Civil War and Reconstruction
Abraham Lincoln, Letter to Horace Greeley (1862)
About This Text
Author: Abraham Lincoln
Composed: 1862 CE
In this response to a newspaper editorial, Lincoln explains his position on using presidential power to emancipate slaves during the Civil War. The recipient of the letter, Horace Greeley, was a staunch abolitionist newspaper editor with whom Lincoln had corresponded and sometimes sparred in the past. In the editorial at issue, Greeley had suggested that Lincoln’s war policies did not go far enough to relieve the plight of the enslaved. Lincoln’s response holds that his primary aim in the war is to preserve the Union, and that the matter of freeing the slaves would always be subordinate to reintegrating the Southern states. However, he clarifies that does not mean he abandoned “[his] oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free.” Despite his statements in this letter about whether the Civil War’s purpose was to free the enslaved, Lincoln was in the process of drafting the Emancipation Proclamation, and Horace Greeley later remarked that the true reason for Lincoln’s response was likely to inform the public about his evolving position on emancipation.