Name:  Whitelaw Reid

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Born:  October 27, 1837
Died:  December 15, 1912
Complete HarpWeek Biography:
Whitelaw Reid was the longtime editor of the New York Tribune, a diplomat, and the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 1892. He was born near Xenia, Ohio, to devout Presbyterian parents, Marion Whitelaw Ronalds Reid and Robert Charlton Reid, a farmer. Young Reid attended his uncle's academy in Xenia before entering Miami University of Ohio as a sophomore at the age of 15. A superior student, he graduated with scientific honors in 1856, at the age of 18. During his college years, he began writing for local newspapers, then in 1857 joined the staff of his brother's Xenia News, which he edited for two years.

A fervent Republican, Reid backed Abraham Lincoln for the presidency in 1860. The next year, he began covering the state legislature for the Cincinnati Times, contributed articles to the Cleveland Herald, then became the Washington correspondent of the Cincinnati Gazette, writing for the latter under the pseudonym "Agate." When the Civil War began, he joined the troops under Union General William Rosecrans as a war correspondent. Reid gained fame for his coverage of the campaigns of Rosecrans and General George McClellan, and was particularly praised for his accurate and compelling reports of the battles of Shiloh and Gettysburg. Reid was given the rank of captain, and the title of aide-de-camp.

With the Republicans in control of Congress, Reid was named librarian of the House of Representatives (1863-1866), and also served as clerk to the House Military Affairs Committee for one session. Viewing Lincoln as too cautious, Reid supported Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase of Ohio for the Republican presidential nomination in 1864. Even after Lincoln was renominated, Reid joined other Radicals in urging the president's withdraw. Union military victories, especially the fall of Atlanta to General William Tecumseh Sherman, quieted the anti-Lincoln chorus and helped ensure the president's electoral victory.

After the Civil War, Reid joined Chase (then Chief Justice) on an inspection tour of the postwar South. The journalist published his reports in a book, After the War (1866). He argued that the views of most white Southerners had not been changed by the war, thus making it nearly impossible for the Republican party to gain a foothold in the region. He briefly tried his hand at running a Louisiana plantation, but soon gave up in despair. In 1868, he published a well-respected, two-volume history of the war's impact on his home state, Ohio and the War.

In 1868, Horace Greeley employed Reid as an assistant editor for the New York Tribune. Reid hired John Hay, and printed pieces from authors such as Bret Harte, William Dean Howells, and Mark Twain. Increasingly dismayed with the policies and corruption of the administration of Republican president Ulysses S. Grant, Greeley and Reid joined the Liberal Republican movement in the early 1870s. At the Liberal Republican convention in May 1872, Reid orchestrated Greeley's nomination for president, then became his campaign manager, as well as acting editor of the Tribune.

After Greeley's electoral defeat in November, Reid borrowed money from Jay Gould to buy controlling shares in the newspaper, and took the reins as editor-in-chief (Greeley died a few weeks later). Reid quickly adopted new printing technologies, hired more reporters, improved the paper's coverage of foreign affairs, and extensively reported major scandals involving both political parties without degenerating into sensationalism. Consequently, under his leadership, the New York Tribune's circulation rose to 60,000 by 1876, and became a major influence in national politics.

Following the 1872 election, Reid returned to the Republican fold, and was particularly close to President James Garfield, who hailed from his home state of Ohio. Reid married Elizabeth Mills in 1881; they had two children. In 1884, the Tribune editor was one of most vocal supporters of Republican presidential nominee James G. Blaine, and a member of the candidate's inner circle of advisors.

Reid had rejected offers from President Garfield to become U.S. minister to Germany, but in 1889 accepted the ministership to France from President Benjamin Harrison. As minister to France, he worked to open French markets to American products, and reached a reciprocal trade agreement to that end. In 1892, Republicans selected him as Harrison's vice-presidential running-mate. Reid campaigned enthusiastically, but the Republican ticket went down to defeat.

After the election, Reid retired from active politics and the daily editorship of the Tribune. In early 1897, Senator Thomas Platt of New York torpedoed the plan of Republican president-elect William McKinley (another Ohioan) to name Reid as secretary of state. Following the Spanish-American War in 1898, President McKinley appointed Reid to the American delegation for the peace negotiations with Spain, during which he advocated the retention of the Philippines under American control. In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt named Reid as the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain. He died in London in 1912.

Sources consulted: American National Biography; Mark Boatner, The Civil War Dictionary.











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