Lincoln's Letter to Horace Greeley
This is one
of President Lincoln's most famous letters. Horace Greeley, editor of the
influential New York Tribune, a few days earlier had addressed an editorial
to Lincoln called "The Prayer of Twenty Millions." In it, he demanded
emancipation for the country's slaves and implied that Lincoln's administration
lacked direction and resolve.
Lincoln wrote his letter to Greeley when a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation
already lay in his desk drawer. His response revealed the vision he possessed
about the preservation of the Union. The letter, which received universal
acclaim in the North, stands as a classic statement of Lincoln's constitutional
Washington, August 22, 1862.
Hon. Horace Greeley:
I have just read
yours of the 19th. addressed to myself through the New-York Tribune. If there
be in it any statements, or assumptions of fact, which I may know to be erroneous,
I do not, now and here, controvert them. If there be in it any inferences
which I may believe to be falsely drawn, I do not now and here, argue against
them. If there be perceptable [sic] in it an impatient and dictatorial tone,
I waive it in deference to an old friend, whose heart I have always supposed
to be right.
As to the policy
I "seem to be pursuing" as you say, I have not meant to leave any
one in doubt.
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." 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 in this struggle
is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to 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 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. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what
I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe
doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown
to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to
be true views.
I have here stated
my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification
of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.
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