Lincoln recognized that Greeley's views helped increase Northern support for the war, especially during the first two years of the conflict. Nonetheless, Greeley's editorials in the Tribune sometimes angered the president. The publisher sometimes criticized Lincoln for his military leadership, and he repeatedly called on Lincoln to free all blacks who were enslaved in the Southern states. Lincoln, though, worried that such a declaration would erode support for the war among Northerners, whose main concern was restoring the Union.
On August 19, 1862, Greeley issued his most famous demand for immediate emancipation (freeing) of slaves. Claiming that he spoke for twenty million disappointed Northerners, the abolitionist published an open letter to Lincoln in which he harshly criticized the president's "timid" policies toward slavery and the South. Lincoln responded three days later with his own note. "My paramount [most important] object is to save the Union and not either to save or destroy slavery," Lincoln stated.
Lincoln's response to Greeley seemed to indicate that he had no intention of tackling the slavery issue any time soon. In reality, though, the president's views on the
^^ Greeley's War of Words with President Lincoln
In August 1862, Horace Greeley and President Abraham Lincoln exchanged strongly worded letters concerning the continued existence of slavery in the Confederacy. Greeley wanted Lincoln to officially outlaw slavery in the South, even though the Federal government did not have any power to enforce such a law at the time. Lincoln, though, responded by saying that he would not take any action that might hurt his ability to eventually restore the divided Union.
Excerpt from Greeley's "Prayer of Twenty Millions":
To Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States:
Dear Sir: I do not intrude to tell you—for you must know already—that a great proportion of those who triumphed in your election, and of all who desire the unqualified suppression [complete crushing] of the rebellion now desolating [destroying] our country, are sorely disappointed and deeply pained by the policy you seem to be pursuing with regard to the slaves of rebels. . . .
We complain that you, Mr. President, elected as a Republican, knowing well what an abomination [great evil] Slavery is, and how emphatically [clearly]
it is the core and essence of this atrocious [terrible] rebellion, seem never to interfere with these atrocities, and never give a direction to your military subordinates, which does not appear to have been conceived in the interest of Slavery rather than of Freedom. . . .
On the face of this wide earth, Mr. President, there is not one disinterested [impartial], determined, intelligent champion of the Union cause who does not feel that all attempts to put down the rebellion and at the same time uphold its inciting cause [the issue that triggered it] are preposterous [absurd] and futile— that the rebellion, if crushed out to-morrow, would be renewed within a year if Slavery were left in full vigor. . . .
I close as I began with the statement that what an immense majority of the loyal millions of your countrymen require of you is a frank, declared, unqualified, ungrudging execution of the laws of the land, more especially of the Confiscation Act [an 1862 law that declared all property—including slaves—owned by rebels to be "contraband of war"; since slaves were considered property in the South, escaped slaves were allowed to remain in the North under this law]. . . . As one of the millions who would gladly have avoided the struggle at any sacrifice but that of principle and honor, but who now feel that the triumph of the Union is indis-
issue changed dramatically during 1862. By the time that Greeley delivered his August 19 letter, Lincoln had come to believe that Northern support for the war might actually increase if he called for an end to slavery. After all, most Northerners felt that slavery was an immoral practice. In addition, many Northerners believed that restoration of the
Abraham Lincoln. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)
pensable [absolutely necessary] not only to the existence of our country but to the well-being of mankind, I entreat [beg] you to render a hearty and unequivocal [clear] obedience to the law of the land.
Yours, Horace Greeley
Excerpt from President Lincoln's response:
The sooner the national authority can be restored, the nearer the Union will be the Union it was.
If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them.
If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them.
My paramount object [main goal] is to save the Union and not either to save or destroy slavery.
If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it—If I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it—and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.
What I do about slavery and the colored race I do because I believe it helps to save this Union; and what I forbear [decide not to do], I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. . . .
. . . I have stated my purpose according to my views of official duty; and I intend no modification [change] of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.
Union would never be possible if slavery were allowed to continue. By the fall of 1862, Lincoln had decided that "slavery must die [so] that the nation might live!" On January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued his famous Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in the Confederate states. This announcement delighted Greeley, who immedi-
ately published an editorial praising both Lincoln and his Proclamation.
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