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Horace Greeley (1811-1872)New York Tribune
"I clearly discern that the one providential leader, the indispensable hero of the great drama, faithfully reflecting, even in his hesitations and seeming vacillations, the sentiment of the masses — fitted by his very defects and shortcomings for the burden laid upon him, the good to be wrought out through him — was Abraham Lincoln," said Horace Greeley in a lecture he delivered after Mr. Lincoln's death.1 During Mr. Lincoln's life, Greeley was frequently less kind. They were very different men. Mr. Lincoln was a disciplined politician. Greeley was an undisciplined editor. "There are no men or measures to which he will adhere faithfully. He is ambitious, talented, but not considerate, persistent, or profound," wrote Navy Secretary Gideon Welles of Greeley.2 "Horace Greeley was one of the earliest and most fretting of the many thorns in the political pathway of Abraham Lincoln," wrote fellow journalist Alexander K. McClure.3
Horace Greeley evoked strong passions. Greeley "knew no language but his own, but of that he possessed the most extraordinary mastery. His wit and his humor flowed out in idiomatic forms of expression that were surprising and delightful, and that remained in the mind forever," wrote Greeley's colleague at the Tribune, Charles A. Dana. "He was a man of almost no education — indeed, of no education at all, except what he had acquired for himself. The worst school that a man can be sent to, and the worst of all for a man of genius, is what is called a self-education." wrote Dana, who had received the formal education that Greeley lacked.4 Dana's professional relations with Greeley were difficult but so were Greeley's relations with most subordinates and politicians. "Horace Greeley was erratic, hard to work with, and almost impossible to please, yet he managed to bring together journalists of stunning ability," wrote journalism historian Janet Steele.5
"Greeley was an American original," wrote 20th century journalist James Perry of the 19th century editor.6 Greeley was "a spectacular and impetuous Yankee," wrote Greeley biographer Jeter Allen Isely. ""He was responsible for the columns of propaganda which kept the slavery problem poised before the northern mind, a feat which popularized far and wide the growing Republican party. His influence rocketed as he participated in the controversy, but other factors contributed to the prominence. His dynamic character, the clarity of his style, and the brilliance of his staff raised the standard of his profession."7
Nineteenth century journalist John Russell Young wrote: "Horace Greeley was a leader. To him journalism was not merely a vocation, an honorable means of earning daily bread, but a profession....The selling of news and narrative and literary criticisms, the imparting of precious truths upon deep ploughing and ensilage, — these, indeed, were grateful offices, but disputation was the higher duty of man." According to Young, "Greeley labored with the world to better it, to give men moderate wages and wholesome food, and to teach women to earn their own living, and that it was better that they should learn how to make shoes than to play on the piano."8
"Greeley was forever imposed upon by the base and the undeserving. Yet no man was shrewder. He was a great character, and he looked quite through the deeds of men," wrote the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher. "No needy creature appealed to him in vain for assistance; no charity lacked his good help."9
Greeley was "experimental, self-contradictory, explosive, irascible, and often downright wrongheaded. He preached thrift and could not practice it himself. He promoted conservative Whiggism and became a socialist immediately thereafter. He talked pacifism, but turned into one of the foremost fomentors of the Civil War. He helped found the Republican Party, only to run against it himself as an insurgent backed by Democrats," wrote biographer William Harlan Hale.10
"Greeley wielded through The Tribune more influence, perhaps, than was possessed by any other Republican with the single exception of Lincoln," wrote Lincoln biographer Nathaniel Wright Stephenson. "His newspaper constituency was enormous, and the relation between the leader and the led was unusually close. He was both oracle and barometer."11 English journalist Edward Dicey observed: "The Tribune carried more weight by its individual opinion than any paper in the city. Whatever Mr. Greeley's faults may be, he has the reputation of personal honesty. It is better printed, more thoughtfully written, and more carefully got up than any of its contemporaries. Moreover, the simple fact that it both knows and dares to speak out its own mind on the slavery question gives its writings the force which attends strong conviction. But there is a doctrinaire tone about its articles which makes them heavy reading, and when it takes to invective, as it does frequently, it is scurrilous without being pointed."12
Back in 1848, Horace Greeley had been elected to fill out an unexpired term in Congress — the same Congress in which Mr. Lincoln served his only term in that body. Greeley later wrote that Mr. Lincoln "was not then quite forty years old; a genial cheerful, rather comely man, noticeably tall, and the only Whig from Illinois — not remarkable, otherwise to the best of my recollection."13
Greeley biographer Jeter Allen Iseley wrote: "He was conceited enough to feel that he could serve the public better than any other man, and he boiled with anxiety for elective office. It was contrary to his ethics to advance himself in the Tribune's columns as contender, and in his personal correspondence — after he had failed of nomination — he would disavow such a desire; but any and all efforts to place his name on the ballot received the wholehearted encouragement of himself and his closest supporters."14
That ambition became his achilles heel. On November 11, 1854, Greeley wrote Senator Seward: "The Election is over, and its results sufficiently ascertained. It seems to me a fitting time to announce to you the dissolution of the political firm of Seward, Weed, and Greeley, by the withdrawal of the junior partner, — said withdrawal to take effect on the morning after the first Tuesday in February next." Greeley was annoyed that he had been passed over for the Whig nominations for Governor and Lieutenant Governor earlier in that year.15
A few years thereafter, Greeley entered into a state of political war with two of the leaders of the nascent New York Republican Party. Contemporary journalist Donn Piatt contended that Greeley constituted a threat to the way that Thurlow Weed and William H. Seward conducted New York State politics. He wrote that "when poor Horace Greeley, whose brain and popular pen he and Seward had used for all they were worth, proposed taking to himself a little of the influence to be obtained from official recognition, the two gave the able editor to understand that they could not approve of any such ambitious design on the part of their editor. Horace Greeley, who to the ignorance and trusting simplicity of a child added a strange power of persuasion with his pen, could not understand that he was disqualified for office because he knew too much, and could not be controlled by the two for whose information on any subject he had a profound contempt."16
Greeley attended the 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago as an agent dedicated to the destruction of Seward's presidential ambitions and the nomination of a Republican candidate sufficiently conservative that he was sure to defeat a split Democratic Party. Toward that end, Greeley had increasingly boosted the presidential "availability" of Missouri attorney Edward Bates, an old-line Whig who had never joined the Republican Party. Greeley wrote a friend that "I want to succeed this time...yet I know the country is not Anti-Slavery. It will only swallow a little Anti-Slavery in a great deal of sweetening. An Anti-Slavery man per se cannot be elected; but a Tariff, River-and-Harbor, Pacific Railroad, Free-Homestead man, may succeed although he is Anti-Slavery....I mean to have as good a candidate as the a majority will elect. And, if the People are to rule, I think that is the way.17 "
In Chicago Greeley wanted to restrict slavery to the South and wanted a Republican candidate who would do that — but who could still win. He thought Senator Seward's image too radical for him to be electable. Bates had not been as explicit in his comments on slavery as Greeley would liked, but Greeley thought he possessed the right background for victory: "Born, reared, and always residing in a Slave State, it will be morally impossible to make anybody believe that he meditates disunion as a means of getting rid of Slavery, or that his election would result in disunion," wrote Isley.18
Greeley "went from one caucus room to another at the Tremont House, seeking to form alignments that would stop Seward. Much was done to harmonize antagonistic elements, and several delegations were convinced that Seward could not carry their states in November."19 He was effective, not in advancing Bate's candidacy — but in destroying the chances of Seward. Greeley later complained to fellow editor Schuyler Colfax of Indiana: "I don't see why more of you did not come on to help, when the matter was so vital. My share of the load was unreasonably heavy, considering where I live, and the power of the soreheads to damage me....I don't think you wanted to come face to face with Weed in a case wherein his heart was so set on a triumph." He added: "I ought not to have been obliged to expose myself to the deadliest resentment of all the Seward crowd as I did. But what I must do, I will, regardless of consequences."20 Historian Sidney David Brummer wrote: "However effective or ineffective Greeley's efforts were, they served to prepare the way for the future enmities in the party in New York State by winning for him the bitter dislike of Seward's friends."21
Although Greeley served Mr. Lincoln's purposes in Chicago, he had served to undermine Mr. Lincoln's interests in 1858 when he thought Illinois Republicans should back the reelection of Democratic Stephen Douglas rather than back one of their own party. Greeley's goal was to "sunder and collapse the Democratic party in crucial 1860. For this purpose he had to encourage Douglas, the leading democrat of the West, and do everything he could to advance the 'Little Giant' against the ruling southerners who were now out for his scalp."22 Mr. Lincoln's law partner, William H. Herndon wrote Greeley that Illinois Republicans "want the man that we want; and it is not for New York — Seward — Massachusetts — Banks or any other State or man to say when — or what or who we shall have."23
In the 1860 campaign, Greeley was more supportive. He was determined to do nothing that would jeopardize a Republican victory. "Greeley lavished praise on Lincoln as the candidate who would foster the peaceful eradication of slavery through economic developments. In a manual compiled for campaign speakers, Greeley sought to show that the Republican policy was in the best traditions of American democracy," wrote Greeley biographer Jeter Allen Isely.24 He wrote: "Immediately after Lincoln's nomination, the Tribune began to laud him as an able statesman who had struggled from the impoverished surroundings of a log hut to command the respect of a nation. He was painted as the true political descendant of the Revolutionary fathers, and as a man of the people who would cherish and sustain the Union as had Andrew Jackson and Zachary Taylor before him. He would draw the nation's stable, peace-loving workers and farmers to the Republican banner, while Sham Democracy consisted of a cabal of mercantile, commercial, and plantation capitalists, plus a motley crew of urban ruffians."25
The political tables were turned a few months later in early 1861when Greeley sought to win a seat in the U.S. Senate. Greeley told a supporter: "As to myself, I would like to go to the senate, and would not like to go into the Cabinet. I think my name in that connection would exasperate the Fire-Eaters, who have been taught to believe me a decidedly vicious and dangerous Negro — a kind of Dismal Swamp 'Dred.' I don't like official routine, with great, dull dinners; I do like my little farm, if I can only get time to visit it, and stay there a little. Besides, I belong to the Tribune, and as a senator could continue to work for it, while as a Cabinet man I could not. But I don't want to be paraded in the newspapers as declining places never offered me."26
In late January 1861 Greeley himself went on a speaking trip to the Midwest, during which he visited President-elect Lincoln in Illinois. Meanwhile, Republicans in Albany were getting ready to make selection of a replacement to Senator William H. Seward. Thurlow "Weed's candidate was William M. Evarts, forty-three years old then, who had not held any public office, a great lawyer, a great wit," wrote historian Donald Barr Chidsey. "The leaders at Albany, Greeley was complaining were glad to have him do a lot of work but they never were willing to give him a job he really desired. And he was determined to be senator, Weed or no Weed."27 Both the Weed and anti-Weed wings of the party sought to invoke Mr. Lincoln's support.
According to Greeley biographer William Harlan Hale: "While Greeley was out West, talking about 'Self-made Men' and badgering Lincoln, [Charles] Dana was busily scurrying up to Albany for him and trying to round up votes in the state legislature to nominate and then elect him to the Senate. Anti-Weed chieftains like David Dudley Field helped along. Even Bryant, over at the Post, gave his blessing. Dana and his friends spread stories in the lobbies to the effect that Lincoln was for Greeley's candidacy. This enraged Thurlow Weed, who was at that moment busy lining up legislators behind his own choice for the post, the eminent but rather colorless lawyer, William M. Evarts."28 Thurlow Weed Barnes wrote: "The radical canvass was conducted under unusually favorable circumstances, and, as the caucus approached, both sides saw that the vote would be close. It was given out that several Assemblymen had sided with Mr. Greeley on representations that the president-elect favored the radical candidate."29
President-elect Lincoln denied he was taking sides in the Senate contest. In early February, Mr. Lincoln wrote Thurlow Weed: "I have both your letter to myself, and that to Judge Davis, in relation to a certain gentleman in your state claiming to dispense patronage in my name, and also to be authorized to use my name to advance the chances of Mr. Greel[e]y for an election to the U.S. Senate. It is very strange that such things should be said by any one. The gentleman you mention, did speak to me of Mr. Greel[e]y, in connection with the Senatorial election, I replied in terms of kindness towards Mr. Greel[e]y which I really feel, but always with an express protest that my name must not be used in the Senatorial election, in favor of, or against any one. Any other representation of me, is a misrepresentation."30
The real contest had virtually nothing to do with Mr. Lincoln. It was between the Seward-Weed machine and its opponents.. Although Thurlow Weed's candidate led at the outset, Greeley chipped away at his lead and moved close to victory. "On the eighth ballot Greeley jumped to forty-seven, with Evarts still at thirty-nine," wrote Evarts biographer Chester L. Barrows. "It then dawned on Weed that the faithful lieutenants upon whom he had relied in many successful battles, had, like himself, been duped, and he asked Evarts whether he should throw his votes to [Judge Ira] Harris. Evarts requested one more ballot. It showed no change, but it was rumored that the Harris men had decided to throw their votes to Greeley on the next ballot. Pale and trembling, Weed called his agents. 'Tell Evarts men to go right over to Harris,' he said. The order was carried out and Harris was elected."31
When he learned of the result, Greeley wrote a friend a curious letter: "I ought not to have allowed my name to go before the caucus, seeing that success was hopeless from the start, and I can not avoid the imputation of having sought the office and of quarreling with Weed and Seward because I did not get it; when, in fact, they have done nothing for a year that I so thoroughly justify and approve as I do their opposition to me. I like Seward far better than I could have done had he supported me, and wish he had always shown a corresponding spirit. My vote was so large that I do not feel at all mortified by the result; I only regret the obligation it has imposed on me of coming here to engage in a hopeless struggle to repay some friends for the efforts they have made for me."32 Historian Sidney David Brummer wrote: "Greeley failed to receive the rewards that ordinarily make politics an attraction to a high-minded man and his failure was pathetic. Assuredly if he had been elected to the Senate, he would have been an ornament to that body. However, in view of the embarrassment which he later caused to the Lincoln administration through the columns of the Tribune, it was perhaps well that he had did not succeed in attaining a position where he might have done still more mischief."33
Having recently visited Mr. Lincoln in Springfield, Greeley reappeared at Mr. Lincoln's side in western New York in mid-February as the President-elect traveled to Washington. According to presidential aide John Hay, "At Girard, a station near Erie, a profound sensation was created by the sudden appearance of Mr. Horace Greeley. He wore that mysteriously durable garment, the white coat, and carried his hand a yellow bag, labeled with his name and address, in characters which might be read across Lake Erie. He had, it was said, mistaken the special for the general train, and was a good deal embarrassed on finding himself so suddenly cheek by jowl with the chief of the great and triumphant party which he had so large a hand in establishing, and of which he is one of the most powerful and least judicious supporters. He at first made an incursion into the reporters' car, where he was captured, and marched off in triumph, by Mr. Secretary [John G.] Nicolay, to the President's car. Here he was introduced for the first time to Mrs. Lincoln. At the next stopping place Greeley suddenly disappeared. His arrival and departure were altogether so unexpected, so mysterious, so comical, that they supplied an amusing topic of conversation during the rest of the journey."34
Greeley was upset by the composition of the Cabinet, the disposition of patronage and the direction of policy being taken by the Lincoln Administration. Pennsylvania Republican Alexander K. McClure wrote: "On the very day that Lincoln entered the Presidency, therefore, Greeley was hopelessly embittered against him, and while no man in the whole land was more conscientious than Greeley in the performance of every patriotic and personal duty, he was also human, and with all his boundless generosity and philanthropy he was one of the best haters I have ever know."35
Biographer Ralph R. Fahrney wrote that "the most influential exponent of southern alienation was Horace Greeley. The Tribune admitted shortly after the  election, that although the right of secession 'may be a revolutionary one...it exists nevertheless.' A state had no right to remain in the Union and defy the laws, but to withdraw was 'quite another matter.' It maintained that the Union, should be preserved only so long as it was 'beneficial and satisfactory to all parties concerned,' and should not be held together by force whenever it had 'ceased to cohere by the mutual attraction of its parts."36 Greeley was unwilling to compromise and disliked war so secession was the only available option — which he thought would lead more rational Southerners back to the Union. Greeley's "extreme aversion to compromise was based upon a certain lofty idealism which politicians of the Weed type could never understand," wrote Fahrney.37
Like Mr. Lincoln, Greeley overestimated the degree of Union support in the South. According to Jeter Allen Isely, "Greeley believed the application of Jefferson's principle would either allow the unionist masses of the south to overthrow their leaders, or the cotton states to depart peacefully."38 Isely maintained: "In the north, Greeley's doctrine of peaceable secession had the indirect effect of bringing that section more wholeheartedly into the war."39 Although Greeley was willing to let the South secede, he was unwilling to compromise with the secessionists. Isely wrote: "He continued to insist that federal authority in the south be maintained until withdrawal had been negotiated in accordance with his conditions, and refused to face realistically the ever increasing probability of war."40
Fellow Republican journalist Alexander McClure noted that Greeley's editorials put him on a political collision course with the President-elect: "Only three days after Lincoln's election Greeley published an editorial in the Tribune in which he said: 'If the Cotton States shall become satisfied that they can do better out of the Union than in it, we insists on letting them go in peace....The right to secede may be a revolutionary one, but it exists nevertheless. We must ever resist the right of any State to remain in the Union and nullify or defy the laws thereof. To withdraw from the Union is quite another matter, and whenever a considerable section of our Union shall deliberately resolve to get out we shall resist all coercive measures designed to keep it in. We hope never to live in a republic whereof one section is pinned to another by bayonets.' Again, on the 17th of December, 1860, just after the secession of South Carolina, a leading editorial in the Tribune, speaking of the Declaration of Independence, said: 'If it justified the secession from the British empire of three million of colonists in 1776, we do not see why it would not justify the secession of five million of Southerners from the Federal Union in 1861....If seven or eight contiguous States shall present themselves at Washington saying, 'We hate the Federal Union; we have withdrawn from it; we give you the choice between acquiescing in our secession and arranging amicably all incident questions on the one hand, and attempting to subdue us on the other,' we would not stand up for coercion, for subjugation, for we do not think it would be just. We hold to the right of self-government even when invoked in behalf of those who deny it to others.' Less than two weeks before the inauguration of Lincoln, on the 23d of February, 1861, and the same day on which his paper announced Lincoln's midnight journey from Harrisburg to Washington, Greeley said in a leading editorial: 'We have repeatedly said, and we once more insist, that the great principle embodied by Jefferson in the Declaration of American Independence, that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, is sound and just, and that if the Slave States, the Cotton States, or the Gulf States only choose to form an independent nation, they have a clear moral right to do so. Whenever it shall be clear that the that the great body of Southern people have become conclusively alienated from the Union and anxious to escape from it, we will do our best to forward their views.'"41
After President Lincoln's Inaugural address in March 1861, Greeley editorialized: "The Address can not fail to exercise a happy influence on the country. The tone of almost tenderness with which the South is called upon to return to her allegiance, can not fail to convince even those who differ from Mr. Lincoln that he earnestly and seriously desires to avoid all difficulty and disturbance, while the firmness with which he avows his determination to obey the simple letter of his duty, must command the respect of the whole country, while it carries conviction of his earnestness of purpose, and of his courage to enforce it."42
Greeley biographer Ralph R. Fahrney wrote: "During March, with the exception of the strictures on Seward, the Tribune assumed a favorable attitude toward the administration. It commended the inaugural address for its conciseness and determined tone — an evidence that the government still lived 'with a Man at the head of it.' The intention of the President to act cautiously, provoking no unnecessary hostility and yet evincing no weakness or hesitation, was gratifying. Above all, the laws were to be obeyed and Federal property reclaimed and safeguarded; the South would yet realize 'that peaceable dismissal is one thing, and that independent and arbitrary secession is quite another.' In case it should become necessary to evacuate Fort Sumter, as frequently predicted at Washington, the humiliation should not be accorded to any cowardice or negligence on the part of the Lincoln administration."43
Lincoln and Greeley "held very similar views on slavery for two decades before the Civil War. From their earliest recollections they believed slavery wrong, abhorred it, and hoped for its ultimate extinction," wrote biographer Harlan Hoyt Horner. "They were not abolitionists, however. They believed in the reign of law and the mandates of the Constitution. They long nourished the hope of compensated emancipation and, with Henry Clay, contemplated colonization. They were opposed to violence and ready to defend the rights of slavery where it existed under law. They found the Fugitive Slave Law distasteful but still believed it should be enforced with other laws. They were stubbornly against the extension of slavery: Greeley always and Lincoln gradually and finally with equal vigor. They were stirred as never before in their lives by the Kansas-Nebraska Act and labored valiantly against the principle involved in it. They regarded the Dred Scott decision as fundamental unsound, were not held by it in political action, and argued with clear conscience for its reversal under law. They favored the Wilmot Proviso, sympathized with 'bleeding' Kansas, and opposed and condemned the Lecompton Constitution. They believe John Brown a mad man and at no time sought the overthrow of slavery through violence. Broadly speaking, it may be said, as the crisis approached, that Lincoln and Greeley held substantially the same views on the slavery issue with one notable exception."44
"Throughout May and June, the Tribune continued to prod the administration on to greater activity, suggesting here and condemning there, in a tone often highly critical and antagonistic. Convinced that the people had grown 'fifty years older' in the twenty days following Lincoln's first call to arms, it insisted that the administration should respond to a throughly aroused public opinion bent on vigorous military preparations," wrote biographer Fahrney.45
Under the direction of Tribune Managing Editor Charles A. Dana, the Tribune pressed the Union armies to move forward. "The middle of June arrived and still no advance on Richmond," wrote biographer Fahrney. "In the apartments of Fitz Henry Warren, a Greeley associate and just then the Tribune correspondent at Washington, there congregated various critics of the government including some Congressional radicals who distrusted the ability of General [Winfield] Scott to cope with the military situation. This group accepted the opinion of Warren — thoroughly acquiesced in by his chief at New York — that the war should be sharp and decisive, and adopted the motto: 'On to Richmond." Presently, there appeared at the top of the Tribune editorial columns, the caption in bold italics: 'Forward to Richmond! Forward to Richmond! The Rebel Congress must not be allowed to meet there on the 20th of July! By that date the place must be held by the National Army!'"46
"Doubtless the 'Forward to Richmond' propaganda, disseminated in part by impatient editors and orators outside the Tribune Office, had some effect in speeding up preparations for a contemplated drive into Confederate territory," wrote biographer Ralph R. Fahrney.47 After the Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, according to Greeley biographer Harlan Hoyt Horner, "Greeley's contemporaries in New York City, especially Henry J. Raymond of the Times, and James Gordon Bennett of the Herald, turned the tables on him and insisted that he was himself responsible for the debacle by goading the Administration to premature action through the 'Forward to Richmond' war cry in the Tribune. Both Raymond and Bennett branded the 'Forward to Richmond' slogan as 'insane' clamor; Raymond announced the 'retirement of General Greeley' and Bennett wrote of 'Massa Greeley in a flood of tears.' The press widely adopted this monstrous charge, and soon poor Greeley was put on the rack. It did not suffice that it was promptly shown that the celebrated war cry had been written by Fitz-Henry Warren, then Washington correspondent of the Tribune, and placed on the editorial page, in Greeley's absence, by Charles A. Dana, the managing editor. Nor did Greeley's immediate protestation that he was not responsible for the war cry and did not approve of it and that he did not write the editorial criticizing the Administration and calling for the retirement of the Cabinet quiet the clamor."48 But Greeley himself admitted that the slogan "counselled no movement which was not in strict accordance with the emphatic judgment of the responsible Editor."49
The combination of the Union defeat and press attacks on him drove Greeley to despair after the battle and he suggested to President Lincoln that he consider giving up the fight against secession. Several years, later, President Lincoln recalled the situation, according to aide John Hay. After the publication of Mr. Lincoln's letter to Kentucky editor Albert G. Hodges in April 1864, President Lincoln "seemed rather gratified that the Tribune was in the main inspired by a kindly spirit in its criticism." John Hay recorded in his diary that President Lincoln pulled out "Greeley's letter to him of the 29th July, 1861. This most remarkable letter still retains for me its wonderful interest as the most insane specimen of pusillanimity that I have ever read. When I had finished reading Nicolay said 'That wd. be nuts to the Herald. Bennett wd. willingly give $10,000.00 for that.' To which the Prest., tying the red tape round the package, answered 'I need $10,000 very much but he could not have it for many times that.'"50
One Greeley contemporary contended 26 years later: "When that letter was written, Mr. Greeley had been and was severely ill with brain fever; the entire letter, in my judgement revealed that he was one on the verge of insanity when he wrote it."51 Greeley began the letter: "This is my seventh sleepless night — yours, too, doubtless — yet I think I shall not die, because I have no right to die. I must struggle to live, however bitterly."52
Another contemporary, Alexander K. McClure, wrote: "When war was accepted as a necessity no man in the country was more earnest in his support of a most vigorous and comprehensive war policy than was Greeley. After the lesson of the first Bull Run he appreciated the fact that a great war was upon us, and every measure looking to the increase of our armies and the maintenance of our severely strained credit was supported by the Tribune with all of Greeley's matchless ability and vigor; but he was never without some disturbing issue with Lincoln and the policy of the administration. Sincerely patriotic himself, he was as sincere in his convictions on all questions of public policy, and he seldom took pause to consider the claims of expediency when he saw what he believed to be the way dictated by the right. He believed Lincoln equally patriotic with himself, and equally sincere in every conviction and public act, but no two men were more unlike in their mental organization. Greeley was honest, aggressive, impulsive, and often ill advised in attempting to do the right thing in the wrong way. Lincoln was honest, patient, considerate beyond any man of his day, and calmly awaited the fullness of time for accomplishing the great achievements he hope for."53
But between such two disparate personalities, there was bound to be conflict. "To presidents and politicians the aggressive editor is much of a nuisance. Greeley, with his prying, persistent prescience, was more; he was a pest. His keen insight, his strength of purpose, his unwillingness to temporize, all combined to make him an undesirable with the shapers of policies and the executors of plans. So it fell about that Greeley was a thorn in the side of Lincoln as soon as Lincoln became the head of the State," wrote biographer Don C. Seitz.54 According to John Waugh in Reelecting Lincoln, "Throughout the war, Greeley had been perhaps the most aggravating of all the New York editors, a major headache for Lincoln. He was a pest, unwilling to temporize, willing always to meddle, ready with advice — wrong as often as right. But he was an able writer, able to reach readers in their own language, and therefore somebody who had to be dealt with. He had the ear of the country as no other editor did."55
Biographer Ralph R. Fahrney wrote that observers "have been invariably impressed with [the Tribune's] vagaries and glaring inconsistencies. No doubt the criticism is partially justified and is not more than one could expect considering the strange quirks and impetuous perturbations of the editor's mind. And yet, through examination of the famous New York journal, carefully avoiding any breaks in various series of editorial pronouncements and relating them to contemporaneous events and influencing factors as well as to the inner workings of Greeley's mind as revealed by his private correspondence, discloses a fairly consistent policy cleverly bent and altered at intervals to meet unexpected developments and shiftings in public sentiment."56
Greeley's inconsistency sometimes created copy for the Democratic opposition. Historian Sidney David Brummer wrote that Greeley "was to some extent responsible for giving a little plausibility to the claims of the [1863 Democratic State Legislature] address that the administration was about to negotiate with the South upon the basis of separation. He had spread in his powerful journal a most foolish idea. 'If three months more of earnest fighting,' he wrote, 'shall not serve to make a serious impression on the Rebels — if the end of that term shall find us no further advanced than its beginning -...let us bow to our destiny, and make the best attainable peace."57 The Democrats enjoyed these zigzags. Earlier that year, New York District Attorney A. Oakley Hall abandoned the Republican Party for the Democrats and gave a speech entitled: "The Political Crimes Against the National Crisis, Committed by Horace Greeley and his Abolition Associates." Noted historian Brummer: "A large audience greeted with laughter every coarse allusion to the Tribune's editor. This vilification of Greeley was so characteristic a feature of New York politics at that time that it must be noted."58
Greeley had an unfortunate tendency to meddle — and muddle — in affairs far from the field of journalism. One such field was international relations. "Before the year  ended, Greeley had so far lost faith in the ability of Lincoln to weather the crisis and guide the ship of state safely into port, that for the first time his mind turned toward peace. Failure in the fall elections, repudiation of the Emancipation Proclamation by a considerable portion of the Northern people, growing disaffection in the Northwest accentuated by the [Clement] Vallandigham movement, and repeated military reverses, so undermined his morale that he decided upon peace through foreign mediation, and according to Raymond, determined to 'drive Lincoln into it.'"59 Seward biographer Glyndon Van Deusen wrote: "Greeley now entered the picture. The unpredictable editor was in one of his defeatist moods and suggested in the Tribune mediation by the Swiss Republic. Then he came down to Washington, told Mercier that this was a feeler to prepare the public for the idea of foreign intervention, and declared that he really looked to France and the good offices of Louis Napoleon. Mercier promptly became keen for joint Anglo-French action, but Lyons dampened his ardor and Seward said that any mediatory scheme was simply impossible. Privately, the Secretary of State heaped scorn on Greeley, asserting that his actions made him liable to legal penalties."60 Under the Logan Act, American citizens were prohibited from engaging in unofficial communications with representatives of foreign governments.
But Greeley was undaunted — despite a temporary improvement in the Tribune's spirits after the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. In late February 1864, Greeley raised the question of the reelection of President Lincoln whom he said had "well discharged the responsibilities of his exalted station." But Greeley asked of "Mr. Lincoln proved so transcendentally an able and admirable a President that all consideration of the merits, abilities or services of others should be postponed or foreborne in favor of his reëlection? We answer in the negative."61
Greeley was not always negative. For example, in 1862 Greeley editorialized in the New York Tribune that Lincoln has "one of those minds that work, not quickly nor brilliantly, but exhaustively. Through this matter he has looked to the final conclusion. He sees that, however often rebellion may be suppressed at the South, it will never be ended so long as Slavery has an assured existence."62
Understandably, Greeley's writings irritated the White House. Presidential aide John Nicolay, was so incensed with Greeley that he wrote John Hay from New York City on April 1, 1864: "I had determined to start home tonight, but reading the villainously unfair and untrue editorial in the Tribune of this morning, I have determined to stay til I can have another talk with Greeley and Gay, and tell them a fact or two, so that if they print misrepresentation in the future they should do so knowingly. As Mr. Greeley only comes to his office very late in the evening I do not know how soon I may be able to get off".63 Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg wrote that by 1864, "So sharply and peculiarly hostile was the tone of Greeley's newspaper to Lincoln at this time that Harper's Weekly editorially rebuked Greeley for indulging in petty and needless outbursts."64
Greeley couldn't settle on a presidential candidate to support in 1864— so he tried to support delay. "Until such time as the recriminatory opposition to Lincoln could unite their forces, some device had to be found to give them more time to organize. This device assumed the form of a large-scale movement to postpone the Baltimore convention from June 7 to a later date, on the pretext that it was folly to select a party standard-bearer before the outcome of the military campaigns was learned," wrote William Frank Zornow.65
Zornow wrote: "The sire of this artful political dodge was undoubtedly the New York editor Horace Greeley, who had argued in favor of an autumn date for the convention since September of the preceding year. During the early months of the election year he continually insisted that winning the war should take precedence over winning the election, and he became one of the prime movers in the attempt to postpone the convention. His all too brief honeymoon with the administration terminated early in '64, and his editorial column alternated affectionate platitudes for [Salmon P.] Chase, [Benjamin] Butler, and Frémont, those paragons of statesmanship who preserved the 'salutary one-term principle.'"66
Greeley played many sides of the presidential politics. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase had recorded in his diary in early October 1863: "Camp called with letter from Greeley,—proposed plan for collecting public sentiment in my favor as candidate for Prest.—told him that people must do as they pleased in this matter—I would not interfere."67 But Chase's boomlet collapsed in February 1864 before the race began — leaving Greeley without a candidate.
Greeley's inconsistency was famous. Attorney General Edward Bates recorded in his diary on December 26, 1863 that Greeley "and some other leading editors and politicians at the north, whose secessionism has been frequently avowed, now claim to be exclusive friends of the President and the staunchest supporters of the war."68 According to historian Ernest A. McKay, "Horace Greeley was one of these staunch Republicans who had given up on Lincoln. Inconsistency was the only consistent element in Greeley's makeup, but he was convinced that there were better alternatives to the incumbent president, who drifted and lacked 'signal ability. For awhile he liked Chase, but his ardor for the Ohioan cooled as he considered John C. Frémont, Benjamin F. Butler of Massachusetts, and even Ulysses S. Grant."69 Chase himself was tempted by Greeley. He wrote in his diary in October 1863 that Dr. Aaron "Camp called with letter from Greeley, — proposed plan for collecting public sentiment in my favor as candidate for Prest. — told him that people must do as they pleased in this matter — I would not interfere."70
However, biographer Isely argued that Greeley's "inconsistency was apparent rather than actual. Greeley would compromise on a candidate, but not the gains made against slavery. Throughout his career, he had refused to retreat an inch from he judged to be the intent of the constitution in regard to slavery; and, as was evidenced by his work on the Republican platform of 1860, he felt that he must at least pay lip service to earlier precedents covering the possible admission of a slave state into the Union."71
After Mr. Lincoln's death, Greeley acknowledged, "Though I very heartily supported it when made, I did not favor his re-nomination as President; for I wanted the War driven onward with vehemence, and this was not in his nature. Always dreading that the National credit would fail, or the National resolution falter, I feared that his easy ways would allow the Rebellion to obtain European recognition and achieve ultimate success. But that 'Divinity that shapes our ends' was quietly working out for us a larger and fuller deliverance than I had dared to hope for, leaving to such short-signed mortals as I no part but to wonder and adore. We have had chieftains who would have crushed out the Rebellion in six months, and restored 'the Union as it was'; but God gave us the one leader whose control secured not only the downfall of the Rebellion, but the eternal overthrow of Human Slavery under the flag of the Great Republic."72
Greeley biographer Triestch wrote: "This distrust, originating from the obscure roots of personal politics, was steadily increased in Greeley's mind and heart by Lincoln's conservative war and peace policies. Since the editor of the Tribune was an ardent an abolitionist as Benjamin Wade, Zachariah Chandler and Thaddeus Stevens, he was distressed by the President's milk-and-water attitude toward slavery. Lincoln's every act had persuaded Greeley that he should not be renominated."73
"Greeley's defeat in his efforts to prevent Lincoln's renomination did not make him any more modest in playing the part of adviser to the administration," wrote biographer William Alexander Linn.74 But as usual, Greeley was not consistent. It was Greeley who drew President Lincoln into some pseudo peace negotiations in the weeks after his June 1964 renomination. It was Greeley who contacted Mr. Lincoln in July with news that two individuals claiming to be representatives of the Confederate government, were in Niagara falls and ready to negotiate for a cessation of hostilities.
New York Secretary of State Chauncey M. Depew later recalled: "The year of 1864 was full of changes of popular sentiment and surprises. The North had become very tired of the war. The people wanted peace, and peace at almost any price. Jacob Thompson and Clement C. Clay, ex United States senators from the South, appeared at Niagara Falls, on the Canadian side, and either they or their friends gave out that they were there to treat for peace. In reference to them Mr. Lincoln said to me: "This effort was to inflame the peace sentiment of the North, to embarrass the administration, and to demoralize the army, and in a way it was successful. Mr. Greeley was hammering at me to take action for peace and said that unless I met these men every drop of blood that was shed and every dollar that was spent I would be responsible for, that it would be a blot upon my conscience and soul. I wrote a letter to Mr. Greeley and said to him that those two ex United States senators were Whigs and old friends of his, personally and politically, and that I desired him to go to Niagara Falls and find out confidentially what their credentials were and let me know."75
Greeley biographer Ralph R. Fahrney wrote: "In the summer of 1864, Horace Greeley became involved in one of the most unique episodes of his startling career. All the motives and impulses which may have actuated the eccentric philosopher to participate in an affair embarrassing to the administration, and boding ill for his own personal reputation, are extremely difficult to determine; the strange quirks of a fanciful and impetuous disposition often led the keenly sensitive mind on tangential by-paths for which no rational explanation is entirely adequate."76
Greeley biographer William Harlan Hale wrote: "The eyes of the President and the editor remained fixed more on the morals of the situation than on its economics. In spirit, thereby, they drew together. It was their special dilemma, when they came to face each other, that they could not draw together in practice," wrote Greeley biographer William Harlan Hale. "The fault, again, lay on both sides. That summer Greeley's Tribune had supported Lincoln in his veto of the Wade-Davis post-war reconstruction bill, much to the annoyance of the Radical camp. This had served as an indication to the President that while the Tribune had been one of the stiffest critics of his conduct of the war, it might well become one of the staunchest defenders of his plans for peace. Yet Lincoln had failed to act on that sign. He still could not forget Greeley's imperious airs and volatile ways. Privately he wrote off the editor as 'an old shoe — good for nothing now, whatever he has been.' And he went on with his game of tripping up Uncle Horace at Niagara."77
Biographer Ralph R. Fahrney wrote that Greeley thought "'sham Democracy' should not be allowed to capitalize peace proffers from Confederate sources by parading them before a war-weary people — perhaps in a highly distorted form — as additional proof that the administration indiscriminately prosecuted the war for the benefit of the Republican party and the complete subjugation of a portion of the American people. If genuine offers were forthcoming worthy of consideration, they should be welcomed as heralds of returning tranquillity; in unacceptable, they should be set forth in their true light, and capitalized in the approaching campaign to the advantage of the Union party."78 The great Niagara caper began when Horace Greeley wrote President Lincoln on July 7:
I venture to inclose you a letter and telegraphic dispatch that I received yesterday from our irrepressible friend, Colorado Jewett, at Niagara Falls. I think they deserve attention. Of course, I do not indorse Jewett's positive avertment that his friends...have 'full powers' from J.D., though I do not doubt that he thinks they have. I let that statement stand as simply evidencing the anxiety of the Confederates everywhere for peace. So much is beyond the doubt.
Mr. Lincoln replied carefully two days later — apparently deciding to give the troublesome editor a lesson in real world politics: "Your letter of the 7th, with inclosures, received. If you can find, any person anywhere professing to have any proposition of Jefferson Davis in writing, for peace, embracing the restoration of the Union and abandonment of slavery, what ever else it embraces, say to him he may come to me with you, and that if he really brings such proposition, he shall, at the least, have conduct, with the paper (and without publicity, if he choose) to the point where you shall met him. The same, if there be two or more persons."80
President Lincoln could not afford to alienate Greeley or to appear to reject a genuine peace overture. So Mr. Lincoln used Greeley to play Greeley's own game — so if and when the game collapsed, it would be Greeley, not Mr. Lincoln who would be the loser. Greeley biographer William Alexander Linn wrote: "Lincoln's patience and kindly treatment of Greeley throughout this episode are admirably set forth in the Nicolay-Hay biography. Realizing the futility of the negotiations, as well as Greeley's honesty of purpose, Lincoln decided to make use of his offer in order to show the country what such negotiations would amount to."81 Greeley wrote President Lincoln on July 10, 1864.
I have yours of yesterday. Whether there be persons at Niagara (or elsewhere) who are empowered to commit the rebels by negotiation, is a question; but if there be such, there is no question at all that they would decline to exhibit their credentials to me, much more to open their budget and give their best terms. Green as I may be, I am not quite so verdant as to imagine, anything of the sort. I have neither purpose nor desire to be made a confidant, far less an agent, in such negotiations. But I do deeply realize that the rebel chiefs achieved, a most decided advantage in proposing or pretending to propose to have [Confederate Vice President] A[lexander]. H. Stephens visit Washington as a peacemaker, and being rudely repulsed; and I am anxious that the ground lost to the national cause by that mistake shall somehow be regained in season for effect on the approaching North Carolina election. I will see if I can get a look into the hand of whomsoever may be at Niagara; though that is a project so manifestly hopeless that I have little heart for it, still I shall try.
Over the next several days, Greeley attempted to negotiate for negotiations. His strategy was revealed in a letter which Greeley wrote President Lincoln on July 13: "I have now information on which I can rely that two persons duly commissioned and empowered to negotiate for peace are at this moment not far from Niagara Falls, in Canada, and are desirous of conforming with yourself, or with such persons as you may appoint and empower to treat with them. Their names (only given in confidence) are Hon. Clement C. Clay, of Alabama, and Hon. Jacob Thompson, of Mississippi. If you should prefer to meet them in person, they require safe-conducts for themselves, and for George N. Sanders, who will accompany them. Should you choose to empower one or more persons to treat with them in Canada, they will of course need no safe-conduct; but they cannot be expected to exhibit credentials save to commissioners empowered as they are. In negotiating directly with yourself, all grounds of cavil would be avoided, and you would be enabled at all times to act upon the freshest advices of the military situation. You will of course understand I know nothing, and have proposed nothing as to terms, and that nothing is conceded or taken for granted by the meeting of persons empowered to negotiate for peace. All that is assumed is a mutual desire to terminate this wholesale slaughter, if a basis of adjustment can be mutually agreed on, and it seems to me high time that an effort to this end should be made. I am of course quite other than sanguine that a peace can now be made, but I am quite sure that a frank, earnest, anxious effort to terminate the war on honorable terms would immensely strengthen the Government in case of its failure, and would help us in the eyes of the civilized world, which now accuses us of obstinacy, and indisposition even to seek a peaceful solution of our sanguinary, devastating conflict. Hoping to hear that you have resolved to act in the premises, and to act so promptly that a good influence may even yet be exerted on the North Carolina election next month.
Greeley biographer William Harlan Hale reported: "By telegraph, Lincoln urged him on: "...I was not expecting you to send me a letter but to bring me a man or men.' Something in Lincoln's tone made Greeley suspicious. He feared he might be going off on a fool's errand, and that Bennett's Herald might be waiting for just such a story as this. On the other hand he could not turn down even the slimmest chance for bringing peace. He hoped Lincoln understood his sincerity and his desire to win at least some moral advantage for the North. Then John Hay, Lincoln's secretary, arrived in New York bearing a personal, confidential note for the editor."83 President Lincoln wrote Greeley that "I am disappointed that you have not already reached here with those Commissioners, if they would consent to come, on being shown my letter to you of the 9th. Inst. Show that and this to them; and if they will come on the terms stated in the former, bring them. I not only intend a sincere effort for peace, but I intend that you shall be a personal witness that it is made."84
Hay telegraphed President Lincoln at 9 A.M. on July 16 and conveyed that Greeley was perturbed about the nature of the safe conduct for the Confederate negotiators: "Arrived this morning at 6 a m and delivered your letter few minutes after. Although he thinks some one less known would create less excitement and be less embarrassed by public curiosity, still he will start immediately if he can have an absolute safe conduct for four persons to be named by him Your letter he does not think will guard them from arrest and with only those letter he would have to explain the whole matter to any officer who might choose to hinder them. If this meets with your approbation I can write the order in your name as A. A. G. or you can sent it by mail."85 Hay wrote out the safe conduct and returned to Washington.
Biographer Hale wrote that "Greeley hurried by train to Niagara Falls, and there sent a message to the supposed 'commissioners' waiting on the Canadian side tendering them a Presidential safe-conduct to Washington. Their reply at once showed him that Jewett's messages had deceived him. They hedged; they said they were not empowered to treat at all; they proposed referring the whole matter back to their chiefs in Richmond — in such a way, no doubt, as to make it appear to the public that it was the Union, and not the Confederacy, that proposed stopping the war.86
Meanwhile, Greeley wrote the Confederates: "I am informed that you are duly accredited from Richmond as the bearers of propositions looking to the establishment of peace; that you desire to visit Washington in the fulfilment of your mission; and that you further desire that Mr. George N. Sanders shall accompany you. If my information be thus far substantially correct, I am authorized by the President fo the United States to tender you his safe-conduct on journey proposed, and to accompany you at the earliest time that will be agreeable to you."87 Greeley's mission was doomed not by the safe-conduct but by the bad faith with which the Confederates were operating. "Mr. Greeley went to Niagara, but as it turned out the persons whom he had taken seriously had no authority whatever from Davis, and they declared that no negotiations for peace were possible if Mr. Lincoln's conditions must be conceded," wrote Lincoln biographer Ida Tarbell. "So the conference, which ran over a number of days, and which was enveloped in much mystery, fell through."88
Historian Reinhard H. Luthin wrote that the three Confederate commissioners — former Secretary of the Interior Jacob Thompson, former Mississippi Senator C. C. Clay, Jr., and Virginia professor James P. Holcombe- were "actually Confederate secret service agents intent, not on peace, but determined to cause confusion in Federal councils and doubts in mass Northern minds. Clay and Holcombe now confessed to Greeley that Lincoln's safe-conduct promises had been offered them under a misapprehension, since they had not been accredited by the Government at Richmond to treat with Lincoln for peace."89
It was embarrassing for the Tribune editor, according to biographer Harlan Hoyt Horner. "Greeley wriggled on the hook. He proposed to bring Jewett into the conference, but Major Hay declined to have anything to do with Jewett; and Greeley, duly delegated by the President of the United States, balked and refused to cross the river to the Clifton House on the Canadian side unless Major Hay would go with him and himself deliver Lincoln's message to the Confederate emissaries. May Hay agreed, and they were met at the Clifton House by Sanders, who was described by Hay as 'a seedy-looking Rebel, with grizzled whiskers and a favor of old clo'." Sanders conducted them to Professor Holcombe's room where they found him 'breakfasting or lunching.' Hay described Holcombe as a 'tall, solemn, spare, false-looking man, with false teeth, false eyes, and false hair.' The note was duly delivered, and Hay informed Holcombe that he would be the bearer of any message Holcombe and his associates might wish to send to Washington. Clay was absent, and nothing was said about Thompson. Holcombe said he could get in touch with Clay be telegraph and would make some response to the note the next day. The interview was brief. As they parted, Holcombe remarked that he had 'wanted old Bennett to come up, but he was afraid to come.' Greeley replied: 'I expect to be blackguarded for what I have done, and I am not allowed to explain. But all I have done has been done under instructions.'"90 Anxious to end his embarrassing mission, Greeley quickly left for New York City.
Greeley's negotiations had been doomed when John Hay arrived in Niagara Falls with a statement designed to bring the non-negotiations to a conclusion. The document stated: "Any proposition which embraces the restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole Union, and the abandonment of slavery, and which comes by an with an authority that can control the armies now at war against the United States will be received and considered by the Executive government of the United States, and will be met by liberal terms on other substantial and collateral points; and the bearer, or bearers thereof shall have safe conduct both ways."91
William Harlan Hale wrote that Greeley's "own plan had been to bring the 'commissioners' to Washington without mentioning terms at all to them, and to involve them deeply in negotiations before revealing any. He appears, moreover, to have suggested to them at the border that no terms had been fixed. He had tried to play his game shrewdly — too shrewdly, it now turned out. Lincoln had outplayed him. The President's barbed message would obviously have the effect of discouraging any talks at all — and it would leave Greeley standing, as a discredited intermediary, at the Falls"92 The non-talks collapsed.
New York State Secretary of State Chauncey M. Depew later recalled what Mr. Lincoln told him of the incident: "The president stated that instead of Mr. Greeley doing it that way, he went there as an ambassador, and with an array of reporters established himself on the American side and opened negotiations with these two alleged envoys across the bridge. Continuing, Mr. Lincoln said: "I had reason to believe from confidential information which I had received from a man I trusted and who had interviewed Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, that these envoys were without authority, because President Davis had said to this friend of mine and of his that he would treat on no terms whatever but on absolute recognition of the independence of the Southern Confederacy. The attention of the whole country and of the army centred on these negotiations at Niagara Falls, and to stop the harm they were doing I recalled Mr. Greeley and issued my proclamation 'To Whom It May Concern,' in which I stated if there was anybody or any delegation at Niagara Falls, or anywhere else, authorized to represent the Southern Confederacy and to treat for peace, they had free conduct and safety to Washington and return. Of course, they never came, because their mission was a subterfuge. But they made Greeley believe in them, and the result is that he is still attacking me for needlessly prolonging the war for purposes of my own."93
Navy Secretary Gideon Welles wrote in his diary on July 22: "At the Cabinet-meeting the President read his correspondence with Horace Greeley on the subject of peace propositions from George Saunders and other at Niagara Falls. The President has acquitted himself very well,—if he was to engage in the matter at all,—but I am sorry that he permits himself, in this irregular way, to be induced to engage in correspondence with irresponsible parties like Saunders and Clay or scheming busybodies like Greeley. There is no doubt that the President and the whole Administration are misrepresented and misunderstood on the subject of peace, and Greeley is one of those who has done and is doing great harm and injustice in this matter. In this instance he was evidently anxious to thrust himself forward as an actor, and yet when once engaged he began to be alarmed; he failed to honestly and frankly communicate the President's first letters, as was his duty, but sent a letter of his own, which was not true and correct, and found himself involved in the meshes of his own frail net."94
Fellow journalist Alexander K. McClure later wrote: "Greeley had become enthusiastic in his efforts to accomplish peace. He was a lover of peace, an earnest and inherent foe of the arbitrament of the sword under all circumstances, and when he found that the whole effort made to arrest fraternal war brought only a contemptuous rejection of Lincoln's proposition from those who assumed to represent the Confederate government, he was profoundly humiliated."95 According to Greeley biographer Don C. Seitz: "The vexed and humiliated Greeley came back to the Tribune office to meet the customary contumely that goes with meddling and failure. He was stung by the state in which he found himself, and to get clear of much misrepresentation, asked Lincoln's permission to print the correspondence, addressing John Hay to that effect."96
Regarding the correspondence on peace negotiations in Buffalo, journalist Noah Brooks wrote: "When I saw it last summer it was printed entire and was in Greeley's hands, with full consent to print, but he said that though he was willing to publish it, others might not be, and he was not sure that all of the correspondence would be accessible to him. So much for his honesty; so, though he may now say that he is willing that it shall be published, the President knows that he is not willing — if so, why don't he print it in the Tribune? The President said then that he would leave the whole matter in the hands of Mr. Greeley, and he will probably say so now..."97
President Lincoln wrote the Times' Henry J. Raymond: "I have proposed to Mr. Greeley that the Niagara correspondence be published, suppressing only the parts of his letters over which the red pencil is drawn in the copy which I herewith send He declines giving his consent to the publication of his letters, unless these parts be published with the rest I have concluded that it is better for me to submit, for the time, to the consequences of the false position in which I consider he has placed me, than to subject the country to the consequences of publishing these discouraging and injurious parts I send you this, & the accompanying copy, not for publication, but merely to explain to you, and that you may preserve them until their proper time shall come."98
Naturally, Raymond took advantage of the opportunity to embarrass his rival. Historian David E. Long wrote in The Jewel of Liberty: "When the commissioners' letter to Greeley hit the front pages [Henry] Raymond exploded. The hypocritical Greeley's failure to disclose to the Confederates the conditions that Lincoln had insisted upon, Raymond charged, had caused the fiasco. Then when the commissioners blamed Lincoln for the breakdown of the negotiations, 'Greeley not only failed to relieve him from it by making public the facts, but joined in ascribing to Mr. Lincoln the failure of negotiations for peace and the consequent prolongation of the war.' Raymond felt there was no limit to Greeley's perfidy, pointing out that according to Jewett's statement, Greeley 'also authorized him to express to the rebel commissioners his regrets, that the negotiation should have failed in consequence of the President's 'change of views.'"99
Navy Secretary Gideon Welles wrote in his diary on August 6 that "the President informed us he had a telegram from Greeley, desiring the publication of the whole peace correspondence. Both Blair and myself advised it, but the President said he had telegraphed Greeley to come on, for he desired him to erase some of the lamentations in his longest letter. I told him while I regretted it was there, the whole had better be published. Blair said it would have to come to that ultimately. But the President thought it better that that part should be omitted."100 The same day, President Lincoln wrote Greeley: "Yours to Major Hay about publication of our correspondence received. With the suppression of a few passages in your letters in regard to which I think you and I would not disagree, I should be glad of the publication. Please come over and see me."101
Greeley remained distraught with his situation and aggravated with President Lincoln. Greeley biographer William Harlan Hale wrote: "Greeley went on muttering distractedly into late summer. Lincoln had invited him to come down to Washington. Greeley answered that he saw no point in it so long as the President was surrounded by men like [William H.] Seward."102 Greeley wrote back three days after the President had telegraphed him:
I fear that my chance for usefulness has passed. I know that nine-tenths of the whole American people, North and South, are anxious for peace — peace on almost any terms — and utterly sick of human slaughter and devastation. I know that, to the general eye, it now seems that the rebels are anxious to negotiate and that we repulse their advances. I know that if this impression be not removed we shall be beaten out of sight next November. I firmly believe that, were the election to take place tomorrow, the Democratic majority in this State and Pennsylvania would amount to 100,000, and that we should lose Connecticut also. Now if the Rebellion can be crushed before November it will do to go on; if not, we are rushing on certain ruin.
"Harassed on all sides by such provoking jabs, and doubtless pestered by an uneasy conscience, the distressed journalist turned his irritable disposition loose upon the President and some of his advisers, whom he felt inclined to blame for his embarrassment and the misfortune of the nation,' wrote biographer Ralph R. Fahrney. "The Tribune corroborated the contention of the Confederates that Lincoln had suddenly changed front in the Niagara maneuvers, necessitating 'a rude withdrawal of a courteous overture for negotiation' and substituting 'fresh blasts of war to the bitter end' — a charge which created in the minds of many not better informed, an impression of vacillation, untrustworthiness, and even downright dishonesty on the part of the President."104
On August 9, Welles wrote in his diary of a Cabinet meeting held the same day that Greeley was blasting President Lincoln: "Alluding to the Niagara peace proceedings, the President expressed a willingness that all should be published. Greeley had asked it, and when I went into the President's room Defrees was reading the proof of the correspondence. I have admired its entire publication from the first moment I had knowledge of it. Whether it was wise or expedient for the President to have assented to Greeley's appeal, or given his assent to any such irregular proceedings, is another thing, not necessary to discuss. Mr. Seward was consulted in this matter, and no other one was called in that I am aware. Mr. [William P.]Fessenden says he happened, accidentally and uninvited, to come in and was knowing to it. No other member of the Cabinet was consulted, or advised with, until after the meeting took place at Niagara."105
Republican Chauncey M. Depew, who visited President Lincoln in the following weeks, recalled: "At a Cabinet meeting one of the members said to Mr. Lincoln: 'Mr. President, why don't you write a letter to the public stating these facts, and that will end Mr. Greeley's attacks?' The president answered: 'Mr. Greeley owns a daily newspaper, a very widely circulated and influential one. I have no newspaper. The press of the country would print my letter, and so would the New York Tribune. In a little while the public would forget all about it, and then Mr. Greeley would begin to prove from my own letter that he was right, and I, of course, would be helpless to reply.'"106 After a Cabinet meeting on August 19, Navy Secretary Welles wrote:
Blair inquired about the Niagara peace correspondence. The President went over the particulars. Had sent the whole correspondence to Greeley for publication, excepting one or two passages in Greeley's letters which spoke of a bankrupted country and awful calamities. But Greeley replied he would not consent to any suppression of his letters or any part of them; and the President remarked that, though G. had put him (the President) in a false attitude, he thought it better he should bear it, than that the country should be distressed by such a howl, from such a person, on such an occasion. Concerning Greeley, to whom the President clung too long and confidingly, he said to-day that Greeley is an old shoe,—good for nothing now, whatever he has been. 'In early life, and with few mechanics and but little means in the West, we used,' said he, 'to make our shoes last a great while with much mending, and sometimes, when far gone, we found the leather so rotten the stitches would not hold. Greeley is so rotten that nothing can be done with him. He is not truthful; the stitches all tear out.'107
Greeley's credibility had been so damaged that Navy Secretary Gideon Welles wrote in his diary: "Poor Greeley is nearly played out. He has a morbid appetite for notoriety. Wishes to be noted and forward in all shows....Has been scolding and urging forward hostile operations. Suddenly is for peace, and ready to pay the Rebels four hundred millions or more to get it....I doubt his honesty...He is a greedy office-hunter."108 It was a bad summer for Greeley, according to biographer William Harlan Hale: "He was obviously shaken again. Yet his senses, torn as they were, had not quite left him. Lost in the uproar over the Niagara affair was the fact the Greeley, introducing it, had actually suggested peace terms of basic importance. They challenged the set ideas of northern militants and conservatives alike. He had set down as the prime requirement the total abolition of slavery — a point which the Republican radical bloc looked on as a matter of course, and to which Lincoln had gradually become converted. Yet leaders on the conservative side, such as Thurlow Weed, Seward and Henry Raymond, were still willing to do without it, and they resented Greeley's efforts to keep the President committed to it. Then Greeley had gone on to propose as his next point that a general amnesty be extended to all who had joined the Confederacy, and that the rebellious states be readmitted at once to full political privileges. Here the alignment was the other way round: these principles were welcome to most moderate or conservatively inclined men, but they were bitterly opposed by the militants led by men like Sumner, Stevens and Ben Wade. Yet, again, they were principles to which Lincoln had already attached himself and was already trying to apply in southern sections that Union armies had overrun."109
Although the President was hurt by the negotiations, Greeley was the more damaged. Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana heard President Lincoln observe: "I sent Brother Greeley a commission. I guess I am about even with him now.'"110 Lincoln biographer Ida Tarbell wrote: "Senator [James] Harlan of Iowa, who with other Republicans appreciated thoroughly the clever way in which Lincoln had disposed of the editor of the 'Tribune,' said to him one day on the terrace of the White House: 'Some of us think, Mr. Lincoln, that you didn't send a very good ambassador to Niagara.' 'Well, I'll tell you about that, Harlan,' replied the President. 'Greeley kept abusing me for not entering into peace negotiations. He said he believed we could have peace if I would do my part and when he began to urge that I send an ambassador to Niagara to meet Confederate emissaries, I just thought I would let him go up and crack that nut for himself.'"111
The problem was Greeley's continuing inability to play only one role. According to journalist John Russell Young, "'Lincoln,' as I have heard [Greeley] say, 'was half a statesman and half a horse jockey.' Greeley was recalling Mr. Lincoln's sudden disavowal of him in the Niagara Falls negotiations. He felt as if, in the Biblical phrase, the pit had been digged for him, and that he had fallen through the contriving of the digger. The Niagara Falls business was undoubtedly seized upon Lincoln for the emasculation of his most powerful and persistent critic. And as Lincoln was entirely human, where the humanities came into play, he could not avoid the fact that his critic was at his mercy, under moral bonds to keep the peace. Whether this was the President's intent or not, it was the result. With Greeley, however, the Niagara Falls disagreement was not the cause, but a culmination of many causes." Young was on target, but mistakenly concluded: "To Greeley, more than any other Republican Lincoln owed his nomination."112
Greeley joined with other New York City editors in mid-August in seeking to replace President Lincoln as the Union-Republican candidate for President. President Lincoln was saved by two events: General William T. Sherman's capture of Atlanta and General George B. McClellan's nomination by Democrats for President. After the Democratic National Convention at the end of August, Greeley and other dissident Republicans fell into line. Presidential aide John G. Nicolay wrote President Lincoln on August 30: "In my conversation with Mr. Greeley I urged upon him the necessity of fighting in good earnest in this campaign. He said in reply 'I shall fight like a savage in this campaign. I hate McClellan.'"113
Even while trying to strip President Lincoln of his renomination, Greeley once again sought President Lincoln's support for continued negotiations with the South. He wrote John G. Nicolay on August 21: "Say to the President that another Envoy, not from Jeff. Davis, but from the heart of the Confederacy and [looking?] to represent its Union element, has just arrived here, and that I have very high hopes that some good may come of R's mission in the way of dividing if not destroying the confederacy. I pray that he may, when be visits Washington, be so received as to strengthen the Unionists of the South."114 Greeley wrote Mr. Lincoln himself at the end of August 1864 about Georgia Union supporter whom Greeley believed had Confederate authority to negotiate peace:
I saw nothing of Mr. Baylor's papers, and did not seek to know his propositions. These may be of consequence; but they were not essential to my view of the matter. What I absorbingly desire is, that the Government shall offer to the revolted States conditions which they ought to accept, which the civilized world will approve, and which will tend to develope [sic] and embolden whatever Union feeling may be latent among them. It seems to me essential that the odium of continuing this horrible War shall be thrown on those who so wantonly commenced it. I perceive, but do not greatly value, the awkwardness of negociating with the Confederate organization which we are fighting to break down, and am very glad, for the sake of those who think more of it than I do, to avoid it. Mr. Baylor's mission, however authorized, unquestionably affords an fair opportunity for appealing to the better disposed people of the South to end this wholesale carnage. He may be disavowed, [denounced?], execrated; but whatever terms may be agreed on between you and him will be diffused throughout the South, and will open the eyes of thousands to the desirability and the feasibility of Peace.
Mr. Lincoln won the election — after supposedly offering Greeley the job of Postmaster General through an Upstate Republican named George Hoskins. Greeley, however, no longer trusted President Lincoln and maintained an ambivalent attitude toward Mr. Lincoln until the day of his assassination. Deaths did not heal all wounds. Greeley frequently delivered a lecture after Mr. Lincoln's death: "There have been ten thousand attempts at the life of Abraham Lincoln, whereof that of Wilkes Booth was perhaps the most atrocious; yet it stands by no means alone. Orators have harangued, preachers have sermonized, editors have canted and descanted; forty or fifty full-fledged biographies have been inflicted upon a much-enduring public; yet the man, Abraham Lincoln, as I saw and thought I knew him, is not clearly depicted in any of these so far as I have clearly depicted in any of these so far as I have seen. I do not say that most or all of these are not better than my Lincoln — I only say they are not mine."116
James Gordon Bennett
William Cullen Bryant
Charles A. Dana (Mr. Lincoln's White House)
Chauncey M. Depew
John Hay (Mr. Lincoln and Friends)
John Hay (Mr. Lincoln's White House)
John G. Nicolay (Mr. Lincoln and Friends)
John G. Nicolay (Mr. Lincoln's White House)
Henry J. Raymond
Henry J. Raymond (Mr. Lincoln and Friends)
William H. Seward
William H. Seward (Mr. Lincoln and Friends)
William H. Seward (Mr. Lincoln's White House)
Thurlow Weed (Mr. Lincoln and Friends)
Thurlow Weed (Mr. Lincoln's White House)
Gideon Welles (Mr. Lincoln's White House)
Civil War Patronage