Two Incredible Men - Two Incredible Lives: Abraham Lincoln & Horace Greeley


Sergeant Major
Aug 6, 2016

Abraham Lincoln/Horace Greeley
Approximately in the late 1840’s

Two years after the birth of a future president, Horace Greeley (1811-1872) was born in Amherst, New Hampshire. At the time of his birth one could never predict how influential he would be throughout his years. At the time of his birth it was said “he had difficulty breathing for the first twenty minutes of his life leading to some speculation that he may have had Asperger’s syndrome.” {1}. There is no way to ever know for certain if this is true, however many people point to this lack of oxygen as a reason he displayed eccentric behaviors as he grew older.

In time Horace Greeley met and developed a relationship with Abraham Lincoln. The two men shared many similar experiences. Both men were born in poverty, both men were exposed to farming however for Greeley it was his family’s main occupation. Horace Greeley attended public school and was an exceptional student where Lincoln claimed “all his formal schooling—a week here, a month there--did not amount to one year” {2}. Both Greeley and Lincoln were avid readers, as adults both served in the House of Representatives in Washington D.C. during common years and both had political ambitions. The men who shared many similarities also shared another interesting characteristic, both men were not particularly handsome. Lincoln’s appearance was well known and he often commented on it while a description of Horace Greeley’s physical appearance is not very complimentary:

“rather tall in stature, five feet ten and a half, with a frame badly set and a large queer-shaped head. It was round as a ball. The forehead bulged, betokening brain power behind it, while on the edge of the dome the blue eyes gazed unblinkingly at mankind. The eyes had no sparkle; indeed were mild and pale. The complexion was white -- so white as to be startling. . . This whiteness was set off by a crown of thin silky hair, so light as to suggest the albino, which in middle life came to extend around the face and under the chin. . . Indeed the whole aspect was infantile. He had no graces. His voice was high and shrill.” {1}

Both men had married women that presented challenges to them in their relationships. Mary Lincoln’s is legendary but as had been said regarding Mrs. Greeley:​

“Mary Cheney [Greeley] was even more eccentric than Mary Todd,
and Greeley never had a home which attracted or held him.”

One notable trait shared by both men they were not afraid of work and were hard workers. Greeley reflected back on his early years when he first arrived in New York with the following quote:


Illustration of Horace Greeley when he first arrived in New York

Horace Greeley published his first edition of the New York Tribune on April 10, 1841. As was common in the 19th Century the paper eventually affiliated with the Whig Party and then the Republican party. His newspaper was considered as “straightforward and a trustworthy media source”. As opposed to the “New York Sun” {*} he did not rely on sensationalism to boost his circulation. During the late 1850’s and 1860’s his paper reached as many as 200,000 people.

For three months from December 4, 1848 to March 3, 1849 he was elected to the Thirtieth Congress to fill a vacancy due to the unseating of David S. Jackson. He did not seek election in 1848 and by 1851 he was visiting Europe where he stayed several years, never giving up his position as editor of the New York Tribune during this time.

An interesting study on Horace Greeley would not be complete without discussing the years he employed a controversial writer. A special 12 page Saturday morning edition of the October 25, 1851 New York Tribune featured his first article titled; “Revolution and Counter-Revolution,” and directly beneath the title was the by-line, Karl Marx. Incidentally the future Assistant Secretary of War during the Civil War, Charles A. Dana was the managing editor at the time. To read more about Karl Marx’s articles you can check out the links below.​

Horace Greeley’s views on anti-slavery were so strong. He was not shy at promoting his views as when he wrote:

"This is not an age of the world in which new domain [territories] can be opened to slave drivers without an instinctive shudder convulsing the frame of Humanity.” {4}

He paid the price for his abolitionist views when one day in 1856 he met the fist of the proslavery congressman from Arkansas Albert Rust (1818-1870) while Greeley was walking the streets of Washington, D.C.. He quickly recovered and was back to his crusade.​

“Uncle Horace agrees with me pretty often after all;
I reckon he is with us at least four days out of seven.”
Abraham Lincoln {5}


By the end of the 1850’s and moving toward the election of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, the New York Tribune and thereby Horace Greeley was considered one of the most influential newspapers in the country. When the Tribune spoke - people listened and Lincoln soon discover the importance of working with Greeley. It would prove to be a mixed bag.

In 1856 Greeley supported Stephen Douglas for re-election to the Senate. Greeley desperately wanted to avoid a war he believed would be bloody and devastating for the country. He believed let the Confederate states depart from the Union as that would finally eliminate slavery from the United States {4}.

On December 17, 1860 after after the election of Abraham Lincoln, Greeley still believed in a peaceful secession when he wrote on his editorial pages:

“For our own part, while we deny the right of slaveholders to hold slaves against the will of the latter, we cannot see how twenty millions of people can rightfully hold ten, or even five, in a detested union with them, by military force.” {6}

Horace Greeley may not have supported Lincoln at first but that never stopped him from giving him advice. Greeley traveled to Springfield in early February of 1861 to have a visit with the soon-to-be president. The meeting lasted for several hours and afterward’s this appeared in his paper:

“Horace Greeley returned from the West this morning. This afternoon he was called upon at his hotel by Mr. Lincoln. The interview lasted several hours. Greeley urged a strict adherence to an anti-compromise policy, and is said to have received gratifying assurances. His opinion as to the Cabinet and other appointments was freely solicited and given. He is known to be strongly opposed to [Simon] Cameron, and very much interested in the appointment of Chase and Colfax. Colonel Fremont, he thinks, should have the mission to France.” {5}

Although Greeley was not fully on-board with the abilities of Lincoln, sometime by the late winter months of early 1861, Greeley was editorializing in denouncing the secession movement and urging Lincoln never to compromise on the issue.

There were letters sent back and forth during the war from the men. After the defeat of the Union at Bull Run, Greeley wrote the president in which he requests strictest confidence while Lincoln complied. This was found in a cubby hole in Lincoln’s desk as his secretaries were cleaning it out after his death. The letter describes a man Greeley almost on the verge of a mental breakdown.

“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. But to business. You are not considered a great man, and I am a hopelessly broken one. You are now undergoing a terrible ordeal, and God has thrown the greatest responsibilities upon you. Do not fear to meet them. Can the rebels be beaten after all that has occurred, and in view of the actual state of feeling caused by our late, awful disaster? If they can, – and it is your business to ascertain and decide – write me that such is your judgment, so that I may know and do my duty. And if they cannot be beaten, – if our recent disaster is fatal, – do not fear to sacrifice yourself to your country. If the rebels are not to be beaten, – if that is your judgment in view of all the light you can get. – then every drop of blood henceforth shed in this quarrel will be wantonly, wickedly shed, and the guilt will rest heavily on the soul of every promoter of the crime.

I pray you to decide quickly and let me know my duty. . . This letter is written in the strictest confidence, and is for your eye alone. But you are at liberty to say to members of your cabinet that you know I will second any move you may see fit to make.” {6}

Their most popular exchange of letters has gone down in history as “The Prayer of the Twenty Million” published on August 19, 1862 beginning in The New York Tribune. President Lincoln replies August 22, 1862. Both letters may be found at this site:​


Note: as the introduction states regarding these letters:

Horace Greeley was (for now) a Lincoln Man . . .

“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.” {*}

In September of 1862 when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Lincoln his paper had glowing praise for the president:

“It is the beginning of the end of the Rebellion, the beginning of the new life of the nation. GOD BLESS ABRAHAM LINCOLN!.” {6}

. . .But it Doesn't Last

Those who knew the two men claim that Abraham Lincoln was a better friend to Horace Greeley than Greeley ever was to Lincoln. Before the 1864 election Greeley was telling friends privately:​

“Mr. Lincoln is already beaten. He cannot be elected. And we must have another ticket to save us from utter overthrow.” {5}

History proved him wrong​

Horace Greeley had heard word through political friends that President Lincoln, after winning his 2nd term, was considering appointing him Postmaster General. On April 14, 1865 Greeley met his friend George G. Hoskins whom joked with Greeley that he still was not the Postmaster General. After his friend left him he sat down and wrote a blistering attack on Lincoln. The editorial copy made its way to the composing room it was sit up, proofed and marked to go in the Saturday morning paper. When news of what had happened at Ford’s Theater the evening before, the editorial was spiked.​

Greeley remembered instead

“I felt that his life hung by so slender a thread
that any new access of trouble or excess of effort might suddenly close his career.”

Later Greeley wrote

There are those who profess to have been always satisfied with his conduct of the war, deeming it prompt, energetic, vigorous, masterly. I did not, and could not, so regard it. I am no admirer of the style of his more elaborate and pretentious state papers, especially his messages to Congress. They lack fire and force.” {5}

Greeley's wrote in his Memoirs

“Mr. Lincoln was essentially a growing man. Enjoying no advantages in youth, he had observed and reflected much since he attained to manhood, and he was steadily increasing his stock of knowledge to the day of his death. He was a wiser, abler man when he entered upon his second than when he commenced his first Presidential term. His mental processes were slow, but sure; if he did not acquire swiftly, he retained all that he had once learned. Greater men our country has produced; but not another humanly speaking she could so ill spare, when she lost him, as the victim of Wilkes Booth’s murderous aim.” {5}

Greeley was one of the few people that crossed paths with Lincoln who could say: “It will surprise some to hear that, though I was often in his company thenceforward until his death, and long on terms of friendly intimacy with him, I never heard him tell an anecdote or story.” {5}

Horace Greeley would get his chance to run for the White House in 1872 when he faced off with President Grant as a candidate from the Liberal Republican Party and strong support from Democrats. Many believe the race and defeat finally took him over the edge both mentally and physically. After the election Greeley was a patient at the Choate House under the care of Dr. George C S Choate. The Choate house was a private sanitarium treating patients for mental and nervous disorders. The election was held on November 5, 1872 and before the month was over so too was Horace Greeley’s life.

Theodore H. Cuyler the pastor of the Park Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, officiated the funeral service for Horace Greeley’s. In his eulogy he described the relationship between these two men that lived and shared a most tumultuous time in the United States.​


Lincoln Memorial Washington, D.C./Horace Greeley City Hall Park, New York
Quote: Theodore H. Cuyler {7}
{creative commons wikipedia photo by Jim Henderson*}

1. “Horace Greeley: Founder of the New York Tribune”, by Don C. Seitz
Photos Public Domain
{**} Statue of Horace Greeley (Link)

Horace Greeley and Karl Marx

NH Civil War Gal

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Feb 5, 2017
I've read about Horace Greeley. The house he was born in is about 10 miles from me and I pass it fairly often. The farm he was born on borders a swamp so it wasn't prime farm land around here. I know he was a vegetarian and I've often wondered how he fared for nutrition at the many boarding houses he and his wife lived in. They certainly didn't have the variety available to them year round we have now. He had an amazing capacity for work though.
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Sergeant Major
Aug 6, 2016
He had an amazing capacity for work though.
I didn't realize until I started this thread. Greeley ran away from home in 1822 to be an apprentice in the printing industry. He was told he was too young so he went home and waited until he was 15. It’s astounding how young children left home to work - life certainly different then.