In December 1961, the Smithsonian Institution opened its grand lecture hall to be used for the first series of popular lectures ever in the nation’s capital. One of the first national celebrities to be acquired for the series was New York Tribune editor and founder, Horace Greeley. On January 3, 1962, Greeley made his speech on the broad topic of “The Nation” in front of a full house, including President Abraham Lincoln. During the address, Greeley turned to Lincoln and proclaimed that the destruction of slavery ought be the “one sole purpose of the war.” Congressman George Julian recalled that the President “greatly admired” the lecture: “I sat by his side, and at the conclusion of the discourse he said to me: ‘That address is full of good thoughts, and I would like to take the manuscript home with me and carefully read it over some Sunday.’” Such strong opinion, criticism, and mutual respect forged the foundation of the relationship between two of the most influential figures of the nineteenth century. As evidenced by the Smithsonian exchange, one of—if not the central—issues around which Lincoln and Greeley’s relationship revolved was emancipation. An understanding of these men’s personal feelings toward slavery reveals that while essentially of the same mind before the war, Southern secession pushed Lincoln and Greeley into separate ideological camps. These differing opinions, accentuated by highly contrasting personalities, were showcased in the editorials of the Tribune and relayed across the nation as the Civil War raged. The debate between the editor and President intensified in the months following the Washington lecture, and soon reached a boiling point in the summer of 1862. In August, Greeley’s continued public criticism of the President and Lincoln’s shrewd legal and political skill had finally came to a head, and the Proclamation that followed would be described by Lincoln as “the central act of my administration, and the great event of the nineteenth century.”
Before reaching the events of the summer of 1862, it is useful to retreat into the foundations of both men’s feelings and attitudes toward slavery. Horace Greeley, in his Recollections of a Busy Life, asserts that three events were central in the formation of his opinions on the matter. Although only nine years old at the time, Greeley recalls being “an omnivorous reader throughout the progress of the great Missouri struggle, and intensely sympathized with the North in her effort to prevent the admission of Missouri as a Slave State.” Greeley, looking back, saw the defeat as a clear indicator that the North’s effort to halt slavery’s growth was conceived too late, and ought have insisted on the exclusion of slavery from the Louisiana purchase. After the storm of the Missouri struggle came a calm from 1821 to 1835 during which Greeley remembers Northern people “generally ignored the subject of slavery.” In this interlude Greeley held his position that slavery was most certainly wrong, but did not join any abolitionist group because he was “utterly unable to see how their efforts tended to the achievement of their end.” Greeley asks, “Suppose the people of Vermont all converted to Abolition, how was that to bring about the overthrow of Slavery in Georgia?” With this attitude, Greeley for years “regarded with complacency the Colonization movement.”
The martyrdom of Elijah P. Lovejoy would rid Greeley of this complacency. Lovejoy was a young Congregational minister who set out from Maine to St. Louis in 1832 to found an Orthodox Protestant newspaper. In said paper, slavery, like intemperance or all other social evils, was treated as a hindrance to “the spread and sway of vital godliness.” In due time, stern opposition to his editorials against slavery turned violent, and his establishment was destroyed by an angry mob. Nevertheless, Lovejoy was “urged, if not compelled,” to relocate his enterprise to Alton, Illinois, where he trusted a religious newspaper would be tolerated. “Vain hope!” Greeley laments in his recollections, as Lovejoy was ordered to “move on,” and when he refused to do so his printing press was thrown in the river. Insisting that he was no abolitionist but had a right as an American citizen to express his views on slavery, Lovejoy declared, “If I die, I have determined to make my grave in Alton.” Such would be the minister’s fate. Standing in defense of his new press in the warehouse in which it was stored, Lovejoy was shot dead by a pro-slavery mob. “If I had ever been one of those who sneeringly asked, ‘What have we of the North to do with slavery?’” Greeley held, “The murder of Lovejoy would have supplied me with a conclusive answer.”
What the Missouri Compromise formed and the murder of Elijah Lovejoy honed, the annexation of Texas cemented. In Greeley’s view, “the whole business was one of gigantic spoliation, —of naked villainy—, and its beings and aim were the aggrandizement of Slave Power.” Greeley was starkly opposed to territorial expansion into Texas from the very beginning, and by the time talk of annexation reached Congress in 1845, the Tribune made sure every reader knew what such actions implied. “The Annexation of Texas is to be driven through the House…The mask is fairly off, and the strengthening of and securing of Slavery is boldly avowed to be the main object of Annexation.”
Lincoln left no such first-hand account of his attitudes toward slavery in his early years. As President, however, Lincoln said privately, “I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not so think and feel.” While Lincoln harbored this moral objection to slavery, the lawyer in him prevented Lincoln from translating these feelings to action against the institution of slavery. From resolutions he helped craft in the Illinois legislature in the 1830s it is clear that Lincoln found slavery to be “founded both on injustice and bad policy,” but like Greeley he was skeptical of abolitionist tactics as he saw “abolition doctrines” to be calculated to increase rather than decrease the evils of slavery. Lincoln was also firmly committed to the notion that Congress had no power under the Constitution to interfere with the practice in the states, and while the Constitution permitted such interference in the District of Columbia, “the power ought not be exercised, unless at the request of the people of the District.” Lincoln, like Greeley, did cultivate hope for colonization as a solution to the scourge of slavery in the country. Lincoln felt that if current or future generations succeed in freeing the land of slavery, “and at the same time in restoring the captive people to their long-lost fatherland with bright prospects for the future, and this too so gradually that neither races nor peoples shall have suffered by the change, it will indeed be a glorious consummation.”
No event to date stirred both men like the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. While never accused of being shy or reserved with his paper, the debate surrounding the act and its eventual passage roused Greeley’s soul like few other events had. The following are just some of the broadsides Greeley published against Senator Douglas and his push for the Kansas-Nebraska Act in the five months leading up to its approval in May 1854: “The Rascals in Washington,” “Traitors and Doughfaces,” “The Shame and Disgrace of America,” “Not One Reason,” “Miserable Political Funguses.” Greeley called the act the “Inequity,” and argued with both with subdued reasoning and simple passion that the act ought not pass. When it became clear that the measure would be pushed through the House, he published the same column for eleven straight says with the title “The Roll of Infamy” which listed the names of all free-state representatives who had voted in favor of the bill. In his editorial, Greeley praised the men who had fought the bill in both houses, asserting that those brave few had humanity and the justice of God on their side. Greeley confessed in his very next editorial that he was “unable to find language of condemnation too strong” to express the level of his indignation for the men who pushed the bill through. Once the word came that Douglas’ bill had passed both houses, Greeley ran the headline: “THE REVOLUTION IS ACCOMPLISHED and Slavery is King! How long shall this monarch reign?” With the battle over the act now over, Greeley prophetically argued, “We have unswerving trust that the forces are silently maturing which shall rid our land ere many years of the scandal and crime of enslaving and auctioneering the countrymen of Washington and Jefferson… we will trust that even the outrage just consummated…be made signally instrumental in hastening that glorious day when the sun shall look down on no American slave.”
Lincoln himself credited the Kansas-Nebraska act with renewing his interest in politics. In a brief autobiography, Lincoln wrote, “In 1854 his profession had almost superseded the thought of politics in his mind, when the repeal of the Missouri Compromise aroused him as he had never been before.” His legal mind was sparked by the apparent injustice, and he wrote to a friend saying, “You know how anxious I am that this Nebraska measure shall be rebuked and condemned everywhere.” Lincoln’s law partner and eventual biographer, William Herndon, also saw this as a watershed moment in Lincoln’s life:
At this time [after his return from Congress] he despaired of ever rising again in the political world; he was very sad and terribly gloomy, was unsocial and abstracted. The Kansas-Nebraska bill was introduced into Congress in 1854 by Senator Douglas. Lincoln saw his opportunity and Douglas’ downfall; he instantly on the introduction of that bill entered into the political field, and by the force of his character, mind, eloquence, he became our abolition leader … This repeal was his grand opportunity, and he seized it and rode to glory on the popular waves.
Lincoln and Greeley, above all others “on the platform and in the press,” exposed the fallacies Douglas for which they felt Douglas was responsible, and molded public opinion over the slavery issue as tensions rose.
The next critical event for the battle over the slavery issue was John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. Those in the South were quick to tie the assault to the new Republican Party and abolitionists, but both Greeley and Lincoln were quick to condemn the radical actions. Lincoln, while admitting he shared Brown’s feelings that slavery was wrong, could not excuse Brown for treason. “It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right,” Lincoln stated the day after the execution. “So, if constitutionally we elect a president, and therefore you undertake to destroy the Union, it will be our duty to deal with you as old John Brown has been dealt with.” Herein lies the central difference between Lincoln and Greeley on the eve of the Civil War. While he detested slavery, Lincoln’s primary concern was the Union. He saw the United States as perpetual and could conceive of no way in which it could be broken by violence or law. Greeley was less concerned about the Union, and simply sought to rid his country of the stain of slavery.
Emancipation was not a goal of President Lincoln as the Civil War began. Greeley, while originally argued that the slave states out “be permitted to go in peace,” joined Lincoln’s position when it became clear that war would settle the conflict. “This War,” Greeley proclaimed in the spring of 1861, “is in truth a War for the preservation of the Union, and not for the destruction of slavery.” However, with an eye toward the future, warned “But if Slavery should insist on making up an issue between itself and the Union, then we are sure it would do so at its peril.” How the Lincoln Administration, Congress, and Greeley exactly meant to wage a war on the Confederacy without dealing with slavery is somewhat a mystery. Apparently, Greeley and Congress became more concerned with the issue, and certainly more vocal. With Union victories few and far between, Congress passed “An Act to Confiscate Property Used for Insurrectionary Purposes,” also known as the First Confiscation Act. The provision allowed the Federal government to take any “property” used in the aid of the secession, including slaves. The bill was highly ambiguous about the legal status of confiscated property, and once Lincoln reluctantly signed the Act, he did little to clarify or attempt to enforce the law. The slow moving actions of the administration did not satisfy Greeley, and the Tribune soon asserted that slavery should die as “an insurgent and an outlaw” plotting to overthrow the nation. Over the next few months, the Tribune continued to support the government in its handling of the crisis, all the while hinting at the eventual reckoning with slavery that needed to take place. Lincoln’s rather bland annual message to Congress in early December of 1861 was the tipping point for the Tribune, as Greeley broke stride with the President to declare the destruction of slavery as official policy:
That the integrity of the Union should be the paramount object of loyal Americans in this contest, is on all hands conceded. The practical question is—can this end be promoted by further deferment to and bolstering up of Slavery? … We say, No—it is dangerous, fatal to do so: it is giving factious and unjust strength to the public enemy; it is cherishing the viper which has its fangs now fastened in the National breast. Notify slaveholders frankly that they may have thirty to sixty days more in which to lay down their arms and return to loyalty; but if they shall continue to defy the National authority…the slaves shall, as a matter of inexorable public policy—nay, as a means of saving the National life at a cost less than ruinous—be proclaimed free … Such is the policy which we believe most effective and most merciful, and we trust it will yet receive the President’s hearty concurrence.
Greeley argued that emancipation was not only morally righteous, but also a strategic war measure. It is with this understanding that Greeley would, one month later, turn to Lincoln in the Smithsonian Lecture hall to argue the same point.
While it is unclear exactly how much Lincoln was spurred to act by Greeley’s public campaign, on March 6, 1862, Lincoln gave Congress a special message recommending the adoption of the following Joint Resolution:
Resolved, That the United States ought to cooperate with any State which may adopt gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such State pecuniary aid, to be used by such State, in its discretion, to compensate for the inconveniences, public and private, produced by such a change of system.
In an accompanying letter, Lincoln referred to his annual address in which he claimed that “all indispensible means” must be used to preserve the Union. The letter also intimated at his future plans, saying, “Such [means] as may seem indispensable, as may obviously promise great efficiency, toward ending the struggle, must and will come.” Greeley was delighted with this development, and endorsed the President’s recommendation with vigor. He proclaimed it as “an epoch in the history of the country,” and predicted that the sixth of March would forever be a day celebrated “as a day which initiated the Nation’s deliverance from the most stupendous wrong, curse, and shame of the Nineteenth Century.”
Not everyone shared Greeley’s excitement, as Representatives from the nation’s border states were made highly uncomfortable by the Joint Resolution. These representatives professed to have gained the notion that the resolution offered only two solutions: compulsory emancipation or a rejection of the resolution altogether. Lincoln invited delegations from Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Virginia to meet him at the White House to clear up any misunderstandings and to discuss the implications of his recommendation. During the course of the meeting, it became clear that the border states got such an impression from the columns of the Tribune, which had understood the measure to mean gradual emancipation and that Lincoln had decided that the complete abolition of slavery was completely necessary to secure victory and lasting peace. Lincoln reassured the delegates that the resolution meant no such ends, and that “emancipation was a subject exclusively under the control of the states.” Once the delegates were reassured that no compulsory emancipation was mandated, they asked Lincoln to publish that fact. The President refused so as not to start a quarrel with the “Greeley faction” and the Tribune—a struggle he hoped not to enter “before the proper time” and hoped to avoid altogether. The emancipation with compensation issue would, in the end, quietly fizzle out as it was met with little support in the states concerned. While the promises of the Joint Resolution were never realized, for Greeley and the Tribune, it was a step in the right direction.
Congress made the next leap, when in July they passed the Second Confiscation Act. The bill granted freedom to all slaves resisting the rebellion in areas that succumb to Union forces, and authorized the President to utilize as many blacks as deemed necessary to promote the public welfare. Lincoln saw the act as having doubtful constitutional support, so hesitated to use its most drastic provisions. While Greeley was surely thrilled with Congress, he launched a campaign designed to get Lincoln to use the new law to the fullest extent that the legislature had intended. On July 25, The Tribune demanded that the President issue a brief statement “recognizing the Confiscation-Emancipation Act as the law of the land, and the basis of a new war policy resolved on by the Nation,” and called on every military officer to live up to the letter of the law. “Mr. Lincoln!” Greeley’s paper cried, “favor the citizens so soon to be transformed by your call into soldiers with an edifying example of perfect obedience to the law.” Meanwhile, Lincoln had settled upon a preliminary emancipation proclamation and presented it to his cabinet on July 22. While it met a generally favorable response, Secretary Seward persuaded the President to wait for a military victory to release the announcement, and seeing the benefits to such a strategy Lincoln set the document in his desk drawer until the appropriate moment.
The proceedings in the White House were kept within the official circles, and were definitely kept secret from the Tribune editor, who impatiently waited for a response to his request for an executive statement. By mid-August, Greeley’s patience for the slow-moving and unresponsive administration had run out. Feeling that most were generally on his side, Greeley sought to thrust the weight of public opinion onto the President in the form of an open letter expressing the hopes and desires of the masses in the Union. Back in Washington, Lincoln and his aides discussed the prudence of providing Greeley some hint of the proclamation sitting in the President’s desk as a means to ward off editorial attack. Such actions were deemed appropriate, and Lincoln’s aid set off to New York. However, the effort was too late, for the morning the insider reached the city, he was greeted with Greeley’s open letter to the President titled “The Prayer of Twenty Millions” on the front page of the most popular newspaper in the country. The main appeal of the letter was not an emancipation proclamation, but argued that Lincoln ought have held onto the threat of emancipation in his inaugural address. The bulk of the “prayer” was focused on urging the President to execute the laws as they stood, namely the Second Confiscation Act, and instructed Lincoln to make it clear to all subordinates that such statues were “to be obeyed to the letter.”
Lincoln’s calculated response was nothing short of brilliant. “My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery,” the President replied in the National Intelligencer. “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.” Lincoln’s reply was widely read, and the simple, direct manner in which the President addressed the subject surely had a great influence on public opinion. Greeley soon responded with another article arguing that Lincoln had sidestepped the issues at hand, and disputed Lincoln’s attempt to restore the “Union as it was,” and forcefully argued that a only new understanding of the Union could survive. No more could the nation be a haven for institutions that wavered from its very ideals like slavery, but instead needed to exist as a mighty power for freedom. This sentiment anticipated what Lincoln would eventually endorse and argue for in the Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural, public opinion rested with the President by the end of August 1862. Lincoln had temporarily silenced Greeley in the public eye, and his administration was permitted to move on its way.
Within a month, however, Greeley’s “prayer” was answered when Lincoln announced his intentions to issue an emancipation proclamation. The proclamation went into effect on New Year’s Day, and declared, “That on the 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free…” Greeley published the full text of the Emancipation Proclamation in the Tribune, and concluded his analysis of the document with the words “GOD BLESS ABRAHAM LINCOLN!”
In the end, both men saw their goals accomplished, as slavery was abolished from the land by due process of law. Before the great conflict, neither man could do much of anything to incur emancipation, Greeley remarking, “as it then stood, we had the same right to deprecate and oppose it that we had to oppose drunkenness in Canada or polygamy in Turkey.” The Civil War raised the stakes for the two men, and each met the challenge through a stubbornness and complete faith in their own reasoning. Lincoln commented that Greeley’s support was worth a hundred thousand men in the field, and Greeley later reflected that the “one providential leader, the indispensable hero of the great drama, was Abraham Lincoln.” Lincoln’s calm wisdom, together with Greeley’s hotheaded disposition, undoubtedly made an immense contribution to the destruction of slavery in the United States.
 The Lincoln Institute. “Abraham Lincoln and Horace Greeley.” http://www.abrahamlincolnsclassroom.org/Library/newsletter.asp?ID=128&CRLI=176
 Harlan Hoyt Horner, Lincoln and Greeley, 1953. pg 70.
 Horace Greeley, Recollections of a Busy Life. 1868. pg 281.
 Horner, 62-62.
 Ibid, 66.
 Ibid, 83-84.
 Ibid, 84.
 Greeley was certainly not unaware of the fact that Washington and Jefferson were slaver owners, so in his Recollections, he insists “all great Southrons of our purer days” were “theoretical emancipationalists.”
 Horner, 81-82.
 Ibid, 99.
 Ibid, 240.
 Ralph Ray Fahrney, Horace Greeley and the Tribune in the Civil War, 1936. Pg 114.
 Greeley in the Tribune, December 4, 1861. (As seen in Horner, 250)
 Horner 250.
 Tribune, March 8, 1862. (As seen in Fahrney, 122)
 Horner, 251.
 Fahrney, 122-123; Horner 251.
 Fahrney 125.
 Tribune, July 25, 1862 (As seen in Fahrney)
 Fahrney, 128. Full Text of the Letter can be found in Horner, 263-267.
 James McPherson, Battle Cry Freedom, 1988, pg 510. Horner, 272-273 (Full Text).
 Erik S Lunde, Horace Greeley. Pg. 40
 Greeley, 293.
 Horner, 288.
Andrews, J. Cutler. The North Reports the Civil War. Pittsburg: University of Pittsburg Press, 1955.
Greeley, Horace. Recollections of a Busy Life. Miami: Mnemosyne Publishing Co, 1969.
Harlan Hoyt Horner. Lincoln and Greeley. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. 1953
Lunde, Erik S. Horace Greeley. Boston : Twayne, 1981.
McPherson, James M. Battle Cry Freedom. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Ralph Ray Fahrney. Horace Greeley and the Tribune in the Civil War. Cedar Rapids, IA: Torch Press. 1936.
Williams, Robert C. “Abraham Lincoln and Horace Greeley.” The Lincoln Institute. http://www.abrahamlincolnsclassroom.org/Library/newsletter.asp?ID=128&CRLI=176