Tuesday, August 21, 2012

August 22, 1862 (Saturday): Lincoln on Slavery

Horace Greeley (Library of Congress)
Washington, August 22, 1862.
    DEAR SIR: 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 perceptible 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 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 feeing 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 they are 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.


* Published in the New York Tribune of August 20, 1862. 

Official Records, Series III., Vol. 2, Part 1, Page 433.

Greeley had written an editorial "The Prayer of Twenty Millions" charging the administration with not having a direction on the issue of slavery.  He believed in strict enforcement of the Confiscation Act, which considered slaves as property aiding the Confederate war effort.  It would free slaves who came into Union lines in order, an action which Greeley believed the administration was slow to put in force.  Greeley said later he believed Lincoln's response was an attempt to prepare the public for the Emancipation Proclamation, which had already been written.

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