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|The return of
Mr. Greeley from his recent trip to Texas, during which he was reported to
have made some curious remarks about the rebel generals, was signalized by
a meeting and a speech at the Lincoln Club rooms. The speech was notable
because of the eminent position of Mr. Greeley in the Republican party,
and because he has been mentioned, without dissent upon his part, as a
candidate for the Presidency. He began by speaking of the old
misunderstanding between the North and the South because of the hostility
of slavery to free speech, and he illustrated this point in a manner which
relives the Tribune from the suspicion sometimes foolishly cast
upon it of giving a negative assent to secession in 1861. Mr. Greeley
stated that the Southern correspondents of the paper were in personal
danger if known; and that he himself, in the winter of 1860-61, was warned
away from St. Louis, where he was to deliver a lecture. No one who recalls
that time supposes that the Tribune was then an agreeable journal
to the plotters of rebellion. But there were many articles in it which
surprised and pained the loyal and uncompromising Republican sentiment of
the North, especially those which, before the war began, seemed to be—although
they were not—justifications of secession; and those which, after the
war began, sharply criticized the slowness of the Government.
The most startling articles were that of the 26th of November, 1860, which said that if the Cotton States unitedly and earnestly wished to withdraw peacefully from the Union, any attempt to prevent them would be contrary to the Declaration of Independence; that of the 17th of December following, asserting that if the Declaration of Independence justified the secession of three millions of colonists from the British empire in 1776, it would justify that of five millions of Southerners from the Union in 1861; and that of February 23, 1861, which declared that whenever it became clear that the great body of the Southern people were alienated from the Union, and wished to escape from it, "we will do our best to forward their views." Such expressions, unaccompanied by the explanation, did undoubtedly produce great consternation among Republicans, and Governor Pickens, of South Carolina, said that it was doctrine which satisfied him. Mr. Greeley’s explanation of these articles was that he meant not the technical voters, but the mass of the Southern people, black and white, and that he was sure, had the decision been left to them, it would have been favorable to union.
The misfortune was that this was not an obvious interpretation of the words, and that it was not mentioned at the time. If, when the Tribune said, "If the Cotton States unitedly and earnestly wish to withdraw peacefully from the Union," they should be allowed to do so, it had been immediately added that by Cotton States was meant, not the political communities generally known by that name, but all the black and white adult male persons in those States, which, as afterward appeared, was Mr. Greeley’s understanding of the words, there would have been no confusion or consternation, because every body would have known that, as secession was intended to save slavery, the slaves would not be allowed to vote upon the subject. These articles have been very foolishly quoted as showing that the Tribune either thought that secession was really justifiable or that it was useless to resist it. But, like Mr. Greeley’s proposal to President Lincoln to abolish slavery by buying the slaves at a great price, and his action at the Niagara conference in 1864, by which, as Mr. Lincoln said in his letter to Mr. Raymond, Mr. Greeley had placed him in a false position before the country, these articles are to be considered merely errors of judgment; for Mr. Greeley certainly did not mean to justify secession nor to injure Mr. Lincoln.
Mr. Greeley, in his speech, then proceeded to speak of his candidacy for office, and said that he had too often reproached better men for unwillingness to take office to decline nominations when urged upon him, and that he felt it to be his duty to take any post of service to which his party friends might assign him. These are his familiar opinions, which he has often and consistently expressed. He ended his remarks upon this subject by saying that he was not at all grateful for the many nominations which he had received; that nobody owed him any thing for being a Republican, for he could not help being one if he tried; that his party accounts were settled; and that he needed and wished no office, but was perfectly willing to bear his share of responsibility.
He then spoke of his recent tour. He thinks that had there been general amnesty there would have been less trouble at the South; that the Ku-Klux is a fact, and that the government is a sham if it does not extirpate "the execrable Ku-Klux conspiracy;" that the carpet-baggers are as bad as the Ku-Klux, and more harmful to the Republican party; and Mr. Greeley’s denunciation of this class was very effective. He said that he should have not tears for the carpet-baggers if the Ku-Klux rode them peacefully out of the Southern States, instead of secretly harrying the harmless negroes. Mr. Greeley stated that the telegraph had incorrectly reported what he said about the rebel generals. It was not—as stated—that the Northerners would one day "glory in the glory of Lee and Stonewall Jackson," but that "the time would come when Americans North, as well as Americans South, would feel a just pride in the soldierly achievements and military character of Lee and Stonewall Jackson, just as I trusted the late Confederates would learn to feel a generous pride in the achievements of Grant and Sherman and Thomas and Sheridan." Perhaps he should be thought too fast in that hope, but he could wait for others. Mr. Greeley ended his speech by a few remarks upon the new Democratic departure, which ultimately would strengthen the Democratic party. But new issues were at hand, and for those he exhorted his hearers to be prepared.
This is the substance of Mr. Greeley’s speech. It was a talk with friends and neighbors, apparently of the most simple kind. He had been to a part of the country where he could never have safely gone before, and his friends welcomed him home, and he thanked them. The speech is, however, remarkable for this: that, being the speech of an eminent political leader of the administration party to party friends, known to be opposed to the renomination of the present head of the administration, and being himself a candidate for the succession, it says nothing whatever of the acts of that administration, nothing to encourage the country to maintain the party of that administration in power; but it announces an imminent era in which "our different parties may, through co-operation" or otherwise, promote the common glory of the country. It was for this reason, we suppose, that a Democratic paper the next morning called the speech the funeral oration of the Republican party. Mr. Greeley, however, may fairly say that it was a meeting of welcome upon his return from the South; that he was not called upon to discuss general politics; and that the very fact of his visit illustrates the character and career of the Republican party, which has abolished slavery, is establishing free speech, securing the safety of every American citizen every where in the country, and which is therefore entitled to the continued confidence of all good citizens.
|Harper's Weekly, July 1, 1871, page 594 (Editorial)|
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