American Abolitionists and Antislavery Activists:
Conscience of the Nation

Updated April 4, 2021

l to r: Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips

Updated May 3, 2015

Lincoln Letter to Horace Greeley, August 22, 1862

Hon. Horace Greely: Executive Mansion,
Dear Sir Washington, August 22, 1862.

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 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.'' [2] 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 every where could be free.





[1]   ALS, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut. Greeley's communication of August 19, printed in the Tribune of August 20, 1862, under the headline ``The Prayer of Twenty Millions,'' expressed disappointment with ``the policy you seem to be pursuing with regard to the slaves of Rebels. . . . I. We require of you . . . that you EXECUTE THE LAWS. . . . II. We think you are strangely and disastrously remiss . . . with regard to the emancipating provisions of the new Confiscation Act. . . . III. We think you are unduly influenced by the counsels . . . of certain fossil politicians hailing from the Border Slave States. . . . IV. We think timid counsels in such a crisis calculated to prove perilous. . . . V. We complain that the Union cause has suffered . . . from mistaken deference to Rebel Slavery. . . . VI. We complain that the Confiscation Act which you approved is habitually disregarded by your Generals. . . . VII. Let me call your attention to the recent tragedy in New-Orleans. . . . A considerable body of . . . men, held in Slavery by two Rebel sugar-planters . . . made their way to the great mart of the South-West, which they knew to be in the undisputed possession of the Union forces. . . . They came to us for liberty and protection. . . . They were set upon and maimed, captured and killed, because they sought the benefit of that act of Congress. . . . VIII. On the face of this wide earth, Mr. President, there is not one disinterested, determined, intelligent champion of the Union cause who does not feel that all attempts to put down the Rebellion and at the same time uphold its inciting cause are preposterous and futile. . . . IX. I close as I began with the statement that what an immense majority of the Loyal Millions of your countrymen require of you is a frank, declared, unqualified, ungrudging execution of the laws of the land. . . .''

Greeley printed Lincoln's letter in the Tribune on August 25 and followed with a lengthy response, of which the following provides the core: ``I never doubted . . . that you desire, before and above all else, to re-establish the now derided authority . . . of the Republic. I intended to raise only this question---Do you propose to do this by recognizing, obeying, and enforcing the laws, or by ignoring, disregarding, and in effect denying them?''

[2]   At this point Lincoln crossed out the following sentence: ``Broken eggs can never be mended, and the longer the breaking proceeds the more will be broken.''


Source:  Basler, Collected Works, Vol. V, pp. 388-389.  [Downloaded 4/26/2015 from]