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‘I Would Save the Union’: The Lincoln-Greeley Letter Exchange

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Read the "open letters" discussing the issue of slavery between Horace Greeley and President Abraham Lincoln.

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SUMMARY: In this activity, students will analyze an exchange of published letters between abolitionist and editor Horace Greeley and President Lincoln over the issue of slavery. The president writes of balancing  the goals of preserving the Union and ending slavery.

GRADE LEVEL: Middle and high school

TIME: 30-60 minutes

MATERIALS: Lincoln-Greeley newspaper images, Lincoln-Greeley Letter Analysis Worksheet (download), Lincoln-Greeley Lesson with additional background information (download, optional), The Emancipation Proclamation Announcement (optional), Article on the Passage of the 13th Amendment (optional)


  1. Print copies of the worksheet, one for each student or small group.
  2. Project the Lincoln-Greeley newspaper images on the board or share the lesson link for students at individual computers.


Horace Greeley’s ‘Prayer of Twenty Millions,’ Front Page

Front page of issue containing Greeley’s “Prayer of Twenty Millions.”

Horace Greeley’s ‘Prayer of Twenty Millions,’ Page 4

Horace Greeley’s “Prayer of Twenty Millions” appears on page 4.

Front page of issue containing Lincoln’s response to Greeley.

Front page of issue containing Lincoln’s response to Greeley.

President Lincoln’s Response to Greeley appears on page 4

President Lincoln’s response to Greeley appears on page 4.

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Overview PDF DOC
Worksheets PDF DOC
Extensions PDF DOC
Full Packet PDF DOC

To request a large print or Braille version, call 202.292.6650.



  1. Divide students into small groups.
  2. Tell them: As President Lincoln worked toward balancing the goals of preserving the Union and ending slavery, he turned to the press to explain the challenges he faced and to defend his methods. The issue came to a head in a striking and unusual exchange of “open letters” between abolitionist and publisher Horace Greeley and the ever-pragmatic Lincoln.
  3. Have students examine each newspaper and complete the worksheet.
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Have each group share their answers. Possible prompts include:

  • Did you find Greeley’s letter persuasive? Why or why not?
  • How is Greeley’s letter organized? Do you think this organization is effective?
  • Do you think the length of Lincoln’s letter is a strength or a weakness? Why?
  • What is the role of the press during war? How has technology affected news coverage of war today?
  • How do these front pages compare with a modern newspaper front page? Where do editorials and letters typically appear in today’s newspapers?
  • How does their placement compare with the website of an online news source?
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