Congress.
      John Babsone Lane Soule, a native of Maine, did not attain the national prominence. He also was not a newspaper editor, per se, as some sources have contended. He was trained as a lawyer at Bowdoin, graduating in 1840, but did not practice. Instead, he taught for ten years in Maine and Indiana, then reported on various newspapers in the latter state, including Terra Haute. He became a Presbyterian minister and preached in Indiana, Wisconsin and Illinois. He is reported to have served as the first State Superintendent of Schools in Indiana and taught as a professor of Ancient Languages in Blackburn University in Illinois for 11 years until he retired to become pastor of a church in Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago. We have made inquiries to see if anyone can find the attributed editorial, but we have not yet received an answer. Finally, in his 2004 article, Fuller wrote:

      It was the motto of nineteenth-century America, the watchword of Manifest Destiny: "Go West, young man!" Although it is commonly attributed to New York newspaper editor Horace Greeley, works of reference give the exhortation confusing and contradictory origins. One of our most familiar historical slogans surely deserves more careful documentation than it has yet received. To that end, I have thoroughly investigated the history of the phrase. This article briefly describes one aspect of my research that may interest Indiana historians: the truth behind a widely held belief that the phrase was originally written by John Babson Lane Soule, an Indiana newspaper editor, in an editorial in the Terre Haute Daily Express in 1851. I have examined this assertion with some care and have concluded that it is a fiction dating in print to no earlier than 1890. Before that date, the primary-source historical record contains not a shred of evidence that Soule had anything to do with the phrase.

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(bullet) Story posted April 21, 2007
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