Horace Greeley: “Go West,” 1871

A primary source by Horace Greeley

Horace Greeley to R. L. Sanderson, November 15, 1871 (Gilder Lehrman Collection)Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, wrote this letter in 1871 to R. L. Sanderson, a young correspondent who had requested career advice. Greeley, a great supporter of westward expansion, shared the national conviction that it was the manifest destiny of America to conquer and civilize the land between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.

Greeley wrote, “So many people ask me what they shall do; so few tell me what they can do. Yet this is the pivot wherein all must turn. I believe that each of us who has his place to make should go where men are wanted, and where employment is not bestowed as alms. Of course, I say to all who are in want of work, Go West!” He tempered his advice with specific recommendations regarding preparations for the journey asking, “Can you chop? Can you plow? Can you mow?” Greeley concluded, “Having mastered these, gather up your family, and Go West!”

A full transcript is available.

 

 

Transcript

New York, Nov. 15, 1871.

dear Sir:

So many people ask me what they shall do; so few tell me what they can do. Yet this is the pivot wherein all must turn.

I believe that each of us who has his place to make should go where men are wanted, and where employment is not bestowed as alms. Of course, I say to all who are in want of work, Go West!

But what can you do? and how can your family help you? Your mother, I infer, is to be counted out as an effective worker. But what of the rest? And you – can you chop? Can you plow? Can you mow? Can you cut up Indian corn? I reckon not. And in the west it is hard to find such work as you have been accustomed to. The conditions of living are very rude there.

On the whole I say, stay where you are; do as well as you can; and devote every spare hour to making yourself familiar with the conditions and dexterity required for the efficient conservation of out-door industry in a new country. Having mastered these, gather up your family and Go West! Yours,

Horace Greeley

R.L. Sanderson,
          Duxbury, MA

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