At his death in 1878 William Cullen Bryant had been, for fifty-one years, the chief editor and a principal owner of the New York Evening Post. The paper had been started in 1801 by lawyer William Coleman in association with the Federalist political Alexander Hamilton. In 1826, Coleman hired Bryant as a reporter. Although Coleman may have engaged his services because of his growing distinction as a poet, Bryant was also by then an experienced writer of prose, having published more than fifty critical and familiar essays. He had been both editor of and most frequent writer for the monthly New York Review and the United State Review, and was known widely for his lectures on poetry before the New York Athenaeum. By the time he assumed the direction of the Evening Post after Coleman's death in 1829 he had proved himself, in three annual volumes of the holiday gift book The Talisman, to be proficient in a wit and irony soon reflected in his editorials.
Bryant brought the conservative journal to the support of the Democratic Party of President Andrew Jackson, and held it thereafter to liberal principles, advocating free trade, free labor, and Free Soil. Except for the years from 1829 to 1836, Bryant held the editorial pen largely alone until after the Civil War. Occasional contributors formed a representative roster of leaders in many fields: Charles Francis Adams, Thomas Hart Benton, Francis P. Blair, Salman P. Chase, Thomas Cole, James Fenimore Cooper, Hamilton Fish, Parke Godwin (Bryant's son-in-law), Bret Harte, James K. Paulding, John Randolph, Samule J. Tilden, Martin and John Van Buren, Artemus Ward, Gideon Wlles, Walt Whitman, and Silas Wright. And now and then there were articles by British Parliamentarian Richard Cobden and artist-economist George Harvey, and the French critic Charles Sainte-Beuve.
Bryant's editorials after 1860 suggest separate treatment. The present volume traces the growth of his political and social maturity as he made of a conservative, parochial, small-city newspaper into a national organ which Charles Francis Adams in 1850 called "the best daily journal in the United States."