"Go West, young man" is a phrase, the origin of which is often credited to the American author and newspaper editor Horace Greeley concerning America's expansion westward, related to the then-popular concept of Manifest Destiny. No one has yet proven who first used this phrase in print.
In 2010, Timothy Hughes of "Rare & Early Newspapers" (blog) examined Greeley's writings and concluded: "Here is the Tribune of that date and I've scoured through the issue yet never found the quote. The closest I could come is in 'The Homstead Law' article, page 4 column 4, where he mentioned: ' ... We earnestly urge upon all such to turn their faces Westward and colonize the public lands ... '. (See text image)."
Some claim it was first stated by John Babsone Lane Soule in an 1851 editorial in the Terre Haute Express, "Go west young man, and grow up with the country"; and that Greeley later used the quote in his own editorial in 1865. An analysis of this phrase in the 2007 Skagit River Journal concludes: "the primary-source historical record contains not a shred of evidence that Soule had anything to do with the phrase."
Greeley favored westward expansion. He saw the fertile farmland of the west as an ideal place for people willing to work hard for the opportunity to succeed. The phrase came to symbolize the idea that agriculture could solve many of the nation's problems of poverty and unemployment characteristic of the big cities of the East. It is one of the most commonly quoted sayings from the nineteenth century and may have had some influence on the course of American history.
Some sources[who?] have claimed the phrase is derived from Greeley's July 13, 1865 editorial in the New York Tribune, but this text does not appear in that issue of the newspaper. The actual editorial instead encourages American Civil War veterans to take advantage of the Homestead Act and colonize the public lands:
Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.
The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations gives the full quotation as, "Go West, young man, and grow up with the country", from Hints toward Reforms (1850) by Horace Greeley, but the phrase does not occur in that book.
Josiah Bushnell Grinnell claimed in his autobiography that Horace Greeley first addressed the advice to him in 1833, before sending him off to Illinois to report on the Illinois Agricultural State Fair. Grinnell reports the full conversation as:
"Go West, young man, go West. There is health in the country, and room away from our crowds of idlers and imbeciles." "That," I said, "is very frank advice, but it is medicine easier given than taken. It is a wide country, but I do not know just where to go." "It is all room away from the pavements. ..."
Many people believe Horace Greeley did not coin this phrase at all, but merely popularized it. He may have borrowed it from John B. L. Soule who may have published it in an editorial of his own in an 1851 edition of the Terre Haute Express. However, the phrase does not occur in the 1851 edition of the Terre Haute Express, and the Soule theory may date no earlier than 1890.
Author Ralph Keyes also suggests Soule as the source, offering an account in which the line originated from a bet between Soule and Indiana Congressman Richard W. Thompson over whether or not Soule could trick readers by forging a Greeley article.
Grinnell College historian Joseph Frazier Wall claims that Greeley himself denied providing that advice, and "[spent] the rest of this life vigorously protesting that he had never given this advice to Grinnell or anyone else ...". In a footnote Wall states
For an account of the true source of "Go West, young man" and Greeley's disavowal of being the author of the phrase, see Evans, Bergen Dictionary of Quotations, (New York, Delacourte Press, 1968), p. 745:2. John L. Selch, Newspaper Librarian of the Indiana State Library, in a letter to William Deminoff, 12 Dec. 1983, confirms that Soule was the source for this statement.