Saturday, June 23, 2012

Review: Abraham Lincoln and Horace Greeley

by Gregory A. Borchard

In August 1862 there was an amazing exchange of letters between Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, and Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States.  These letters were not exchanged through the mail, but rather in the pages of the country’s newspapers.  In an open letter to Lincoln, published under the heading “The Prayer of Twenty Millions,” Greeley demanded that Lincoln ungrudgingly execute the Confiscation Act, thereby giving freedom to the slaves of the Rebels.  A few days later Lincoln famously replied, “ 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.”

Greeley is too often pushed aside in many books written about Lincoln, but the relationship between Abraham Lincoln and Horace Greeley is a long and complicated one.  Abraham Lincoln and Horace Greeley, by Gregory A. Borchard, a volume in Southern Illinois University Press’ Concise Lincoln Library, uncovers the tangled history of these two men.

Lincoln and Greeley were more alike than they were different.  Mr. Borchard’s linear narrative traces the parallel lives of these two men; both grew up in poverty, were self-made men, and were ultimately successful in their chosen fields of politics and journalism.  Both men favored the limitation and eventual abolition of slavery. 

Though geographically separated, Greeley & Lincoln’s lives frequently intersected.  Both were members of the Whig party who served together in the House of Representatives during the 30th Congress of the United Sates, and both eventually became Republicans.  Greeley, who broke ranks with his former political allies, Thurlow Weed and William H. Seward, was a delegate to the 1860 Republican National Convention and supported Lincoln over Seward for the party’s nomination.

Mr. Borchard also traces the divergence of the lives of Lincoln and Greeley once Lincoln became the President.  Often antagonistic, Greeley used the power of his pen to try to goad Lincoln into action, while Lincoln steadfastly led the nation through four years of civil war.

Abraham Lincoln and Horace Greeley is a well researched book written in an easily read style, and covers the relationship between these two men in a depth not found in other works about Lincoln.

Mr. Borchard, an associate professor of mass communication and journalism in the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is the coauthor of Journalism in the Civil War Era and has published journal articles focusing on the nineteenth-century press.

ISBN 978-0809330454, Southern Illinois University Press, © 2011, Hardcover, 168 pages, End Notes, Selected Bibliography & Index. $19.95

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