New York Tribune Editor Publishes Open Letter to President Lincoln

August 20, 1862

New York Tribune Editor Horace Greeley publishes open letter to President Lincoln entitled “The Prayer of Twenty Millions” urging emancipation.  Prior to that letter, President Lincoln  met with James Gillmore who had met with Greeley:

‘I infer from the recent tone of the Tribune that you are not always able to keep Brother Greeley in the traces,’ said Lincoln.

No, Gilmore admitted, he wasn’t.  But he said that Greeley’s new managing editor, Sidney H. Gay, with whom he had been dealing, had at least ‘softened Mr. Greeley’s wrath on several occasions.’

‘What is he so wrathy about?’ asked the President — according to Gilmore’s account.

‘The slow progress of the war — what he regards as the useless destruction of life and property, and especially your neglect to make a direct attack upon slavery,’ said Gilmore.  ‘On this last point I am told by Mr. gay that he is now meditating an appeal to the country, which will force you to take a decided position.’

‘Why does he not come here and have a talk with me?’ asked the President.

Gilmore answered that Greeley refused to come and had said that he didn’t want to have Abraham Lincoln presuming to act as advisory editor of the New York Tribune.  Would it be all right for Gilmore himself to run up to New York and tell Greeley about the forthcoming Emancipation Proclamation, in order to head off a Tribune storm?

At first the President was reluctant. He said he feared Greeley’s ‘passion for news.’  He may also have feared that Greeley, if told the full story of this all-important document, might blackmail the White House into issuing it at once. Yet finally he agreed to let Gilmore go.

Gilmore started at once for New York.  When he arrived next morning he picked up a copy of the day’s Tribune.  There he found splashed across its editorial page. Under the startling heading, ‘The Prayer of Twenty Millions,’ a lengthy open letter addressed by Horace Greeley to President Lincoln, and beginning….

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “Had a conversation with the President in relation to W.D. Porter, who was the efficient officer that attacked and destroyed the Rebel armored ram Arkansas. Porter is a bold, brave man, but reckless in many respects, and popular, perhaps not without reason, in the service.  He has been earnest and vigorous on the Mississippi, and made himself.  The Advisory Board under the late law omitted to recommend him for promotion.  It was one of the few omissions that I regretted, for whatever the infirmities of the man I recognize his merits as an officer.

His courage in destroying the Arkansas was manifest.  Both the flag officers were delinquent in the matter of that vessel at Vicksburg, and I so wrote each of them.  Admiral Farragut cannot conceal his joy that she is destroyed, but is not ready to do full justice to Porter.

I canvassed the whole question,– the law, the proceedings, the difficulties, the man, the officer, the responsibility of promoting him and of my advising it,– yet I felt it a duty, if service rendered in battle and under fire were to govern.  The President conversed with me most fully, and said, ‘I am so satisfied that you are right generally, and in this case particularly, that I say to you, Go ahead, give Porter as you propose a Commodores’s appointment, and I will stand by you, come what may.’

New York City Congressman Fernando Wood, a former mayor who once favored secession of the city, writes President Lincoln: “The ultra radical, abolitionists of this state persistently represent me as hostile to your administration, and as in sympathy with the states in rebellion against the government I sincerely hope these allegations (false in every respect) will have no influence upon your generous mind.  They originated with the Tribune of this city and are continued by its coworkers in destruction. You cannot have forgotten my very early tender of services to you and your autographic reply, and I ask you to rely upon my support in your efforts to maintain the integrity of the union.”

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Published in: on August 20, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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