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Whitelaw Reid (October 27, 1837 – December 15, 1912) was an American politician and newspaper editor, as well as the author of a popular history of Ohio in the Civil War.
After assisting Horace Greeley as editor of the New-York Tribune, Reid purchased the paper after Greeley's death in late 1872 and controlled it until his own death. The circulation grew to about 60,000 a day, but the weekly edition became less important. He invested heavily in new technology, such as the Hoe rotary printing press and the linotype machine, but bitterly fought against the unionized workers for control of his shop.
As a famous voice of the Republican Party, he was honored with appointments as ambassador to France and Great Britain, as well as numerous other honorific positions. Reid was the party's nominee for Vice President of the United States in the 1892 election. In 1898, President William McKinley appointed him to the American commission that negotiated peace with Spain after the Spanish-American War.
Reid was born on a farm near Xenia, Ohio, to Robert Charlton Reid (1795-1865) and Marion Whitelaw Ronalds (1804-1895), of the Clan Ronald of Scotland, who had married in 1820. As a child growing up, his family was poor.
Reid attended Xenia Academy in his hometown, and went on to graduate from Miami University with honors in 1856. At Miami, he was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon (Kappa chapter), and lobbied for the expulsion of the six members who ultimately founded Sigma Chi.
Vice Presidential candidate Reid. Photo by Rockwood.
During the U.S. Civil War, Reid wrote under the by-line "Agate", acting as a correspondent at several battlefields, including the Battles of Shiloh and Gettysburg. His account of the Battle of Shiloh contains tales of confusion, courage, and disaster narrowly averted, was described as classic war reporting.
In 1868, he joined the staff of Horace Greeley's New-York Tribune. The following year, he was named managing editor. In 1872, Reid was part of the Liberal Republican movement that opposed a second term for President Grant and that ultimately supported the ill-fated Greeley for the presidency. Greeley died just days after the election and a short time later Reid became the new editor of the Tribune.
Reid continued the role of the Tribune as one of the foremost Republican newspapers in the country. He emphasized the importance of partisan newspapers in a speech in 1879:
The true statesman and the really influential editor are those who are able to control and guide parties....There is an old question as to whether a newspaper controls public opinion or public opinion controls the newspaper. This at least is true: that editor best succeeds who best interprets the prevailing and the better tendencies of public opinion, and, who, whatever his personal views concerning it, does not get himself too far out of relations to it. He will understand that a party is not an end, but a means; will use it if it lead to his end, -- will use some other if that serve better, but will never commit the folly of attempting to reach the end without the means....Of all the puerile follies that have masqueraded before High Heaven in the guise of Reform, the most childish has been the idea that the editor could vindicate his independence only by sitting on the fence and throwing stones with impartial vigor alike at friend and foe.
During this period of post-Civil War America, Reid's views were similar to many of his contemporaries in that he did not see a need for the United States to exert its influence beyond North and South America. Instead, he favored a small navy and opposed the acquisition of Hawaii. Reid resigned his post in the Spring of 1892 and returned to America.
1892 presidential election and later
In 1892, Reid became the Republican vice presidential nominee when President Harrison chose to drop the sitting Vice President, Levi P. Morton, from the ticket. As Harrison's wife was dying, he was a more active candidate for Vice President than the sitting President. Reid is known for crediting the Republican Party as the party that freed the slaves, preserved the Union, protected labor, built the railroads, and promoted manufacturing. Despite his best efforts, Harrison and Reid lost to the Democratic ticket of Grover Cleveland and Adlai Stevenson, as Cleveland became the first former president to recapture the office.
On April 26, 1881, he married Elisabeth Mills (1857-1931), the daughter of Darius Ogden Mills (1825-1910) and the sister of Ogden Mills (1856-1929). The Reids were social people, and threw lavish parties, including a musicale at their residence in Manhattan, at Madison Avenue and 50th Street, for 400 people, in 1901. Shortly before his death, he hosted the Duke and Duchess of Connaught at his New York home. Together, they were the parents of:
He died while serving as the ambassador to Britain on December 15, 1912. Upon his death, letters of condolences were sent to the family by King George, Queen Mary, Queen Alexandra, and Princess Victoria. His remains are buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York.