Greeley's "go in peace" idea proved confusing to contemporaries and, later, to historians. Some have argued that Greeley intended to strengthen southern unionism, but if that failed, to provide for peaceable separation, especially if it were accomplished in the proper manner. Peaceable separation was preferable to the horrors of civil war.
Yet Greeley's motives were by no means as clear as the slogan "go in peace" implied. A number of historians, including David M. Potter, Kenneth M. Stampp, and Glyndon G. Van Deusen, contend that Greeley's proposal was motivated in large part by hostility to compromise. His plan was, in fact, an alternative to making concessions to the South. He surrounded his proposal for peaceable secession with so many constraints and obstacles that the possibility of legitimate peaceable secession was nullified. Secession must, for example, be based upon genuine popular approval after full discussion and deliberation. That, clearly, was not how he viewed events in the South, including South Carolina. As Potter explains, Greeley's position was: "First, the South may depart in peace. Second, she must observe certain forms in doing so. Third, she is not, in the present movement, observing these forms." Greeley's proposal, then, may have lacked sincerity, and Stampp bluntly labels it a "fraud." He was never a pacifist and was prepared to fight if secessionists did not meet his conditions.
Greeley's anti-compromise idea was complicated and ambiguous, subject to different interpretations. Whatever Greeley's own views, some northerners sincerely adopted his "go in peace" idea. They were prepared to accept southern independence, which they considered likely to be temporary, rather than resort to war.
Bibliography: Van Deusen, Greeley, pp. 260-69; Potter, Impending Crisis, p. 524; Stampp, And the War Came, pp. 21-25; Potter, "Horace Greeley and Peaceable Secession," pp. 219-42; Bonner, "Horace Greeley and the Secession Movement, 1860-1861,"pp. 425-44.