Study Guide

Horace Greeley in Homestead Act

By Congress

Horace Greeley

"Go West, young man!"

We're willing to bet you've heard this line. It's pretty crazy-inspiring. It's pithy. It's a great way to respond to a tourist asking directions on the street. And pop culture (the Village People, the Marx Brothers, etc.) continues to reference it, misquote it, and allude to it.

But what does it actually mean…and how does it relate to the Homestead Act?

The whole quote is "Go West, young man, and grow up with the country." We have no idea who actually said it first—maybe it was by the great poet Anonymous—but you can bet Horace Greeley used it a lot in his newspaper.

Because who doesn’t love a snappy catchphrase?

Greeley was a strong, and loud, supporter of settling the western territories. He was also rabid about emancipation and soft Reconstruction policies that didn’t punish the former Confederacy. Those might seem like polar opposite positions, but Greeley stuck to his six-shooters.

In fact, he bailed Confederate President Jefferson Davis out of jail, so that shows which side he finally came down on. (More Shmoopy details on Greeley here.)

While he didn’t have a whole lot to do with the Homestead Act himself, you can bet your boots (and your mule, and your covered wagon) that it helped having a powerful newspaper editor backing the idea.