Horace Greeley: A True Warrior for Right?

Last month someone mentioned the name Horace Greeley and his impact on slavery, so I decided to do some research on the man. Horace Greeley was a newspaper editor, who was born in New Hampshire but spent his formidable years in New York City. Greeley founded the New York Tribune, which employed individuals such as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The way the story is told is that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves but if not for Horace Greeley would Lincoln free the slaves?

Greeley met Lincoln when both serviced in Congress, both men belong to the Whig Party. Greely grew disenchanted with the party’s ambivalence toward slavery, which he opposed on both moral and economic grounds. In 1854 he transferred his allegiance to the newly emerging Republican Party, which he helped organize. Throughout the decade Greeley’s newspaper fed the rising antislavery persuasion of the North. His editorial columns consistently opposed any compromise on the slavery issue as he argued against popular sovereignty (local option) in the territories, called for unrestricted free speech and mail privileges for abolitionists, encouraged Free-Soilers (who opposed slavery in the Kansas Territory), and advocated forcible resistance to federal fugitive-slave hunters. Greeley strongly opposed the Dred Scott decision. The New York Tribune was a well-respected newspaper, this, in turn, gave Greeley some power, Greeley initially supported Lincoln’s challenger for President but he eventually gave his support to Lincoln and helped Lincoln win the seat of President.

During the Civil War Lincoln sought Greeley’s support and advise. The Northern army was much larger the Confederate Army, but the Northern Army was losing some of the battles. It was Greeley who suggested to Lincoln to have slaves fight in the war with the promise of freedom at the end of the war. After the war, Greeley urged the Lincoln to free all the slaves but Lincoln only threaten to free the slaves in Confederate states. In the first Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln stated if the rebels did not end fighting and rejoin the union by January 1, 1863, all slaves in the rebellious states would be free. In other words, if they stopped fighting slavery would continue. The rebels did not stop fighting. Lincoln was going to keep his promise by freeing the slaves in the rebellious states, but Greeley wanted him to free all slaves. Greeley published an article in the New York Tribune expressing his wishes this prompted Lincoln to write Greeley a letter. Contain in this letter is the following: “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.” As you can see the freeing of the slaves was not an important issue to Lincoln, but it was and remained an important issue to Greeley. After the pressure by Greeley and others, Lincoln conceded and freed all slaves.

The question remains if Horace Greeley did not take the stance he did would we be free today? Why is Abraham Lincoln accredited with freeing the slaves when this was not a goal of his? Lincoln clearly states he would leave slavery in place if it served his agenda. The gives us statues of Robert E. Lee and cement him in history but hide people like Horace Greeley. Now there may be some flaws regarding Greeley but he was on the right side of this topic.


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