Dissecting Important Documents - Abraham Lincoln: Letter to Horace Greeley

On August 19, 1862 Editor Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune published an editorial called “The Prayer of Twenty Millions”. In the editorial, Greeley was very critical of President Lincoln, arguing that the president was not committed to ending slavery. Congress had passed confiscation acts in 1861 and 1862, giving the Union Army authority to confiscate Confederate property including enslaved people. That being said, both Lincoln and the Union Generals were hesitant to enforce this act. Greeley wrote, “Union cause has suffered from a mistaken deference to Rebel slavery.”


President Lincoln responded to the editorial with a letter on August 22. In the letter, Lincoln states his policy for slavery and how it affects the war effort. The reunification of the Union was his top priority. He wrote, “I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be "the Union as it was." Lincoln continued, explaining how slavery fit into this equation. He wrote, “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. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”


Lincoln took this position during the early years of the war in large part because four slave states remained in the Union (Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri). If slavery was made the key issue, these states would join the Confederacy. Moreover, the loss of Maryland would completely surround Washington, D.C. with Confederate states. Furthermore, Lincoln had already written a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation when he wrote this response. While Lincoln was opposed to slavery, he did not act on his personal beliefs until he had the military victories necessary to gain public support and the constitutional means to do so. The Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863, freeing the slaves in all rebelling states. This served as a military act. The abolition of slavery wouldn’t be fully realized until the passage of the 13th amendment in 1865.


0 views0 comments