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Go West, Young Man!

"Go West, young man!" sums up the pioneering spirit of the nineteenth century. The origin of this slogan for Manifest Destiny, however, is not as clear.

“Go West, young man!” is a phrase that sums up the pioneering spirit and expansionist vision of the nineteenth century. The origin of this slogan for Manifest Destiny, however, is not as clear. The utterance has been long associated with Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune from 1841 to 1872. That attribution has for almost as long, however, been considered erroneous. Many have instead credited John Soule with having coined the phrase. This alternate theory holds that Soule, editor of the Terre Haute Daily Express and the Wabash Weekly Express, first used the phrase in an editorial in 1851. The documentation, however, is scant. Two exhaustive searches through the publications’ archived issues failed to unearth an editorial in which the famous phrase appeared. The theory of Soule’s authorship of it seems to date to a gossip column that appeared in an issue of the Chicago Mail in 1890. In the piece, it is suggested that Soule in 1851 crafted an editorial in which he claimed that the illustrious Horace Greeley himself could not come up with better advice than to urge young men to migrate westward. The 1890 column then asserted that when Horace Greeley got wind of the remark, he reprinted Soule’s article in the New York Tribune, and endorsed the advice. This edition of the New York daily has similarly failed to surface.

The origin of the phrase as we know it remains a mystery. Though Greeley was a vocal proponent of the sentiment it contains, in no place among his writings have the words “Go West, Young Man!” been found.

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