“Go West, young man…”

December 20, 2010 by  
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I know there is dispute over who first used the oft-cited phrase: “Go West, young man…” widely attributed to Greeley. The following provides some background:

“…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.”

Despite the controversy, there seems to be a general consensus among the many citations on the internet that Greeley used the phrase in his July 13, 1865 editorial, as noted above. I have the Tribune of the 13th  and scoured through the issue yet never found the quote. The closest I could come is in “The Homestead Law” piece, page 4 col. 4, where he mentioned: “…We earnestly urge upon all such to turn their faces Westward and colonize the public lands…” (see below).

Am I missing something? Does the phrase actually exist somewhere in this newspaper? Could one erroneous citation many years ago have been cited again and again without anyone actually checking the newspaper to verify? Perhaps some collectors have this issue, or perhaps another edition with this famous quote. I would appreciate hearing from anyone who might be able to offer some helpful information.

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