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Newspaper Editor Horace Greeley Prodded Lincoln Over Slavery

In the summer of 1862 one of Abraham Lincoln's greatest political supporters, Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, was losing patience. A dedicated opponent of slavery, Greeley had helped organize the anti-slavery Republican Party in the mid-1850s.

When Lincoln rose from obscurity as an opponent to the spread of slavery to the western territories, Greeley took notice. The New York Tribune covered the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858.

And when Lincoln traveled to New York City to give his address at Cooper Union, the speech that would propel him to the White House, Greeley was in the audience.

The Tribune supported Lincoln in the 1860 election, but by the second year of Lincoln's presidency Greeley was becoming exasperated. The president wasn't moving quickly enough to end slavery.

Greeley wrote one of the most remarkable editorials in the history of newspapers 150 years ago this week. Headlined "The Prayer of Twenty Millions," Greeley upbraided Lincoln for not enforcing the Confiscation Acts, legislation authorizing Union commanders to seize Confederate property. That property would include slaves, who would then be set free.

In Greeley's view, the Union cause was suffering from a "mistaken deference" to the slave states. "We have," wrote Greeley, "fought wolves with the devices of sheep."

Within a few days Lincoln responded with a letter. And what was not widely known was that Lincoln was already working toward issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.

  • New York Tribune, August 20, 1862: Horace's Greeley's forceful editorial, written the day before, appeared on page four of his influential newspaper.
  • New York Tribune, August 25, 1862: President Lincoln responded to Greeley's editorial. "My paramount object in this struggle," Lincoln wrote, "is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery."
  • New York Tribune, September 24, 1862: In late September 1862, following Lincoln's announcement of the forthcoming Emancipation Proclamation, the New York Tribune rejoiced: "...this man, sprung from the people, has gauged the wisdom and the virtue of the commonality, and speaks with their voice."
  • New York Tribune, January 2, 1863: With a special edition, Horace Greeley's newspaper celebrated the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

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