Letter To Horace Greeley by Abraham Lincoln

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"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"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Lincoln answers a critical newspaper article by Horace Greeley. He forgives Greeley's "false inferences" and "dictatorial tone." Lincoln clarifies "the policy I 'seem to be pursuing'" so that no one will be left in doubt. He wishes "that all men everywhere could be free," but his sole purpose is 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.'" He is not basically concerned with slavery:

. . . My paramount object is this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. 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.