Lincoln answers Greeley


Friday, Feb. 5, 2010 

MANCHESTER — For its fourth consecutive year, Hildene sponsored an essay writing contest for Vermont's eighth graders. Originally limited to a more local, Bennington County audience, the contest went statewide last year and drew entries from 89 students from 14 schools across the state this year.

Ciaren Wade of Arlington and Sarabeth Rambold of Manchester took first and third place, respectively, for their essays on why Lincoln responded to the open letter "The Prayer of the Twenty Millions" written by editor of New York Tribune Horace Greeley on Aug. 19, 1862, which urged the president to free the slaves as a way of weakening the confederacy.

The second place winner was Anna O'Malley of Albert D. Lawton Intermediate school in Essex Junction.

Honorable mention recognition was earned by Fatema Boxwala of the Albert D. Lawton Intermediate School, Claire Cofelice of Maple Street School in Manchester. Will Helmetag of Long Trail School in Dorset, Caitlin Owen of Long Trail School, and Gailin Leah Higgins Pease of Windsor High School of Windsor.

In order for a contestant's essay to be declared the winner, the essay not only needed to exemplify good writing, but an understanding of the subject matter as well, said Seth Bongartz, the executive director of Hildene.

Participating eighth grade writers were asked to submit an essay of no more than 500 words explaining why President Lincoln wrote his response to "The Prayer of the Twenty Millions," an open letter written to him in the press by the abolitionist and influential editor of the New York Tribune, Horace Greeley. The letter called upon the President to free the slaves as a way of weakening the Confederacy.

The following is Ciaren Wade's winning essay, which garnered her a $1,000 prize for first place.

Hon. Friends of Hildene:

Seven score and seven years ago on August 19, 1862, I was presented with a letter from Horace Greeley, the highly esteemed editor of the New York Tribune. At a time in which my country was rent by secession, I carried a burden which I could only hope I could withstand. Seeking to advance the abolitionist cause, Mr. Greeley's letter accused me of being "strangely and disastrously remiss" in the leadership of my country and asserted that I had I not given "deference to Rebel slavery," the Rebellion would "have received a staggering if not fatal blow."

My most urgent requirement was to guarantee the survival of a united Nation, no matter the consequence with regard to the colored man. I sought to ensure Mr. Greeley and his readership that I knew the best course for our country. At the time, I could not divulge whether I intended to free all, some or none of the slaves. Any answer could have caused the secession of the states that had yet to decide for the Union. But even then, my countrymen could not know that my desk already held a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. The fulfillment of the freedoms granted by our founding documents to all Americans, including the Negro, required appropriate timing and a Union victory in the ongoing Civil War.

I believed, before the slaves were freed, that states currently permitting slavery ought to be permitted to maintain slavery within their borders but no other admitted state should have been allowed to house slavery. Indeed, my ideas of slavery enabled me to have a partially sympathetic but rational opinion toward the emancipation of the slaves, especially during my earlier confrontational debates with Stephen Douglas. In response to Mr. Greeley, I presented my position similar to the way I responded to Mr. Douglas; that is, as a man whose thinking paralleled that of our forefathers and who believed the spread of slavery into new territories shall be opposed as I anticipated "its ultimate extinction."

Mr. Greeley could have expected no more from me than truth, honesty, respect and confidence that I am in the right. But to my nation I am duty bound. The instant I finished reading Mr. Greeley's letter, I knew this man spoke from a "heart I have always supposed to be right," and was lending voice to those most cherished beliefs of our founding fathers. A man who could write so passionately about his core beliefs demands my respect. And though I stood accused, I ensured the nation I was strong and firm, steadfast and confident our country would not perish. Our country's founding documents declare that all men are created equal and I welcome the day that "all men everywhere could be free." But until the day I presented the emancipation Proclamation, when our victory in our great Civil War was nearly assured, my utmost priority was to preserve the Union.


A. Lincoln


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