George G. Hoskins was a prominent Upstate Republican leader who served as Speaker of the New York State Assembly in 1865. Hoskins was also a friend of New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley and Congressman Reuben E. Fenton. “In New York state affairs Greeley, in 1864, had allied himself with Reuben E. Fenton, of Chautauqua County, an anti-Weed Republican. Lincoln, disturbed by Greeley’s offishness, sought a way to get hold of him, using Fenton as a contact. Fenton had for an active agent George G. Hoskins, of Wyoming County, who kept in touch with Greeley, Finding him chilly, Hoskins so reported to Fenton, who was then in Congress, and Fenton advised the President. The outcome was a direct invitation asking for a meeting,” wrote Greeley biographer Don C. Seitz.1
In September 1864, Hoskins reportedly brought a promise to Greeley from President Lincoln that “if I am reelected and reinaugurated,” he would appoint Greeley as Postmaster General.2 According to Greeley biographer William Harlan Hale, “Hoskins had been in to see Greeley and had found him generally out of sorts with Lincoln — so much so, in fact, that the editor had flatly declined a presidential invitation to come to Washington for a talk.”3 Greeley had promoted negotiation with the Confederate agents who turned out to have no power to negotiate; Greeley Resented the resulting embarrassment for which he blamed the President. In August, Greeley had joined other Republican in seeking to nominate an alternative Republican for President.
Hoskins himself went to Washington. The story of Hoskins visit was reported nearly six decades later by D.S. Alexander — a time gap which has cast doubt on the reliability of the source:
The [White House] doorkeeper, glancing at the letter, bade the caller take a seat and quickly disappeared. He returned in a moment or two, saying that the President, half-clad, was in the toilet shaving himself, but ‘he says if you will excuse his appearance, you should come up at once.’ Thereupon he led the way to the second floor and pointed to a half-open door. A slight rap brought the response ‘Come in.’ As Hoskins entered, the President, clad in undershirt, trousers and slippers, put down the razor and extended his hand, saying, ‘Mr. Hoskins, I am very glad to see you. Take that chair,’ pointing to one near the entrance. The President, continuing to stand, began at once to express his lifelong admiration of Mr. Greeley, asserting that he had been a constant reader of the Tribune since its establishment, and that he regarded him as the ablest editor in the United States, if not in the world, and believed he exerted more influence in the country than any other man, not excepting the President of the United States. He declared him the equal if not the superior of Benjamin Franklin.
The mention of Franklin seemed to open the way to business. “You know, Mr. Hoskins, that Benjamin Franklin was the first postmaster-general and I have always regretted that I could not in 1861 appoint Mr. Greeley to that office. But I have determined, Mr. Hoskins, if I am reelected and reinaugurated, to appoint him postmaster-general Seward wants to go to England, and that will give me the opportunity. But, in any event, Mr. Hoskins I shall appoint him. He is worthy of it and my mind is made up.”
At this point Hoskins, quite overcome with astonishment at the President’s frankness, asked if he was at liberty to inform Mr. Greeley of his intentions. ‘Certainly,” replied the President. “This is what I intended to tell him if he had come himself I shall not fail, if God spares my life, to keep this solemn promise.”
This seemed to close the interview, and as Hoskins rose to go the President took his hand and bade him convey to Mr. Greeley expressions of his high esteem.
Hoskins reached New York the same evening, and going directly to Greeley’s office conveyed the result of his interview. When he had finished, Greeley asked in his high-keyed tone, “Hoskins, do you believe that lie?” The latter asserted his belief that Mr. Lincoln would do exactly what he had promised. “I don’t.” retorted Greeley. Hoskins said, “I will stake my life upon it.” Thereafter Greeley remained silent, his eyes fixed on the floor as if in deep thought, and Hoskins quietly retired. The next morning the Tribune blew the long wished for blast that ended its languished campaign.”4
Greeley biographer James M. Trietsch wrote “Hoskins became speaker of the New York Assembly as a result of the state elections that autumn, and he often met Greeley during the course of the year. On April 14, 1865, they were together, and the editor, referring to the fact that the Cabinet had not been reconstructed or himself in any way recognized, burst out with, ‘Hoskins, didn’t I tell you that was a lie?’ In response, Hoskins promised to run over to Washington that very night and see what the trouble was. As he stepped out of the sleeper on the morning on the morning of April 15, he heard the clarion cry of a newsboy: ‘The President is assassinated! The President is dead!'”5
Hoskins served in a variety local, state and federal appointive positions before he was elected to Congress in 1872. He was defeated for reelection in 1876 but was elected Lieutenant Governor of New York in 1880, serving one term.
- Don C. Seitz, Horace Greeley: Founder of the New York Tribune, p. 267.
- Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, Volume IV, p. 254.
- William Harlan Hale, Horace Greeley: Voice of the People, p. 288.
- Don C. Seitz, Horace: Greeley: Founder of the New York Tribune, p. 268-269 (D.S. Alexander, Lyons Republican, August 3, 1921).
- James M. Trietsch, The Printer and the Prince, p. 281.