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The Prayer Of The Twenty Million

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  • The Prayer Of The Twenty Million

    August 1862 saw the the publication of an open letter to President Abraham Lincoln entitled The Prayer Of the Twenty Million submitted by Horace Greeley the editor of the New York Tribune. The New york Tribune was founded in 1841 by Greeley, a New Hampshire native and by 1862 had accumulated national influence with 200,00 subscribers. An eccentric social reformer and erratic political tactician, Greeley pushed no alcohol, no smoking and no gambling agendas while strongly opposing slavery. Greelely was also knowledgeable of the tariffs and economics of the era and was a supporter of Western Expansion. Lincoln and Greeley were both dedicated to liberty believing "the tranformation of liberty for some into freedom for all was essential if the American Republic was to be saved". Both men sought reign of the law for order, mandates of the constitution upheld, and and enthusiasm for the new Republican Party. However the published letter in August of 1862 complained about the Union Army's unwillingness to free slaves in captured territories and an overall disappoinment of the conducting of the war effort. Greeley's single voice was in his mindset the voice of twenty million Northerners who wanted to see slavery abolished and the rebellion contained and put down. Lincoln's response was the preservation of the Union was his primary objective and would not be swayed in this principle. Within weeks, however, Lincoln issued a Preliminary Emacipation Proclamation. With Greeley's journalistic crendentials and political influence, could this open letter to President Lincoln have been the catalyst for a formal Emacipation Proclamation? Would Lincoln have drafted a finalized version of the document on his on accord and initiative or did Washington need prodding from the press? Is Greeley's a prime example and cements the phrase that the pen is mightier than the sword? What other areas in Civil War Era History can be found where the press and journalists possilby influenced policy in Washington? Source: The Americans Textbook

  • #2
    Excellent post John & thanks for the reminder. I've posted this before, but it seems to answer several of the questions that are raised by your post. Here is the entire letter from both men.

    Abraham Lincoln and Horace Greeley
    On August 19, 1862, Horace Greeley, the influential editor of the New York Tribune, published an open letter ("The Prayer of Twenty Millions") calling on Lincoln to free the slaves as a way of weakening the Confederacy. In response to Greeley's editorial, Lincoln stated that his main purpose was to preserve the Union, and, to achieve that goal, he was prepared to free none, some, or all of the slaves, depending on the circumstances. Lincoln's letter prepared the public to accept the Emancipation Proclamation, which he still had not issued. Below is Greeley's original article as published and directly following that is Lincoln's reply.
    Horace Greeley's "The Prayer of the Twenty Millions"(August 19, 1862)

    President of the United States
    DEAR SIR: I do not intrude to tell you--for you must know already--that a great proportion of those who triumphed in you election, and of all who desire the unqualified suppression of the Rebellion now desolating our country, are sorely disappointed and deeply pained by the policy you seem to be pursuing with regard to the slaves of the Rebels. I write only to set succinctly and unmistakably before you what we require, what we think we have a right to expect, and of what we complain.
    I. We require of you, as the first servant of the Republic, charged especially and preeminently with this duty, that you EXECUTE THE LAWS. Most emphatically do we demand that such laws as have been recently enacted, which therefore may fairly be presumed to embody the present will and to be dictated by the present needs of the Republic, and which, after due consideration have received your personal sanction, shall by you be carried into full effect, and that you publicly and decisively instruct your subordinates that such laws exist, that they are binding on all functionaries and citizens, and that they are to be obeyed to the letter.
    II. We think you are strangely and disastrously remiss in the discharge of your official and imperative duty with regard to the emancipating provisions of the new Confiscation Act. Those provisions were designed to fight Slavery with Liberty. They prescribe that men loyal to the Union, and willing to shed their blood in her behalf, shall no longer be held, with the Nations consent, in bondage to persistent, malignant traitors, who for twenty years have been plotting and for sixteen months have been fighting to divide and destroy our country. Why these traitors should be treated with tenderness by you, to the prejudice of the dearest rights of loyal men, We cannot conceive.
    III. We think you are unduly influenced by the counsels, the representations, the menaces, of certain fossil politicians hailing from the Border Slave States. Knowing well that the heartily, unconditionally loyal portion of the White citizens of those States do not expect nor desire chat Slavery shall be upheld to the prejudice of the Union--(for the truth of which we appeal not only to every Republican residing in those States, but to such eminent loyalists as H. Winter Davis, Parson Brownlow, the Union Central Committee of Baltimore, and to The Nashville Union)--we ask you to consider that Slavery is everywhere the inciting cause and sustaining base of treason: the most slaveholding sections of Maryland and Delaware being this day, though under the Union flag, in full sympathy with the Rebellion, while the Free-Labor portions of Tennessee and of Texas, though writhing under the bloody heel of Treason, are unconquerably loyal to the Union. So emphatically is this the case, that a most intelligent Union banker of Baltimore recently avowed his confident belief that a majority of the present Legislature of Maryland, though elected as and still professing to be Unionists, are at heart desirous of the triumph of the Jeff. Davis conspiracy; and when asked how they could be won back to loyalty, replied "only by the complete Abolition of Slavery." It seems to us the most obvious truth, that whatever strengthens or fortifies Slavery in the Border States strengthens also Treason, and drives home the wedge intended to divide the Union. Had you from the first refused to recognize in those States, as here, any other than unconditional loyalty--that which stands for the Union, whatever may become of Slavery, those States would have been, and would be, far more helpful and less troublesome to the defenders of the Union than they have been, or now are.
    IV. We think timid counsels in such a crisis calculated to prove perilous, and probably disastrous. It is the duty of a Government so wantonly, wickedly assailed by Rebellion as ours has been to oppose force to force in a defiant, dauntless spirit. It cannot afford to temporize with traitors nor with semi-traitors. It must not bribe them to behave themselves, nor make cheat fair promises in the hope of disarming their causeless hostility. Representing a brave and high-spirited people, it can afford to forfeit anything else better than its own self-respect, or their admiring confidence. For our Government even to seek, after war has been made on it, to dispel the affected apprehensions of armed traitors that their cherished privileges may be assailed by it, is to invite insult and encourage hopes of its own downfall. The rush to arms of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, is the true answer at once to the Rebel raids of John Morgan and the traitorous sophistries of Beriah Magoffin.
    V. We complain that the Union cause has suffered, and is now suffering immensely, from mistaken deference to Rebel Slavery. Had you, Sir, in your Inaugural Address, unmistakably given notice that, in case the Rebellion already commenced were persisted in, and your efforts to preserve the Union and enforce the laws should be resisted by armed force, you would recognize no loyal person as rightfully held in Slavery by a traitor, we believe the Rebellion would therein have received a staggering if not fatal blow. At that moment, according to the returns of the most recent elections, the Unionists were a large majority of the voters of the Slave States. But they were composed in good part of the aged, the feeble, the wealthy, the timid--the young, the reckless, the aspiring, the adventurous, had already been largely lured by the gamblers and negro-traders, the politicians by trade and the conspirators by instinct, into the toils of Treason. Had you then proclaimed that Rebellion would strike the shackles from the slaves of every traitor, the wealthy and the cautious would have been supplied with a powerful inducement to remain loyal. As it was, every coward in the South soon became a traitor from fear; for Loyalty was perilous, while Treason seemed comparatively safe. Hence the boasted unanimity of the South--a unanimity based on Rebel terrorism and the fact that immunity and safety were found on that side, danger and probable death on ours. The Rebels from the first have been eager to confiscate, imprison, scourge and kill: we have fought wolves with the devices of sheep. The result is just what might have been expected. Tens of thousands are fighting in the Rebel ranks to-day whose, original bias and natural leanings would have led them into ours.
    VI. We complain that the Confiscation Act which you approved is habitually disregarded by your Generals, and that no word of rebuke for them from you has yet reached the public ear. Fremont's Proclamation and Hunter's Order favoring Emancipation were promptly annulled by you; while Halleck's No. 3, forbidding fugitives from Slavery to Rebels to come within his lines-- an order as unmilitary as inhuman, and which received the hearty approbation of every traitor in America-- with scores of like tendency, have never provoked even your own remonstrance. We complain that the officers of your Armies have habitually repelled rather than invited approach of slaves who would have gladly taken the risks of escaping from their Rebel masters to our camps, bringing intelligence often of inestimable value to the Union cause. We complain that those who have thus escaped to us, avowing a willingness to do for us whatever might be required, have been brutally and madly repulsed, and often surrendered to be scourged, maimed and tortured by the ruffian traitors, who pretend to own them. We complain that a large proportion of our regular Army Officers, with many of the Volunteers, evince far more solicitude to uphold Slavery than to put down the Rebellion. And finally, we complain that you, Mr. President, elected as a Republican, knowing well what an abomination Slavery is, and how emphatically it is the core and essence of this atrocious Rebellion, seem never to interfere with these atrocities, and never give a direction to your Military subordinates, which does not appear to have been conceived in the interest of Slavery rather than of Freedom.
    VII. Let me call your attention to the recent tragedy in New Orleans, whereof the facts are obtained entirely through Pro-Slavery channels. A considerable body of resolute, able-bodied men, held in Slavery by two Rebel sugar-planters in defiance of the Confiscation Act which you have approved, left plantations thirty miles distant and made their way to the great mart of the South-West, which they knew to be the indisputed possession of the Union forces. They made their way safely and quietly through thirty miles of Rebel territory, expecting to find freedom under the protection of our flag. Whether they had or had not heard of the passage of the Confiscation Act, they reasoned logically that we could not kill them for deserting the service of their lifelong oppressors, who had through treason become our implacable enemies. They came to us for liberty and protection, for which they were willing render their best service: they met with hostility, captivity, and murder. The barking of the base curs of Slavery in this quarter deceives no one--not even themselves. They say, indeed, that the negroes had no right to appear in New Orleans armed (with their implements of daily labor in the cane-field); but no one doubts that they would gladly have laid these down if assured that they should be free. They were set upon and maimed, captured and killed, because they sought the benefit of that act of Congress which they may not specifically have heard of, but which was none the less the law of the land which they had a clear right to the benefit of--which it was somebody's duty to publish far and wide, in order that so many as possible should be impelled to desist from serving Rebels and the Rebellion and come over to the side of the Union, They sought their liberty in strict accordance with the law of the land--they were butchered or re-enslaved for so doing by the help of Union soldiers enlisted to fight against slaveholding Treason. It was somebody's fault that they were so murdered--if others shall hereafter stuffer in like manner, in default of explicit and public directions to your generals that they are to recognize and obey the Confiscation Act, the world will lay the blame on you. Whether you will choose to hear it through future History and 'at the bar of God, I will not judge. I can only hope.
    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--that the Rebellion, if crushed out tomorrow, would be renewed within a year if Slavery were left in full vigor--that Army officers who remain to this day devoted to Slavery can at best be but half-way loyal to the Union--and that every hour of deference to Slavery is an hour of added and deepened peril to the Union, I appeal to the testimony of your Ambassadors in Europe. It is freely at your service, not at mine. Ask them to tell you candidly whether the seeming subserviency of your policy to the slaveholding, slavery-upholding interest, is not the perplexity, the despair of statesmen of all parties, and be admonished by the general answer.
    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, more especially of the Confiscation Act. That Act gives freedom to the slaves of Rebels coming within our lines, or whom those lines may at any time inclose--we ask you to render it due obedience by publicly requiring all your subordinates to recognize and obey it. The rebels are everywhere using the late anti-negro riots in the North, as they have long used your officers' treatment of negroes in the South, to convince the slaves that they have nothing to hope from a Union success-that we mean in that case to sell them into a bitter bondage to defray the cost of war. Let them impress this as a truth on the great mass of their ignorant and credulous bondsmen, and the Union will never be restored-never. We cannot conquer Ten Millions of People united in solid phalanx against us, powerfully aided by the Northern sympathizers and European allies. We must have scouts, guides, spies, cooks, teamsters, diggers and choppers from the Blacks of the South, whether we allow them to fight for us or not, or we shall be baffled and repelled. As one of the millions who would gladly have avoided this struggle at any sacrifice but that Principle and Honor, but who now feel that the triumph of the Union is dispensable not only to the existence of our country to the well being of mankind, I entreat you to render a hearty and unequivocal obedience to the law of the land.
    Horace Greeley
    New York, August 19, 1862
    What does Greely imply from such a letter? Greely & the other Abolitionists want Lincoln to change the War Aims of the Federal government from a war about Union to a war about freeing the slaves. Lincoln was personally anti-slavery, but was considered a MODERATE by most of the Republicans. Lincoln believed that the EXPANSION of slavery was the threat that he & the other moderates were prepared to stop at all costs-the spread of slavery to new states was the utmost in their minds. The fire-eaters (the radical Southerners) made it out like Lincoln was a RADICAL rather than a moderate. From
    By radically urging secessionism in the South, Fire-Eaters demonstrated the high level of sectionalism existing in the U.S. during the 1850s, and they materially contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War (1861-1865). As early as 1850, there was a southern minority of pro-slavery extremists who did much to weaken the fragile unity of the nation. Led by such men as Edmund Ruffin, Robert Rhett, Louis T. Wigfall, and William Yancey, this group was dubbed “Fire-Eaters” by northerners. At an 1850 convention in Nashville, Tennessee, the Fire-Eaters urged southern secession, citing irrevocable differences between North and South, and they further inflamed passions by using propaganda against the North. However, the Compromise of 1850 and other moderate counsel, including that from President James Buchanan, kept the Fire-Eaters cool for a time.
    In the later half of the 1850s, the group reemerged. They utilized several recent events for propaganda, among them "Bleeding Kansas" and the Sumner-Brooks Affair to accuse the North of trying to immediately abolish slavery. Using effective propaganda against 1860 presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln, the Fire-Eaters were able to convince many southerners of this false accusation. They first targeted South Carolina, which passed an article of secession in December 1860. Thus, the Fire-Eaters helped to unleash a chain reaction that eventually led to the formation of the Confederate States of America and to the American Civil War.
    So these fire-eaters used propaganda to convince most folks that Lincoln was full-blown, hardcore radical anti-slavery. This convinced a majority Southerners to vote for secession & this was the trigger that led to Fort Sumpter being fired upon & the war starting. Lincoln was not prepared to sacrifice the Union for slavery. However, that does not mean he was PRO-slavery. He simply believed at the beginning of the war that the country should NOT be fighting with the MAIN goal as freeing the slaves-that the preservation of the Union was the PRIMARY & STATED goal. Why? Because it was the beginning of the Civil War: the country was dividing amongst SECTIONAL lines. Several key states could leave the Union IF PROVOKED. To simply declare the abolition of slavery was the main goal would have been suicidal to a country trying to gather forces with which to defend itself. As it was, they nearly lost Maryland, Kentucky, & Missouri from the stated goal of restoring the Union. Imagine what would have happened if those 3 states would have left the Union? With Maryland, Washington would have been nearly defenseless. Missouri & Kentucky leaving would have meant another year of fighting in the West to reach what it took them to reach in the actual scheme of things. Lincoln knew he had to play things safe & declare the war for Union. It was a smart political move that paid off in dividends for the Union that first year.
    After a year of fighting & with no end in sight, Lincoln began to have second thoughts on the way the war should be fought. Maryland was under control by that time as was Kentucky & Missouri. The need to placate the border states was past & the need to change directions in the war was growing. With this in mind, take a look again at what Greely wrote. Lincoln had a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation ALREADY drawn up. From
    Written during the heart of the Civil War, this is one of Abraham Lincoln's most famous letters. Greeley, editor of the influential New York Tribune, had just addressed an editorial to Lincoln called "The Prayer of Twenty Millions," making demands and implying that Lincoln's administration lacked direction and resolve.
    President Lincoln made his reply when a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation already lay in his desk drawer. His response revealed his concentration on preserving the Union. The letter, which received acclaim in the North, stands as a classic statement of Lincoln's constitutional responsibilities.

    A few years after the president's death, Greeley wrote an assessment of Lincoln. He stated that Lincoln did not actually respond to his editorial but used it instead as a platform to prepare the public for his "altered position" on emancipation.
    Executive Mansion,
    Washington, August 22, 1862.

    Hon. Horace Greeley:
    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 perceptable [sic] 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 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 everywhere could be free.

    Yours, Lincoln.
    Interestingly enough, two different sites state that Lincoln’s letter was used as a STEPPING STONE to prepare the nation for his Emancipation Proclamation. Why would they say that if they thought that his statement was meant to be against stopping slavery? They say that because it isn’t. Lincoln is simply being straight-forward about his intentions. He is prepared to sacrifice anything to restore the Union-even his own personal beliefs as stated in his last line. But remember that Lincoln had a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation in his desk drawer-by what he says in the letter & knowing from history that he was soon to issue it, it is obvious to nearly all historians that Lincolns words were meant as a forebearer of things to come. His emphasis wasn’t on the fact that he would restore the Union without freeing the slaves, his emphasis was on the fact that if it took FREEING the slaves to restore the Union, he would. If he had not had that copy of the Proclamation in his desk drawer, then you could say that Lincoln was simply hedging his bets. What Lincoln was saying in the letter was that he wasn’t going to bow to the political pressure from the Abolitionists to free the slaves-he was going to free the slaves because it would help restore the Union.
    The muffled drums sad roll has beat the soldier's last tatoo. No more on life's parade shall meet that brave and fallen few.


    • #3
      Excellent excellent reading. Greeley's last paragraph reveals he recommends that African American's be used in just about every capacity possible to try to ensure Union victory. Greeley also suggest if the war was won tomorrow a future flair up would result if slavery were still allowed. One could assume Lincoln could receive all the critical letters individuals could write about their disappointments and outrages but his constitutional responsibilites and his patriotism dicated his reasoning and his actions as he waded through the criticisms. Perhaps with the draft of the Emancipation Proclamation already in the desk drawer, Lincoln was wise to stay one step of his critics knowing when the proper moment came he could use it in conjuction with his elected duties. Excellent reading once again.


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