'All who teach are ours. The priests of all future dispensations shall be members of the press. Ours is the newest and greatest of the professions, involving wider work and heavier responsibilities than any other. For all time to come, the freedom and purity of the press are the test of national virtue and independence. No writer for the press, however humble, is free from the burden of keeping his purpose high and his integrity white. The dignity of communities is largely intrusted to our keeping; and while we sway in the struggle or relax in the rest-hour, we must let no buzzards roost on the public shield in our charge.'
- O'Reilly's speech to the Boston Press Club, 1879
O’Reilly had a clear vision of how the press should function and from the beginning of his time with The Pilot in 1870 he used the newspaper to do battle on behalf of America’s underprivileged. In 1879 he gave a speech to the Boston Press Club in which he described this vision to his audience of fellow editors and reporters. In O’Reilly’s eyes, the journalist held an august and vital position in society. Journalism, he believed, should be something more than mere muck-raking and manufactured outrage. The press should seek to move beyond sensationalism and to explain the world to its readers in an honest and clear manner.
By the 1880's O’Reilly had emerged as a consistent public adversary of racism and he was often asked by civil rights groups to speak or write on race-relations. He was, for example, an open opponent of anti-Semitism and, on one occasion, The American Hebrew magazine asked O’Reilly to provide his analysis of anti-Jewish sentiment in the United States. Yet, amid all O’Reilly’s writings and activity in support of minorities of one form or another, it was the issue of black civil rights to which he would most often return, although it had taken him a few years to clarify his thoughts on this subject. We will return to this issue in a later post.