Horace Greeley (D)


Winner:  U.S. GRANT (R)

Soon after the election, Caleb Lyon, of Lyonsdale, poet and politician, met Mr. Greeley on Broadway, and, after the usual salutations, said, "Well, Mr. Greeley, how do you yourself account for the result of the election?"

"Let us go get a lunch," said Mr. Greeley, "and I will tell you."

They went together to a restaurant near by, and, having ordered lunch, Mr. Greeley said:  "Well, Governor, I will tell you how I came to be defeated. The facts are plain. I was an abolitionist for years, when it was as much as one's life was worth even here in New York, to be an abolitionist; and the negroes have all voted against me. Whatever of talents and energy I have possessed I have freely contributed all my life long to Protection; to the cause of our manufactures. And the manufacturers have expended millions to defeat me. I even made myself ridiculous in the opinion of many whose good wishes I desired by showing fair play and giving a fair field in The Tribune to 'Woman's Rights;' and the women have all gone against me!"

During a call which Governor Lyon made upon Senator Sumner early in 1873, one of the most noted of the advocates of Woman's Rights also called, when the Governor related to her this incident. It was replied to in a spirit of heartless insolence altogether beyond the capacity of a gentleman.

The main causes of Mr. Greeley's defeat may, perhaps, be found in the strength of party associations; the consolidation of the money power against him; the defection of many free-traders among Republicans; the refusal of many Democrats to sustain him notwithstanding the admirable action of their Convention; the immense patronage of the government, freely used in the interest of President Grant. The latter received a less number of votes in several states than he had received four years before. Had the election occurred in July, or the early part of August, Mr. Greeley would probably have been elected. The greatness of his popularity had by this time become so manifest, that Republican managers saw that every possible means must be used to avert discomfiture. Their desperation gave them a temporary strength which secured a victory, but then only upon solemn pledges on the part of their representative men and journals in behalf of the reforms demanded by Mr. Greeley.

In the moment of defeat, there were those who said that if Mr. Adams, or Mr. Trumbull, or Judge Davis, had been nominated, he would have beaten President Grant. This opinion was probably incorrect. Mr. Adams or Mr. Trumbull would have divided the support of the money power with President Grant; Judge Davis would have received more Democratic votes than Mr. Greeley; but it may reasonably be claimed that neither could have secured as great a popular endorsement as the chosen candidate. Certainly not one of those eminent gentlemen could have done himself more honor or by his own labors given the liberal cause more strength during the canvass than did Horace Greeley.

The election over, Mr. Greeley returned to his old editorial room and cheerfully resumed work upon The Tribune with his accustomed vigor and versatility. It appeared as though he had many years of strong life before him; years in which, in this unpretending sanctum, he could accomplish more for his country and mankind than might have been possible, had he been transferred to the Executive Mansion and lived to occupy it.

Mr. Greeley wrote, however, for The Tribune only a short time after the election. His constant nursing, night and day. of Mrs. Greeley, immediately following a long period of great intellectual labor, accompanied by the wearing physical fatigue of travel, produced an ailment of the brain, the first manifestation of which was a distressing sleeplessness. He rapidly became worse, and the country, before it had recovered from the excitement of the political campaign in which he had borne the most prominent part, was shocked by the intelligence that he was prostrated by alarming illness which might at any moment prove fatal.

Sleeplessness was followed by inflammation of the brain, which would yield to no medical treatment, but rapidly growing worse, soon produced delirium. Mr. Greeley's condition was telegraphed over the country daily by the Associated Press, and many special correspondents were instructed to particularly inquire and report upon the subject. The public interest in his situation was universal. It was manifested among all classes of men, in all walks of life. For several days Mr. Greeley suffered greatly, and his disease was frequently manifested in the most painful manner. The delirium resulting from the inflammation of the organ assailed was excessive, as is always the case in such disease with large and active brains. Their capacity of disease, of delirium, appears to be proportionate to their capacity of labor. So it was with Mr. Greeley's cotemporary, Dr. Charles H. Bay, of Chicago, who died of inflammation of the brain only about two years before Mr. Greeley, and with similar painful and extraordinary manifestations of delirium.

The sick man had every attention which medical skill, the most unselfish friendship, the devoted love of daughters could supply. But skill, friendship, love availed not to resist the approach of the king of terrors. After some hours of calm and serene rest, with his faculties restored to their natural power and clearness, he said, "I know that my Redeemer liveth," and his soul peacefully left its earthly tenement on Friday, November 29th.

His death was like his life. The wild strife of his own disordered faculties raged like the conflicts of his long career, continuing his almost fierce unrest. He was assailed by mobs; he was encompassed by relentless enemies; he was misrepresented and maligned by his own countrymen whom he was faithfully laboring to serve. In the wild tumult of his disease, years were crowded into moments, with the effect of the most grotesque delirium. But he passed triumphantly even through this awful ordeal. Before the final effort of his mind the storms which threatened to engulf it passed away, so that, as was most befitting to his life and character, calmly, and with mind unclouded, Horace Greeley sought the bosom of his Father and his God.

The causes of Mr. Greeley's death were manifold. Those who suppose that personal disappointment at the result of the election had much to do with it, palpably err. Whether he were elected or whether he were defeated probably made less difference to him than to almost any of his supporters. He constantly regarded himself as nothing, the cause as everything. Whatsoever there was, therefore, of disappointment, whatsoever there was in the election that brought grief to him, did not belong to disappointed ambition, but to his earnest, profound concern for the welfare of the people and the peace and prosperity of his country.

From The Life of Horace Greeley:  Founder of the New York Tribune by Lurton Dunham Ingersoll. Originally published by the Union Publishing Company in 1873.


Articles in this Issue

1864 - George B. McClellan (D)
1868 - Salmon P. Chase (D)
1872 - Horace Greeley (D)
1876 - Samuel J. Tilden (D)
1880 - Winfield Scott Hancock (D)
1884 - James G. Blaine (R)
1888 - Grover Cleveland (D)
1904 - Alton B. Parker (D)
1908 - William J. Bryan (D)
1916 - Charles E. Huges (R)
1920 - James M. Cox (D)