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Chapter 8: during the civil war

  • Greeley's weakness in a national crisis
  • -- his ambition to be Governor of New York -- the story of his break with Seward and Weed -- lack of confidence in the Republican party movement -- course in the Chicago convention of 1860 -- Weed's retaliation -- defense of the right of secession -- the “on to Richmond” cry -- letter to Lincoln after the battle of Bull Run -- negotiations with Mercier -- the “Prayer of Twenty Millions” -- opposition to Lincoln's renomination -- the Niagara Falls negotiations -- a suppressed editorial -- final appreciation of the President

One who has followed Greeley's course in opposition to the slave power after 1850 might expect to find him an aggressive leader in the contest when his desire to see in the presidential chair a resident of a free State elected by Free-soilers was gratified, and when that decision of the people was met by threats of breaking up the Union. But Greeley was, in fact, neither far-seeing in things political nor aggressive in the face of actual danger, and when aggressiveness counted most. He lacked that more exacting courage required “to confront a great enemy in politics” for which he had expressed admiration while the Compromise of 1850 was pending. Combined with this was distrust of Lincoln and his official advisers, a constant inclination during the war to obtrude his advice and his services where they could only cause annoyance and do harm, and a weakness of judgment in essential matters-all of which [171] seemed to justify Garrison in characterizing him as “the worst of all counselors, the most unsteady of all leaders, the most pliant of all compromisers in times of great public emergency.”

To understand clearly Greeley's conduct during Lincoln's administration it is necessary to retrace our steps in presenting the narrative of his career.

What might be called the foundation principle of Greeley's early idea of journalism was independence of thought, and in the Log Cabin he laid down this very correct view of editorial office-holding:

If the administration has resolved that no individual shall be appointed to any office as a reward for any real or imaginary service to the Whig cause as a partizan editor, and that the holding of office under the Federal Government and the editing of a partizan newspaper at the same time are incompatible, we do not hesitate to say that it has made a wise and beneficent decision.

By 1849 he had so far modified this view that he wrote (May 5): “We trust editors will not come to regard office as a goal and recompense for their labors, but that they will not, on the other hand, be deemed ineligible by reason of their calling.” Then he [172] became ambitious to hold an office himself. To one who realizes the power that he possessed as an editor, it may seem strange that he should be willing to devote to public affairs any of the time that his editorial duties demanded, or that he should come to believe that a public office would add to his popular repute. But most of the big men in politics in those days did receive political rewards. Weed, it is true, was content to pull the wires --accepting only the position of State Printer; but Seward had been Governor and was a United States Senator; Greeley had helped elect scores of men to Congress and to the Legislature, and in the opposition party in his own State he had seen Van Buren, Marcy, and Silas Wright honored with one important office after another. So he came to feel that he was left neglected in his editorial room, and in 1854 he approached Weed with the query whether “the time and circumstances” were not favorable for his nomination for Governor. The Tribune had for some years been advocating the adoption of the Maine prohibition law in New York State,1 and [173] Greeley was then classed among the ultra-prohibitionists. Weed's reply was that, although he was ready to admit that Greeley in the Tribune had educated the people up to the acceptance of his own temperance views for the State, the Weed men could not control the nomination, and that, while Greeley had shaken the temperance bush, Myron H. Clark was the man who would catch the bird. Greeley acquiesced in this opinion, but he soon after went to Albany and asked Weed if there was any objection to his running for Lieutenant-Governor. This request was a fair illustration of Greeley's ignorance of the practical side of politics, and Weed was obliged to point out to him how impolitic it would be to make up a ticket with two ultra-temperance men at its head. Again Greeley acquiesced, but when the convention resulted in the nomination of his rival, Henry J. Raymond, for Lieutenant-Governor, he was so exasperated that he held Weed responsible for Raymond's nomination, and accused Weed of concealing his intention in his conversation with him.2

Late in that campaign Greeley wrote to Seward that he wanted “an earnest talk” [174] with him as soon as the election was over, adding: “I have held in as long as I can, or shall have by that time. ... I have tried to talk to Weed, but with only partial success. Weed likes me and always did — I don't think he ever had a dog about his house he likes better-but he thinks I know nothing about politics. If there are any plans for the future I want to know what they are, and if there are none, I want to know that fact, and I will try to form a plan of some sort myself.” In other words, Greeley did not propose to be left out of the future Whig councils. “No other journal had done so much as the Tribune,” says Seward's biographer, “to make Seward the idol of the antislavery people of various degrees.” If there was a suspicion of a breach of trust in the Seward-Greeley-Weed firm, Greeley would naturally address any complaint to Seward.

Stung by the outcome of the election, in which the ticket bearing Raymond's name was successful, Greeley, without seeking an interview with Seward, addressed to him a letter that has become famous. It was dated November 11, 1854, and it opened with the following words: “Governor Seward-The election is over, and its result sufficiently ascertained. It seems to me a fitting time to [175] announce to you the dissolution of the political firm of Seward, Weed, and Greeley, by the withdrawal of the junior partner, said withdrawal to take effect on the morning after the first Tuesday in February next” (when Seward would be elected United States Senator). The letter, which was a long one, went over Greeley's first acquaintance with Weed, set forth his editorial labors up to the time of Harrison's election, and said: “Now came the great scramble of the swell mob of coon minstrels and cider suckers at Washington — I not being counted in. Several regiments of them went on from this city, but no one of the whole crowd, though I say it who should not, had done so much toward General Harrison's nomination as yours respectfully. I asked nothing, expected nothing; but you, Governor Seward, ought to have asked that I be Postmaster of New York. Your asking would have been in vain; but it would have been an act of grace neither wasted nor undeserved. . . When the Whig party, under your rule, had offices to give, my name was never thought of; but when, in 1842-1843, we were hopelessly out of power, I was honored with the party nomination for State Printer. When we came again to have a State Printer to elect as well as [176] nominate, the place went to Weed, as it ought. ... If a new office had not been created on purpose to give its valuable patronage to H. J. Raymond and enable St. John to show forth his Times as the organ of the Whig State administration, I should have been still more grateful.”

Reviewing the recent campaign, he contradicted what Weed in his later autobiography said about seeking the nomination for Governor, saying that, when Weed called on him to state why he could not support him for that nomination, “I [Greeley] had never asked nor counted on his support.” He “should have hated to serve as Lieutenant-Governor,” but would have “gloried in running” so as to have had all his enemies upon him at once. But the nomination was given to Raymond, and he [Greeley] made the fight. The letter closed by saying that the writer trusted that they should never be found in opposition; “all I ask is that we shall be counted even on the morning after the first Tuesday in February, as aforesaid, and that I may thereafter take such course as seems best without reference to the past.”

Seward did not even inform Weed of the contents of this letter, and Weed was ignorant of them until its publication, after Raymond, [177] in a letter in the Times explaining Seward's defeat at Chicago in 1860, had hinted of it as supplying the motive for Greeley's opposition to Seward there. What Weed knew of the incident at the time from Seward was contained in the following letter:

Has Greeley written to you, or do you see him nowadays? Just before the election he wrote me an abrupt letter. I did not think it wise to trouble you about it. Then, when he thought all was gone through your blunders and mine, he came out in the paper and said as much in a chafed spirit. To-day I have a long letter from him, full of sharp, pricking thorns. I judge, as we might well know, from his, at bottom, nobleness of disposition, that he has no idea of saying or doing anything wrong or unkind; but it is sad to see him so unhappy. Will there be a vacancy in the Board of Regents this winter? Could one be made at the close of the session? Could he have it? Raymond's nomination and election is hard for him to bear. I think this is a good letter to burn. I wish I could do Greeley so great a kindness as to burn his.

From the date of his letter to Seward, Greeley showed a determination to give his own judgment free rein, and, perhaps [178] through lack of influences that had previously restrained him, his course became more and more erratic. We find an early illustration of this in 1858-the year of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debate in Illinois-when he favored the acceptance of Douglas as the Republican candidate for United States Senator, and in a letter to a Chicago editor spoke of the failure to conciliate Douglas as spurning and insulting the Republicans of other States, and added: “If Lincoln would fight up to the work also, you might get through. ... You have got your elephant-you would have him-now shoulder him. He is not so heavy after all.” His early lack of faith in the success of the Republican party was not overcome, and in writing to G. E. Baker on April 28, 1859, he said:

I lack faith that the antislavery men of this country have either the numbers or the sagacity required to make a President. I do not believe there are a hundred thousand earnest antislavery-men in this State, or a million in the Union .... Slavery has not another body of servitors half so useful and efficient as the most rabid Abolitionists . ... I hope Seward or Chase will be nominated on the platform of 1856, and then I will go to work for him with a will, but with perfect [179] certainty that we are to be horribly beaten. I only want to be in such a shape that, when the thing is over, I can say, ‘I told you so.’ I don't believe the time ever has been (or soon will be) when, on a square issue, the Republicans could or can poll one hundred electoral votes. But let her drive.


Greeley attended the National Republican Convention of 1860 not as a delegate from his own State, but as the representative of an Oregon district that had asked him to serve. He went to Chicago declaring that his candidate was Edward Bates, of Missouri, a Virginian by birth, and a lifelong slaveholder! “He was thoroughly conservative,” Greeley afterward explained, “and so held fast to the doctrine of our revolutionary sages, that slavery was an evil to be restricted, not a good to be diffused. This conviction made him essentially a Republican; while I believed that he could poll votes in every slave State, and if elected, rally all that was left of the Whig party therein to resist secession and rebellion.” In a statement published soon after the nomination of Lincoln, Greeley said that he had considered the nomination of Seward “unadvisable and unsafe,” [180] but that Seward's defeat was due to the conviction of the delegates from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Indiana that he could not carry those States. Thereupon Henry J. Raymond wrote from Seward's home a letter to the New York Times in which he gave a different account of Greeley's action at the convention. The letter was a very bitter one, as a few extracts from it will show:

The main work of the Chicago convention was the defeat of Governor Seward, ... and in that endeavor Mr. Greeley labored harder and did tenfold more than the whole family of Blairs, together with all the gubernatorial candidates to whom he modestly hands over the honors of the effective campaign. He had special qualifications as well as a special love for the task, to which none of the others could lay any claim. For twenty years he had been sustaining the political principles and vindicating the political conduct of Mr. Seward through the columns of the most influential political newspaper in the country.... He had gone far beyond him in expressions of hostility to slavery, in palliation of armed attempts for its overthrow, and in assaults upon that clause of the Constitution which requires the surrender of the fugitive slaves; and he was known to have [181] been for more than twenty years his personal friend and political supporter .... Mr. Greeley was in Chicago several days before the meeting of the convention, and he devoted every hour of the interval to the most steady and relentless prosecution of the main business which took him hither — the defeat of Governor Seward. He labored personally with the delegates as they arrived, commending himself always to their confidence by professions of regard and the most zealous friendship for Governor Seward, but presenting defeat even in New York as the inevitable result of his nomination. .. . While the contents of Greeley's letter of November 11, 1854, to Seward were known to some of Seward's supporters who were working at Chicago, no use was made of this knowledge in quarters where it would have disarmed the deadly effect of his pretended friendship for the man upon whom he was thus deliberately wreaking the long-hoarded revenge of a disappointed office-seeker. He was still allowed to represent to the delegations from Vermont, New Hampshire, Ohio, Indiana, and other States known to be in favor of Governor Seward's nomination, that, while he desired it upon the strongest grounds of personal and political friendship, he believed [182] it would be fatal to the success of the cause.

This was the first public reference that had been made to Greeley's letter to Seward. Greeley now demanded its publication, and this followed, and the actual rupture of the political firm then occurred. Weed reviewed the letter in the Albany Evening Journal with this summing up:

In conclusion, we can not withhold an expression of sincere regret that this letter has been called out. Having remained six years in ‘blissful ignorance’ of its contents, we should much prefer to have ever remained so. It jars harshly upon cherished memories. It destroys ideals of disinterestedness and generosity which relieve political life from so much that is selfish, sordid, and rapacious.

When, in 1861, the nomination for United States Senator at Albany lay between Greeley and William M. Evarts, and Greeley was gaining in the caucus balloting, Weed had the name of Ira Harris presented, and so snatched the nomination from his old friend. When, in 1869, Greeley accepted the nomination for State Comptroller, after three candidates on the ticket had declined their nominations, Weed refused to support him, and wrote a letter in which he analyzed Greeley's [183] course in later years, and declared that it was “preposterous” to suppose that the editor of a daily journal in New York could so divide his time as to discharge also the duties of Comptroller. The vote at the polls stood: Greeley, 307,688; Allen, 330,371.4

Greeley met with denials the charges that his opposition to Seward's nomination was due to any personal hostility, saying in reply to Weed's statement: “The most careful scavenger of private letters or the most sneaking eavesdropper that ever listened to private conversation, can not allege a single reason for any personal hostility on my part against Mr. Seward. I have never received from him anything but exceeding kindness and courtesy. He has done me favors (not of a political nature) in a manner which made them still more obliging; and I should regard the loss of his friendship as a very serious loss. Notwithstanding this, I could not support him for President. I like Mr. Seward personally, but I love the party and its principles more.” [184]

The Albany Evening Journal charged that Seward's appointment by Lincoln as Secretary of State was made “against the persistent protestations of those who concurred with the Tribune.” The Tribune replied that it “promptly and heartily approved” of Seward's selection, and let the new President know that its editor would not accept the Postmaster-Generalship.5

The announcement of Lincoln's election was followed by instant threats of secession on the part of the South, and by demands for concessions to the slave power by many interests-business and political — in the North. Greeley met this situation by taking the ground, in the Tribune of December 17, 1860, that, if the right of the colonists to rebel against Great Britain was justified by the “consent of the governed” clause of the Declaration of Independence, that clause would justify “the secession of five million of Southrons from the Federal Union in 1861.” Jefferson's principle might be “pushed to extreme and baleful consequences” ; but, while he would not uphold the secession of Governor's Island from New York, if seven or [185] eight contiguous States should secede from the Union he would not think it right to “stand up for coercion.” If Mayor Fernando Wood had not had free trade in view, Greeley might have joined him in his suggestion to the Common Council of New York city on January 6, 1861, that, if the Union, which, he held, could not be constitutionally kept together by force, was dissolved, the city should separate from the State and establish a “Free city,” which would have “cheap goods nearly free from duty.” A week later he declared that, if any six or more of the cotton States wanted to secede, “we will do our best to help them out, not that we want them to go, but that we loathe the idea of compelling them to stay.” The abstract right of a State to secede, under the Constitution, is upheld by some Republicans of prominence to-day. Without following their argument, it may be pointed out that what Washington had in view was an “inviolable Union,” that “indissoluble Union” which he recommended to the Governors of the States; and that John Quincy Adams, in 1828, declared that, while the people of a State, “by the primitive right of insurrection against oppression” might declare their State out of the Union, “they have delegated no such power to their legislators [186] or their judges; and if there be such a right, it is the right of an individual to commit suicide — the right of an inhabitant of a populous city to set fire to his own dwelling house.”

Greeley's declarations were eagerly accepted by the most radical defenders of secession in the South, Tombs using them to strengthen his argument in favor of the constitutional right of secession before the Georgia convention,6 and they perplexed and alarmed the friends of Union in the North. Lincoln, realizing the harm which an editor of Greeley's influence could do to the Union cause, wrote to him, cautioning him against expressing such views. Greeley in his reply said that one State could no more secede at [187] its pleasure than one stave could secede from a cask, but that, if eight or ten States wanted to go, he would say, “There's the door, go.” Still, if the seceding States began fighting while the Union was not yet dissolved, “I guess they will have to be made to behave themselves.” The one thing he would object to would be “another nasty compromise.” No more arguments in favor of secession appeared in the Tribune, and in January, 1861, Greeley wrote, “I deny to one State, or to a dozen different States, the right to dissolve this Union. It can only be legally dissolved as it was formed-by the free consent of all the parties concerned.” Aside from its support of Greeley's schemes for meddling, and its hostility to Lincoln, the Tribune vigorously supported the Union cause during the war, and so concentrated on itself the hatred of the Southern sympathizers in New York city that, during the draft riots in 1863, its building was attacked by the mob.7

When Lincoln's first call for troops came, and war was actually begun, the nation had had no experience in warfare for fifty years. It had to rely, too, not on an organized force, [188] but on raw recruits, hurriedly summoned from peaceful pursuits, and who had to be organized, drilled, fed, and sheltered under the direction of officers who were themselves without experience, save what some of them had been taught in the military school. But when a war begins, both sides are generally confident, and the desire of the public is for speedy action. It was so in 1861, and the Tribune soon gave voice to this desire by printing, day after day, on its editorial page, the following advice:

The Nation's war-cry

Forward to Richmond! Forward to Richmond! The rebel Congress must not be allowed to meet there on the twentieth of July! By that date the place must be held by the national army.

When the advance was made, and the disaster of Bull Run followed, Greeley and the Tribune incurred what might be called a national denunciation. “The battle of Bull Run,” says Parton, “nearly cost the editor of the Tribune his life. Mr. Greeley was almost beside himself with horror,” to which “was added, perhaps, some contrition for having permitted the paper to goad the Government into an advance which events showed to [189] be either too late or premature.” Greeley made a statement in July, 1861, in which he said that while the cry, “Forward to Richmond” was not his coining, and he would have preferred not to iterate it, he assumed the responsibility for it, but averred that neither he nor any one connected with the Tribune “ever commended or imagined any such strategy as the launching of barely thirty of the one hundred thousand Union volunteers within fifty miles of Washington, against ninety thousand rebels, enveloped in a labyrinth of strong entrenchments, and unreconnoitered masked batteries.” This explanation of his position he repeated in later years, saying, for instance, in his most careful estimate of Lincoln 8 that the early delay was due to the President's “delusion” that “soft words would obviate all necessity for deadly strife,” and that, because of this, “new volunteers were left for weeks to rot in idleness and dissipation in the outskirts and purlieus of Washington, because their commander-in-chief believed that it would never be necessary or advisable to load their muskets with ball cartridges.” The extent of Greeley's panic was not disclosed until the [190] publication of the following letter to Lincoln in 1887, many years after both he and Lincoln were dead:

New York, Monday, July 29, 1861. Midnight
Dear Sir: This is my seventh sleepless night — yours, too, doubtless — yet I think I shall not die, because I have no right to die. I must struggle to live, however bitterly. But to business. You are not considered a great man, and I am a hopelessly broken one. You are now undergoing a terrible ordeal, and God has thrown the gravest responsibilities upon you. Do not fear to meet them. Can the rebels be beaten after all that has occurred, and in view of the actual state of feeling caused by our late awful disaster If they can — and it is your business to ascertain and decide — write me that such is your judgment, so that I may know and do my duty. And if they can not be beaten — if our recent disaster is fatal — do not fear to sacrifice yourself to your country. If the rebels are not to be beaten — if that is your judgment in view of all the light you can get — then every drop of blood henceforth shed in this quarrel will be wantonly, wickedly shed, and the guilt will rest heavily on the soul of every promoter of the crime. I pray [191] you to decide quickly, and let me know my duty.

If the Union is irrevocably gone, an armistice for thirty, sixty, ninety, one hundred and twenty days--better still for a year — ought at once to be proposed with a view to a peaceful adjustment Then Congress should call a national convention, to meet at the earliest possible day. And there should be an immediate and mutual exchange or release of prisoners and a disbandment of forces. I do not consider myself at present a judge of anything but the public sentiment. That seems to me everywhere gathering and deepening against a prosecution of the war. The gloom in this city is funereal — for our dead at Bull Run were many, and they lie unburied yet. On every brow sits sullen, scorching, black despair. It would be easy to have Mr. Crittenden move any proposition that ought to be adopted, or to have it come from any proper quarter. The first point is to ascertain what is best that can be done — which is the measure of our duty-and do that very thing at the earliest moment.

This letter is written in the strictest confidence, and is for your eye alone. But you are at liberty to say to members of your Cabinet [192] that you know I will second any movement you may see fit to make. But do nothing timidly nor by halves. Send me word what to do. I will live till I can hear it, at all events. If it is best for the country and for mankind that we make peace with the rebels at once, and on their own terms, do not shrink even from that. But bear in mind the greatest truth: “ Whoso would lose his life for my sake shall save it.” Do the thing that is the highest right, and tell me how I am to second you.

Yours, in the depth of bitterness, Horace Greeley.9

Even this letter did not discourage the President. His biographers say: “He smiled at frettings like those of Scott, Dix, and Richardson; but letters like that of Greeley made him sigh at the strange weakness of human character. Such things gave him pain, but they bred no resentment, and elicited no reply.” [193]

Greeley's lack of faith in the ability of the North to preserve the Union by force of arms next manifested itself in efforts to settle the dispute by negotiation. With this end in view, he was ready to treat either with the representative of a foreign power or with any one assuming to represent the Confederacy. M. Mercier, the French minister at Washington, was openly friendly to the South. He had advised the Emperor Napoleon to recognize the Confederacy and to raise the blockade, and was using all his influence in behalf of the rebellious States. In 1862 Greeley appealed to Mercier to secure the intervention of the French Government to end the war. Mercier commended the suggestion to his fellow diplomats in Washington, urging that it was an indication of the weakness of even the radicals of the North, and declaring that the idea that Greeley would favor no step that would endanger the Union was “all bosh.”

The view of the administration at Washington concerning these negotiations was set forth in a reply by Secretary Seward to a despatch from the French Foreign Secretary to M. Mercier, suggesting “informal conferences” with the Confederates to end the war. In this reply (dated February 6, 1863), Seward [194] repudiated the suggestion that the war had not been vigorously carried on, and said: “M. de l'huys, I fear, has taken other light than the correspondence of this Government for his guidance in ascertaining its temper and firmness. He has probably read of divisions of sentiment among those who hold themselves forth as organs of public opinion here, and has given to them undue importance.” As to the appointment of commissioners by our Government and the Confederates, to meet on neutral ground and discuss the situation, he said: “The commissioners must agree in recommending either that the Union shall stand or that it shall be voluntarily dissolved; or else they must leave the vital question unsettled, to abide at last the fortunes of war. . . . There is not the least ground to suppose that the controlling (insurgent) actors would be persuaded at this moment, by any arguments which national commissioners could offer, to forego the ambition that has impelled them to the disloyal position they are occupying. Any commissioners who should be appointed by these actors, or through their dictation or influence, must enter the conference imbued with the spirit and pledged to the personal fortunes of the insurgent chiefs. The loyal people in [195] the insurrectionary States would be unheard, and any offer of peace by this Government, on the condition of the maintenance of the Union, must necessarily be rejected. On the other hand, as I have already intimated, this Government has not the least thought of relinquishing the trust which has been confided to it by the nation under the most solemn of all political sanctions; and, if it had any such thought, it would still have abundant reason to know that peace proposed at the cost of dissolution would be immediately, unreservedly, and indignantly rejected by the American people.”

Henry J. Raymond, in his journal,10 mentions that Collector Barney told him in Washington, on January 25, 1863, that he knew that Greeley had been in correspondence with Vallandigham about mediation, and that later Greeley said to him (Raymond), on the Albany boat, that “he meant to carry out the policy of foreign mediation, and of bringing the war to a close. ‘You'll see,’ said he, ‘that I'll drive Lincoln into it.’ ” On the way back to New York one of the trustees of the Tribune Association told Raymond that the trustees would not permit Greeley to continue [196] the advocacy of intervention in the paper.11

Raymond also recalls an after-dinner conversation in Washington, on January 26, 1863, when Secretary Seward, Rev. Dr. Bellows, George Bancroft, General McDowell, and others were present, at which Seward spoke very bitterly of the effect of Greeley's negotiations with the French minister, and said that Greeley had clearly made himself liable to the penalties of the law forbidding such intercourse.

In August, 1862, following McClellan's retreat from the Virginia peninsula, Greeley addressed to President Lincoln through the columns of the Tribune a long letter under the title The Prayer of Twenty Millions, signed with his initials. It began by saying that the President must already know that [197] his supporters “are sorely disappointed and deeply pained by the policy you seem to be pursuing with regard to the slaves of rebels.” Under nine headings he set forth the specifications of this charge, its main points being that the President was “strangely and disastrously remiss” in regard to the emancipation provisions of the new confiscation act; that the Union cause had suffered immensely from mistaken deference to rebel slavery; that timid counsels in such a crisis were calculated to prove perilous; and that if the President, in his inaugural address, had given notice that, if rebellion was persisted in, he would “recognize no loyal person as rightfully held in slavery by a traitor,” the rebellion would have received a staggering, if not fatal, blow. Finally, he demanded that the President give his subordinates direction that, under the confiscation act, the slaves of rebels coming or brought within the Union lines were to be free.

This letter called out Lincoln's reply of August 22, in which he said: “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all slaves I would do it; and if I could [198] 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.” In less than a month from the receipt of Greeley's letter, Lincoln issued his emancipation proclamation. As some writers have held that this proclamation was a result of Greeley's prodding, it is interesting to obtain Greeley's own statement on this point. In his lecture on Lincoln, written about the year 1868, he thus disposed of this matter: “I had not besought him to proclaim general emancipation; I had only urged him to give full effect to the laws of the land, which prescribed that slaves employed with their masters' acquiescence in support of the rebellion should henceforth be treated as free by such employment, and by the general hostility of their owners to the national authority. I have no doubt that Mr. Lincoln's letter had been prepared before he ever saw my ‘prayer,’ and that this was merely used by him as an opportunity, an occasion, an excuse, for setting his own altered position-changed not at his volition, but by circumstances-fairly before the country.” 12 [199]

The earliest opposition to Lincoln's renomination manifested itself in a call for a convention to be held in Cleveland, Ohio, one week before the date of the National Republican Convention. The New Yorkers who signed this call included advocates of the nomination of General Fremont, the Rev. George B. Cheever and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. B. Gratz Brown, Greeley's running mate in 1872, was one of the signers in St. Louis, and Wendell Phillips was a warm sympathizer with the movement. The convention, amid much disorder, nominated General Fremont for President, and John Cochran for Vice-President (both from the same State, the Constitution to the contrary, notwithstanding). Fremont accepted, but Cochran [200] withdrew his name, and the Cleveland ticket was not heard of further.

Meanwhile, the Republicans all over the country were manifesting their demand for Lincoln's second nomination, and the work of the Baltimore convention was, so far as the head of the ticket was concerned, decided in advance. A committee, self-constituted, of which Greeley's long-time opponent William Cullen Bryant was a member, urged the National Republican Committee to postpone the convention. The Tribune made no editorial comment on Fremont's nomination, but the day before the Republican convention met it declared its conviction that the gathering should be postponed “while every effort of the loyal millions should be directed toward the overthrow of the armed hosts of the rebellion,” adding: “We feel that the expected nomination, if made at this time, exposes the Union party to a dangerous ‘flank movement ’ --possibly a successful one.”

When the renomination of Lincoln was made, the Tribune restated its objection. And what was it? That there were a large number of foes in our own household, at heart enemies of the national cause, who wanted the war to break down, and the Government to be forced to make peace on the [201] rebels' terms; that these men made their assaults under cover of hostility to the administration, and that “the renomination of Mr. Lincoln will inevitably intensify their efforts, and rebarb their arrows. .. . We believe the rebellion would have lost something of its cohesion and venom from the hour in which it was known that a new President would surely be inaugurated on the fourth of March next; and that hostility in the loyal States to the national cause must have sensibly abated, or been deprived of its most dangerous weapons, from the moment that all were brought to realize that the President, having no more to expect or hope, could henceforth be influenced by no conceivable motive but a desire to serve and save his country, and thus win for himself an enviable and enduring fame.” In the light of what we now know of Lincoln's part and Greeley's part in pushing the great struggle for the preservation of the nation to a successful end, it is unnecessary to comment on this proposal to surrender Lincoln as a sop to Northern “Copperheads,” or on this stab at the motives of the man who was wearing his heart out in the nation's behalf.

Greeley's hostility to Lincoln did not cease with the action of the National Republican Convention. The summer of 1864 was [202] a trying one to all loyal hearts, and when August closed Grant had met with a check before Petersburg, Sherman was supposed still to be out of Atlanta, and the Democratic National Convention had pronounced the war a failure, and called for a cessation of hostilities. Two days after this platform was adopted, Greeley, on September 2, sent to the Governors of the loyal States a letter making three inquiries: “Is the reelection of Mr. Lincoln a probability? Can your own State be carried for Mr. Lincoln? Do the interests of the Union party require the substitution of another candidate in place of Mr. Lincoln?” The replies of the loyal Governors were rebukes to the editor's suggestion. How could they be otherwise? The withdrawal of the Republican candidate a few weeks before the election would have been an acknowledgment of weakness that would have meant party demoralization and certain defeat at the polls, no matter who might have been put up in Mr. Lincoln's place. Verily, Thurlow Weed was correct when he thought that Greeley “knew nothing about politics.”

Greeley's defeat in his efforts to prevent Lincoln's renomination did not make him any more modest in playing the part of adviser to the administration. “In personal interviews, [203] in private letters, and in the columns of the Tribune, he repeatedly placed before the President with that vigor of expression in which he was unrivaled the complaints and the discontents of a considerable body of devoted, if not altogether reasonable, Union men,” thus drawing around him “a certain number of adventurers and busybodies, who fluttered between the two great parties, and were glad to occupy the attention of prominent men on either side with schemes whose only real object was some slight gain or questionable notoriety for themselves.” 13 One of these adventurers who gained Greeley's ear was William Cornell Jewett, “of Colorado,” who had been an interminable epistolary adviser of the President. In July, 1864, he wrote Greeley from Niagara Falls that two Confederate ambassadors were then in Canada, with “full and complete powers for a peace,” and urging Greeley to go on at once for the purpose of a private interview, or to obtain the President's protection, that they might meet Greeley in the United States.

This proposition so impressed Greeley that he wrote to the President, reminding him that “our bleeding, bankrupt country also [204] longs for peace; shudders at the prospect of fresh conscriptions, of further wholesale devastation, and of new rivers of blood,” disapproving of the warlike tone of the platform on which Lincoln had just been renominated (Greeley's old rival, Henry J. Raymond had reported it), and suggesting, as terms of settlement, a Union restored and declared perpetual, the abolition of slavery, with complete amnesty, and a $400,000,000 indemnity for the freed slaves. In closing, he expressed a fear that Lincoln did not realize how intently the people desired “any peace consistent with the national integrity and honor,” adding, “with United States stocks worth but forty cents in gold per dollar, and drafting about to commence on the third million of Union soldiers, can this be wondered at?”

Lincoln's patience and kindly treatment of Greeley throughout this episode are admirably set forth in the Nicolay-Hay biography. Realizing the futility of the proposed negotiations, as well as Greeley's honesty of purpose, Lincoln decided to make use of his offer in order to show the country what such negotiations would amount to. So he placed Greeley in the front as negotiator, replying to him as follows: “If you can find [205] any person, anywhere, professing to have any proposition of Jefferson Davis in writing, for peace, embracing the restoration of the Union and the abandonment of slavery, whatever else it embraces, say to him that he may come to me with you,” under a safe-conduct. This broad acceptance of any authorized peace agent, under Greeley's guidance, puzzled the editor, and he first replied, expressing doubt whether the negotiators would “open their budget” to him. But very soon afterward he wrote Lincoln again, giving him in confidence the names of the Confederate agents (Clement C. Clay, of Alabama, and Jacob Thompson, of Mississippi), saying that he had reliable information of their authority and anxiety to confer with the President or such persons as he might authorize to treat with them, and urging prompt action, that it might do good in the coming North Carolina election. Greeley thus ignored the authority already given him to conduct the peace agents to Washington; but the patient Lincoln, in order to bring the matter to a head, sent Major John Hay (the present Secretary of State) to him with a letter expressing his disappointment that Greeley had not reached Washington with the Confederate commissioners, repeating the invitation [206] to bring them, and concluding, “I not only intend a sincere effort for peace, but intend that you shall be a personal witness that it is made.”

Greeley still hesitated, but he finally consented to go to Niagara if he should be furnished with a safe-conduct to Washington for four persons, and this was immediately granted. Upon his arrival at Niagara he sent by Jewett a letter to the Confederate negotiators, telling them of the safecon-duct he had for them if they were “duly accredited from Richmond as the bearers of propositions looking to the establishment of peace.” Thereupon he was informed that the men whom he was addressing had no such credentials; as they wrote to him later, that was “a character we had no right to assume, and had never affected to possess.” They could only aver that they knew the view of their Government, and could get credentials. In other words, whatever terms might then have been proposed, would have been overtures from the United States Government to the Confederates. But Greeley did not comprehend this, and simply reported to Lincoln the reply he had received, and asked for further instructions. Lincoln's patience was not even then exhausted. He sent to Greeley at [207] once, by the hands of Major Hay, the following in his own handwriting:

Executive Mansion, Washington, July 18, 1864.
To Whom it May Concern: Any proposition which embraces the restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole Union, and the abandonment of slavery, and which comes by and with an authority that can control the armies now at war against the United States, will be received and considered by the Executive Government of the United States, and will be met by liberal terms on other substantial points, and the bearer or bearers thereof shall have safe-conduct both ways.

The handing of this letter to one of the Confederates practically ended the negotiations. But Greeley, unknown to Major Hay, privately authorized Jewett to act as his (Greeley's) representative in regard to any future offers that might come from the Confederates; Jewett made known to the latter his regrets over the “sad termination” of the deliberations; the Confederates sent him a letter addressed to Greeley, in which they attacked the President for alleged lack of good faith, and Jewett gave this letter to the newspapers. In the newspaper discussion of the [208] matter that followed, Greeley agreed with the Confederates that the President's safe-conduct abrogated the condition he had originally set forth, thus making a “rude withdrawal of a courteous overture for negotiation at a moment it was likely to be accepted,” and being “an emphatic recall of words of peace just uttered, and fresh blasts of war to the bitter end.” In the Tribune of August 5, 1864, he held that the President's letter of July 18 changed the situation entirely, but added, “I am quite sure the mistake was not originally the President's, but that of some one or more of the gentlemen who are paid $8,000 a year from the Treasury for giving him bad advice; and from certain earmarks I infer that it had its initial impulse from the War Department.”

Lincoln, in his kindness of heart toward Greeley, proposed to the latter that, in view of the probable necessity of publishing their correspondence, parts of Greeley's letters, including those referring to the probable political advantage of the peace negotiations, be omitted, and invited him to Washington for a personal discussion. This invitation Greeley declined, and in his reply to a second one he said:

I fear that my chance for usefulness has [209] passed. I know that nine-tenths of the whole American people, North and South, are anxious for peace-peace on almost any terms --and utterly sick of human slaughter and devastation. I know that, to the general eye, it now seems that the rebels are anxious to negotiate, and that we repulse their advances. I know that if this impression be not removed we shall be beaten out of sight next November. I firmly believe that, were the election to take place to-morrow, the Democratic majority in this State and Pennsylvania would amount to 100,000, and that we should lose Connecticut also.14 Now, if the rebellion can be crushed before November, it will do to go on; if not, we are rushing on certain ruin.

What, then, can I do in Washington? Your trusted advisers nearly all think I ought to go to Fort Lafayette for what I have done already. Seward wanted me sent there for my brief conference with M. Mercier. The cry had steadily been, No truce! No armistice! No negotiation! No mediation! Nothing but surrender at discretion! I never heard of such fatuity before. There is nothing [210] like it in history. It must result in disaster, or all experience is delusive ....

In case peace can not now be made, consent to an armistice for one year, each party to retain, unmolested, all it now holds, but the rebel ports to be open. Meantime, let a national convention be held, and there will surely be no war, at all events.

Greeley, in closing this correspondence, insisted that all or none of it should be published. “This was accepted by Mr. Lincoln,” say his biographers, “as a veto upon its publication. He could not afford, for the sake of vindicating his own action, to reveal to the country the despondency-one might almost say the desperation — of one so prominent in Republican circles as the editor of the Tribune.” The correspondence did not appear until Messrs. Nicolay and Hay laid it before their readers in 1890.

One illustration of Greeley's feeling toward Lincoln remains to be cited. On the day that Lincoln was shot Greeley had written an editorial, “a brutal, bitter, sarcastic personal attack” on the President. When the proof of this article reached the hands of the managing editor, Sidney Howard Gay, in the evening, Mr. Lincoln was dying from his wound. Gay suppressed the editorial, telling [211] the foreman to lock up the type and tell no one of its existence. The next day, when Greeley found that the article was not in the paper, he accosted Gay in a rage, saying, “They tell me you ordered my leader out of this morning's paper. Is it your paper or mine? I should like to know if I can not print what I choose in my own paper.” Gay replied that the article was still in type, and could be used, but added: “Only this, Mr. Greeley. I know New York, and I hope and believe before God that there is so much virtue in New York that, if I had let that article go into this morning's paper, there would not be one brick upon another in the Tribune office now.” Greeley never alluded to the subject again.15

The following statement has recently been printed: “It was known to but few persons at the time-and those then connected with the New York Tribune--that President Lincoln paid a visit to Horace Greeley, at the Tribune office, of a most sacred nature and presumably of a most urgent and important character, somewhere about the time of the accession of Grant to the office of commander-in-chief of the army, arriving in the evening [212] and leaving for the capital early in the morning, with few but themselves cognizant of the fact. The important events around Petersburg and Richmond followed shortly afterward, and those events were probably the subject of their conference.” This story is inherently improbable, and I have the most competent authority for saying that it belongs in the list of romances which include another recently published story that Lincoln once went secretly to pass a night in prayer with Henry Ward Beecher.

Greeley furnished his own comment on his estimate and treatment of Lincoln during the period of the war. One of his best pieces of literary work is an address on Lincoln, which he wrote in 1868. In this he reviewed Lincoln's entire career, pointing out mistakes with which he credited him, and summing up his estimate of the man in these words:

Never before did one so constantly and visibly grow under the discipline of incessant cares, anxieties, and trials. The Lincoln of 1862 was plainly a larger, broader, better man than he had been in 1861; while 1863 and 1864 worked his continued and unabated growth in mental and moral stature. Few have been more receptive, more sympathetic, and (within reasonable limits) more plastic than he. [213] Had he lived twenty years longer, I believe he would have steadily increased in ability to counsel his countrymen, and in the estimation of the wise and good. ...

The republic needed to be cast through chastening, purifying fires of adversity and suffering; so these came and did their work, and the verdure of a new national life springs greenly from their ashes. Other men were helpful to the great renervation, and nobly did their part in it; yet, looking back through the lifting mists of seven eventful, tragic, trying, glorious years, I clearly discern that the one providential leader, the indispensable hero of the great drama-faithfully reflecting even in his hesitations and seeming vacillation the sentiment of the masses-fitted by his very defects and shortcomings for the burden laid upon him, the good to be wrought out through him, was Abraham Lincoln.


1 As a city excise measure Greeley proposed in 1844 to abolish all license fees, and assess on the sellers of liquor, retail and wholesale, the carefully ascertained cost of the pauperism caused by rum.

2 Weed's Autobiography, II, p. 227.

3 Weed's Autobiography, II, p. 255.

4 Greeley was a member of the State Constitutional Convention in 1867. In 1870 he ran for Congress against S. S. Cox, and was defeated by a majority of 1,025 votes, the district giving the Democratic candidate for Governor a majority of 1,745 at the same election.

5 “There was no moment of Mr. Lincoln's rule when any place in his gift would have been accepted by Mr. Greeley.” --Tribune, March 16, 1872.

6 In his American Conflict, written in 1864, Greeley quoted his editorial of December 17th in full, and in reasserting the possibility of justifying the free States in consenting to a withdrawal of the slave States from the Union, if that was the deliberate desire of the great body of their people, he added: “And the South had been so systematically, so outrageously, deluded by demagogues on both sides of the slave line, with regard to the nature and special importance of the Union to the North--it being habitually represented as an immense boon conferred on the free States by the slave, whose withdrawal would whelm us all in bankruptcy and ruin — that it might do something toward allaying the Southern inflammation to have it distinctly and plainly set forth that the North had no desire to enforce upon the South the maintenance of an abhorred, detested Union.”

7 Henry Wilson gave to its managing editor, Sidney Howard Gay, the credit of keeping the Tribune loyal during the war.

8 Address printed in the Century, July, 1891.

9 The publication of this letter was a shock to Greeley's old Tribune office friends, and Samuel Sinclair, long his publisher, in a note to that journal, dated January 1, 1888, said: “When that letter was written Mr. Greeley had been and was still severely ill with brain fever; the entire letter, in my judgment, revealed that he was on the verge of insanity when he wrote it.”

10 Scribner's Monthly, March, 1880.

11 In one of its articles favoring mediation by a friendly foreign power, the Tribune (in January, 1863) said: “The prevalent opinion on that [European] side of the Atlantic blames us Unionists more than the rebels because it is their belief that the rebels are willing and anxious for peace on any terms that impartial judges shall deem fair, while our Government will listen to no terms short of unconditional submission to its authority, and this conviction does very great harm to our cause.” It would therefore assume that a foreign offer of mediation was friendly and generous, and agree to consider arbitration when the Confederate assent thereto had been obtained.

12 Owen Lovejoy, writing to William Lloyd Garrison in February, 1864, about the reported influence which induced Lincoln to issue the emancipation proclamation, said: “Now, the fact is this, as I had it from his own lips: He had written the proclamation in the summer, as early as June, I think-but will not be certain about the precise time-and called his Cabinet together and informed them he had written it and meant to make it, but wanted to read it to them for any criticism or remarks as to features or details. After having done so, Mr. Seward suggested whether it would not be well for him to withhold its publication until after we had gained some substantial advantage in the field, as at that time we had met with many reverses and it might be considered a cry of despair. He told me he thought the suggestion a good one, and so held on to the proclamation until after the battle of Antietam.”

13 Nicolay-Hay Lincoln, IX, p. 184.

14 Pennsylvania gave Lincoln 20,075 majority the following November, Connecticut gave him 2,406, and New York gave Seymour only 6,749.

15 Hale's Lowell and his Friends, pp. 178, 179.

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