The Journalists: Horace White (1834-1916)

Horace White
Horace White was a young journalist destined for major newspaper positions in Chicago and New York when he met Mr. Lincoln during the 1854 legislative campaigns in Illinois. After graduation from Beloit College in 1853, White had gone to work as city editor of the Chicago Evening Journal. In that capacity, the 20-year-old White met Abraham Lincoln as he made speeches against the Kansas-Nebraska Act in the summer and fall of 1854. White first met Mr. Lincoln in Springfield when he gave an early version of what has come to be called the “Peoria Speech.”

White came to know the powerful in Illinois and the nation. “His was a most kindly nature, but he was a just man,” according to his obituary in the New York Evening Post. “Acts of cruelty made his benevolent face grow stern; and breach of faith, on the part of individuals or a nation, brought flaming words from him. Yet this attitude of his was in a way impersonal. It was not chiefly his own sense of outrage and condemnation to which he gave utterance; but you felt that somehow through him the accumulated judgments of all who had gone before him, the verdicts of history itself, were finding a voice.”1 The obituary noted: “He abounded in those little acts of kindness and of love which make a man’s memory fragrant among his associates. His sympathy was as constant as the appeals made to it, and he had a heart open as day.”2

White recalled his first view of Mr. Lincoln: “It was a warmish day in early October, and Mr. Lincoln was in his shirt sleeves when he stepped on the platform. I observed that, although awkward, he was not in the least embarrassed. He began in a slow and hesitating manner, but without any mistakes of language, dates, or facts. It was evident that he had mastered his subject, that he knew what he was going to say, and that he knew he was right. He had a thin, high-pitched falsetto voice of much carrying power, that could be heard a long distance in spite of the bustle and tumult of a crowd. He had the accent and pronunciation peculiar to his native State, Kentucky. Gradually he warmed up with his subject. His angularity disappeared, and he passed into that attitude of unconscious majesty that is so conspicuous in Saint-Gaudens’s statue at the entrance of Lincoln Park in Chicago. I have often wondered how this artist, who never saw the subject of his work, could have divined his presence and his dignity as a public speaker so perfectly.”3

White wrote of Lincoln’s reply to Douglas:

At the appointed time Douglas and Lincoln entered the hall, the former taking a seat on the front row of benches and the latter advancing to the platform. The two men presented a wide contrast in personal appearance, Lincoln being 6 feet 3 inches high, lean, angular, raw boned, with a complexion of leather, unkempt, and with clothes that seemed to have dropped on him and might drop off; Douglas, almost a dwarf, only 5 feet 4 inches high, but rotund, portly, smooth faced, with ruddy complexion and a lion-like mane, and dressed in clothes of faultless fit. When speaking he seldom moved from his first position, but notwithstanding his diminutive size he always seemed to fill the platform.
Mr. Lincoln began his speech with a historical sketch of the events leading up to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, and then took up the fallacy of Douglas’s ‘sacred right of self-government,’ which he showed to mean in the last analysis that if A wished to make a slave of B, no third person had a right to object.4

White wrote: “Progressing with his theme, his words began to come faster and his face to light up with the rays of genius and his body to move in unison with his thoughts. His gestures were made with his body and head rather than with his arms. They were the natural expression of the man, and so perfectly adapted to what he was saying that anything different from it would have been quite inconceivable. Sometimes his manner was very impassioned, and he seemed transfigured with his subject. Perspiration would stream from his face, and each particular hair would stand on end. Then the inspiration that possessed him took possession of his hearers also. His speaking went to the heart because it came form the heart. I have heard celebrated orators who could start thunders of applause without changing any man’s opinion. Mr. Lincoln’s eloquence was of the higher type, which produced conviction in others because of the conviction of the speaker himself. His listeners felt that he believed every word he said, and that, like Martin Luther, he would go to the stake rather than abate on jot or little of it. In such transfigured moments as these he was the type of the ancient Hebrew prophet as I learned that character at Sunday-school in my childhood.”5 White recalled: “That Douglas was somewhat intimidated by Lincoln’s unexpected strength at the Springfield meeting has always been my belief.”6

After working for the Associated Press as its Chicago correspondent for about two years, White briefly considered settling in Kansas. Instead, he decided to return to Chicago to work for the Chicago Press and Tribune, where he covered the Lincoln-Douglas campaign of 1858″

It was my good fortune to accompany Mr. Lincoln during his political campaign against Senator Douglas, in 1858, not only at the joint debates, but also at most of the smaller meetings, where his competitor was not present. We traveled together many thousands of miles…Senator Douglas had entered upon his campaign with two shorthand reporters, James B. Sheridan and Henry Binmore, whose duty it was to ‘write it up’ in the columns of the Chicago Times. The necessity of counteracting or matching that force became apparent very soon, and I was chosen to write up Mr. Lincoln’s campaign.
I was not a shorthand reporter. The verbatim reporting for the Chicago Tribune in the joint debates was done by Mr. Robert R. Hitt, late Assistant Secretary of State, and the present Representative in Congress from the Sixth district of Illinois. Verbatim reporting was a new feature in the journalism in Chicago, and Mr. Hitt was the pioneer thereof. The publication of Senator Douglas’ opening speech in that campaign, delivered on the evening of July 9, by the Tribune the next morning, was a feat hitherto unexampled in the West, and most mortifying to the Democratic newspaper, the Times, and to Sheridan and Binmore, who, after taking down the speech as carefully as Mr. Hitt had done, had gone to bed, intending to write it out next day, as was customary.
The next stage brought us to Ottawa, the first joint debate, August 21, Here the crowd was enormous. The weather had been very dry and the town was shrouded in dust, raised by the moving populace. Crowds were pouring into town from sunrise till noon, in all sorts of conveyances, teams, railroad trains, canal boats, cavalcades and processions on foot, with banners and inscriptions, stirring up such clouds of dust that it was hard to make out what was underneath them. The town was covered with bunting, and bands of music were tooting around every corner, drowned now and then by the roar of cannon. Mr. Lincoln came by railroad, and Mr. Douglas by carriage, from LaSalle. A train of seventeen passenger cars from Chicago attested the interest felt in that city in the first meeting of the champions. Two great processions escorted them to the platform in the public square. But the eagerness to hear the speaking was so great that the crowd had taken possession of the square and the platform, and had climbed on the wooden awning overhead, to such an extent that the speaker and the committees and reporters could not get to their places. Half an hour was consumed in a rough-and-tumble skirmish to make way for them, and, when finally this was accomplished, a section of the awning gave way with its load of men and boys, and came down on the heads of the Douglas committee of reception. But fortunately, nobody was hurt.
At the conclusion of the Ottawa debate, a circumstance occurred which, Mr. Lincoln said to me afterwards, was extremely mortifying to him. Half a dozen Republicans, roused to a high pitch of enthusiasm for their leader, seized him as he came down from the platform, hoisted him upon their shoulders, and marched off with him, singing the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ or ‘Hail Columbia,’ until they reached the place where he was to spend the night. What use Douglas made of this incident is known to readers of the joint debates. He said a few days later, at Joliet, that Lincoln was so used up in the discussion that his knees trembled, and he had to be carried from the platform, and he caused this to be printed in the newspapers of his own party. Mr. Lincoln called him to account for this fable at Jonesboro.
The Ottawa debate gave great satisfaction to our side. Mr. Lincoln, we thought, had the better of the argument, and we all came away encouraged. But the Douglas men were encouraged also. In his concluding half hour Douglas spoke with great rapidity and animation, and yet with perfect distinctness, and his supporters cheered him wildly.7

White wrote down a portion of Mr. Lincoln’s Beardstown on August 12, 1858 speech from memory.

On the day following the delivery of the speech, as Mr Lincoln & myself were proceeding by steamer from Beardstown to Havana I said to him that I had been greatly impressed by his concluding remarks of the day previous, & that if he would write them out for me I felt confident their publication would be highly beneficial to our cause as well as honorable to his own fame. He replied that he had but a faint recollection of any portion of the speech – that, like all his campaign speeches, it was necessarily extemporaneous, & that its good or bad effect depended upon the inspiration of the moment. He added that I had probably overestimated the value of the remarks referred to. In reply to my question whether he had any objection to my writing them out from memory and putting them in the form of a verbatim report, he said ‘none at all’. I accordingly did so. I felt confident then, & I feel equally assured now, that I transcribed the peroration with absolute fidelity as to ideas, and with commendable fidelity as to language. I certainly aimed to reproduce his exact words, and my recollection of the passage as spoken was very clear. After I had finished writing I read it to Mr. Lincoln. When I had finished the reading he said: ‘Well, those are my views, & if I said anything on the subject I must have said substantially that, but not nearly so well as that is said.’ I remember this remark quite distinctly, and if the old steamer, Editor, is still in existence I could show the place where we were sitting. Having secured his assent to the publication I forwarded it to our paper, but inasmuch as my report of the Beardstown meeting had been already mailed, I incorporated the remarks on the Declaration of Independence in my letter from Lewistown two or three days subsequently.8

White wrote that “I accompanied Mr Lincoln almost constantly during the memorable campaign of 1858 – that I had the pleasure of hearing nearly all his speeches, those which were published & those which were not.”9 According to the New York Evening Post, White’s “friendship with Lincoln was one of the treasures Mr. White held dearest. He reported all the renowned joint debates between Lincoln and Douglas, and between times traveled thousands of miles with the ‘rail-splitter,’ often side by side. From this intimacy he drew a wealth of personal anecdote and incident that in his later years he delighted to spread before his friends.”10 White recalled, for example, “There was more difference between Lincoln dull & Lincoln animated, in facial expressions, that I ever saw in any other human being.”11 White wrote that of “the tremendous directness which he always gave to his utterances on those occasions when he rose to impassioned eloquence….I have never head his equal, & I believe I have listened at times to nearly all the public speakers of considerable reputation in this country.”12

White served as editor of the Chicago Press and Tribune after the Civil War and later served as editor of the New York Evening Post. His friendship with Henry Villard, a financier who had also covered Mr. Lincoln as a journalist in 1858, served White in good stead when Villard bought the Post in 1881 and installed his friend as the editor.


  1. “Horace White”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, October 1916, (New York Evening Post), p. 389.
  2. “Horace White”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, October 1916 (New York Evening Post), p. 388.
  3. Horace White, “Abraham Lincoln in 1854”, Address before Illinois State Historical Society, January 1908, p. 10.
  4. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Horace White, “Lincoln Among His Friends”, New York Evening Post, February 12, 1909, p. 170.
  5. Horace White, “Abraham Lincoln in 1854”, Illinois State Historical Society, January 1908, p. 10.
  6. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Horace White, “Lincoln Among His Friends”, New York Evening Post, February 12, 1909, p. 170.
  7. William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik, Herndon’s Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 88-89.
  8. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, “Letter from Horace White to William H. Herndon, May 17, 1865”, p. 4.
  9. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, “Letter from Horace White to William H. Herndon, May 17, 1865”, p. 4.
  10. Horace White, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, October 1916 (New York Evening Post), p. 391.
  11. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, “Letter from Horace White to Jesse W. Weik, March 7, 1890,” p. 698.
  12. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis, editor, Herndon’s Informants, “Letter from Horace White to William H. Herndon, May 17, 1865,” p. 4.