Election, Secession and War

Gienapp’s Interpretation –Origins of Lincoln’s beard (1860)

“In October [1860], as the campaign neared its climax, Lincoln received a letter from eleven-year-old Grace Bedell of Westfield, New York.  His young admirer informed him that he would look ‘a good deal better’ with a beard.  Besides, ‘all the ladies like whiskers’ and thus would get ‘their husband’s to vote for you.’  Even with all that was on his mind, Lincoln took the time to reply that he worried people would consider it ‘a piece of silly affect[at]tion’ if he now let his whiskers grow. Shortly after the election, however, he began to grow a beard.” –Gienapp, 70-71

Bedell letters

Discussion Question

  • What were some of Lincoln’s principal characteristics as a political leader, both during the secession crisis and later in the war, according to William Gienapp?
Lincoln photos

These images represent a selection of Lincoln photographs from his earliest (1846 or 1847) to the final known portrait (March 1865). Do you think Lincoln was trying to convey any specific political message with his public image?

Brief Political Chronology of the Civil War (1861-63)

(with corresponding Gienapp page numbers in parentheses)

November 1860 – March 1861 // Lincoln assembles cabinet of party leaders (75-77)

March – April 1861 // Lincoln overrides advisors on Fort Sumter crisis (79-81)

April – May 1861 // Lincoln defies Chief Justice on civil liberties (83-84)

July 1861 // Lincoln pressures Union generals toward first battle (86-87)

Composite cabinet

A team of rivals? Can you identify the members of Lincoln’s cabinet who resigned or got replaced?

August – September 1861 // Lincoln clashes with Fremont over emancipation in border states (88-89)

November 1861 // Lincoln elevates McClellan to general-in-chief (95-97)

January 1862 // Lincoln reorganizes War Dept. and issues Gen. War Order No. 1 (100-101)

March -July 1862 // Lincoln and McClellan argue strategy during Peninsula campaign (107-109)

July 1862 // Congress adopts Second Confiscation Act and Lincoln secretly drafts emancipation order (110-112)

August 1862 // Lincoln publicly replies to criticism by Greeley and others (112-113)

September 1862 // Union victory at Antietam; Lincoln announces both emancipation plans and nationwide suspension of civil liberties (114-117)

October-November 1862 // Republicans lose seats in midterm elections (117-119)

December 1862 // Lincoln’s cabinet crisis (121-123)

January 1, 1863 // Emancipation Proclamation (123-125)

Close Reading:  Lincoln to Greeley (August 22, 1862)

On August 20, 1862, Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, published a scathing open letter to Abraham Lincoln, entitled, “The Prayer of Twenty Millions.”  Here is an excerpt:

I do not intrude to tell you–for you must know already–that a great proportion of those who triumphed in your election, and of all who desire the unqualified suppression of the Rebellion now desolating our country, are sorely disappointed and deeply pained by the policy you seem to be pursuing with regard to the slaves of the Rebels. I write only to set succinctly and unmistakably before you what we require, what we think we have a right to expect, and of what we complain.  We think you are strangely and disastrously remiss in the discharge of your official and imperative duty with regard to the emancipating provisions of the new Confiscation Act….Why these traitors should be treated with tenderness by you, to the prejudice of the dearest rights of loyal men, We cannot conceive.

Lincoln’s response, dated August 22, 1862, appeared in the Washington Daily National Intelligencer on the following day.  The transcript below (with spelling errors and corrections) derives from his handwritten original.

Executive Mansion,
Washington, August 22, 1862.

Hon. Horace Greely:

Dear Sir–


Horace Greeley (1811-1872)

I have just read yours of the 19th. addressed to myself through the New-York Tribune. If there be in it any statements, or assumptions of fact, which I may know to be erroneous, I do not, now and here, controvert them. If there be in it any inferences which I may believe to be falsely drawn, I do not now and here, argue against them. If there be perceptable in it an impatient and dictatorial tone, I waive it in deference to an old friend, whose heart I have always supposed to be right. As to the policy I “seem to be pursuing” as you say, I have not meant to leave any one in doubt.

I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” Broken eggs can never be mended, and the longer the breaking proceeds the more will be broken. If there be any those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be any those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery [emphasis added].  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. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.

I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free.


Yours,  A. LINCOLN

1862 Letters

Dueling public letters between the New York Tribune’s Horace Greeley (left) and President Lincoln via the Washington National Intelligencer (right)

Gienapp’s interpretation –Lincoln’s Leadership Style

“Lincoln had entered office determined to be his own man, and as his self-confidence had grown he had relied less and less on his advisors.  Throughout his political career Lincoln had always made crucial decisions by himself, and this approach continued when he became president.  Gathering advice from various quarters, he thought long and hard about problems and then made up his mind in solitude.” –Gienapp, 122