July 13 is the day Horace Greeley coined his famous dictum, "Go West, young man." Practically everyone has heard this saying at one time or another, in its abbreviated form. But the complete quote is more snide than sage, and therefore much more interesting.
Greeley's editorial in the New York Tribune in 1865 was addressed specifically to young civil servants in Washington, D.C. who were complaining that the government didn't pay them enough, given the high cost of living in the nation's capital.
Greeley had scant sympathy for them.
He wrote: "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."
In the 141 years since, the food in Washington has greatly improved and the dust has been paved over. But the cost of housing is stratospheric and the morals are at least as deplorable as they ever were.
So young, ambitious political climbers still find it hard to make ends meet, and they still complain about how unfair it all is -- especially to idealistic, public-spirited youths like themselves whose only desire is to serve their country.
It is a great pity that Horace Greeley's alternative is no longer available to us. It would be better for them and us if we could still pack these aspiring politicos off to the Wild West, to dig wells, plant crops, herd cattle, lay railroad tracks, fight hostile Indians and otherwise acquire some genuine maturity along with real-world experience.
"Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country."