Transition to the Presidency

After Mr. Lincoln received the Republican presidential nomination in May 1860, he engaged in a long period of watchful waiting that lasted through his election and until he left Springfield for Washington in February 1860.

There was only one major campaign event in which Mr. Lincoln participated – and that was as an on-looker. “At the great mass-meeting held at the state capitol, during the canvass of 1860,” wrote Henry C. Whitney, “Lincoln was in a daze and stupor all day and during the entire evening; he was simply stupefied with astonishment at the immense throng and the overwhelming enthusiasm. During the meeting in the grove, he ventured to come out and make his appearance on the stand, but the enthusiasm was so demonstrative and overwhelming that he was placed on a saddle horse, the way cleared for him by the police, and he literally ran away, and that very fleetly, too. I was on a shed which he had to pass, and he looked perfectly bewildered if not frightened; he was really thought by some to be in actually danger of being crushed by the crowd in their frenzied excitement and boisterous enthusiasm. I certainly never saw excitement run so high, or become so riotous.”1

Another young witness to the August 8 rally, which drew people from miles around Springfield, was William Hawley Smith. “My father knew Mr. Lincoln well, and as he was driving he was the first of our party to recognize him. He called out to him, and when Mr. Lincoln turned and raised his hat in response half a dozen or more of the young men on our wagon jumped to the ground, ran to the sidewalk, picked the tall man up bodily, and began carrying him along the street on their stalwart farmer-boy shoulders! (It was in the month of May, five years later, that I stood in front of the same capitol building and saw the casket which bore all that was mortal of the then martyr president carried out from its front door, borne on the shoulders of eight stalwart soldiers along the same sidewalk where our boys so triumphantly carried him that morning of which I am writing)

It was several blocks from the state house to Mr. Lincoln’s home, but once our boys had taken hold they never let up till they had set their load down on his own doorstep. I have often thought that it must have been a far more honorable than it was a comfortable ride for Mr. Lincoln, carried as he was like a log of wood on the shoulders of those wild-shouting farmer boys.
A part of our campaign outfit brought all the way with us was a small cast-iron cannon, a gun about three feet long, with a two-inch bore. It was regularly mounted on a conventional wheel-carriage, in such cases made and provided, and was drawn by a pair of black ponies. The driver of the ponies and the captain o f the cannon gun-squad was an old soldier of the Mexican war. The outfit made quite a telling appearance and the little old gun could make a noise which, as I remember it, was many times what might be expected from one of its size.
Our Glee Club wagon kept abreast of our boys who were carrying Lincoln, and the cannon and its squad were just behind us in the procession. We all halted in front of Mr. Lincoln’s home, the cannon was unlimbered and placed squarely before the gate that led up to the steps where he was standing, and a salute of thirteen guns was fired in honor of the day, the occasion, and, above all, of the man whose ear-drums must have been nearly ruptured as he stood leaning against the door-jam, smiling and laughing, as he constantly shook hands with the crowds that jammed into the yard in spite of the cannonade that was going on in front. It was a sight to remember.
As soon as the salute had been fired the captain of the squad went up to Mr. Lincoln, and after shaking hands with him, and receiving thanks for the honor conferred, asked him if he would name the gun.
Mr. Lincoln laughed most good naturedly, and replied: “Oh, I never could name anything. Mary had to name all the children.”
The captain was a quick-witted man (or was what he suggested an aspiration) and immediately came back with: “Why not call the gun ‘Mary Lincoln?’ May we name it so?”
In reply Mr. Lincoln waved his long right arm, and with a hearty laugh said: ‘Yes. Let it go that way.’
And so it was that our noisy little old gun was christened by the man in whose honor it had spoken its loudest and best that early morning now so long ago.2

Illinois Superintendent of Public Instruction Newton Bateman wrote: “Another day, (After the nomination but before the election), an elderly man, an old-time friend, called and said: ‘Good morning, Mr. President.’ ‘Not yet,’ was the reply. ‘We mustn’t count our chickens before they are hatched, you know.’ ‘Well,’ rejoined the man, ‘Maybe yourn ain’t quite hatched, but they’re peepin’ sure.’”3

Lincoln scholar Clyde Walton wrote: “From early in the summer, Lincoln tried to follow a schedule, a schedule that never did really work out in practice. The schedule called for working with John G. Nicolay from 8:00 until 10 a.m., followed by a public audience from 10 until noon. Lincoln then walked home for lunch, returning to work with Nicolay until 3:00 p.m., when another public open house was held until 5:30 or 6:00. Then Lincoln walked home for his evening meal, sometimes venturing out late in the evening to the telegraph office or to the Statehouse. When he stayed at home in the evening, the Lincolns often held what amounted to an open house.”4

Nicolay’s daughter Helen wrote: “His visitors were of all kinds – old neighbors of his early days, men who came from afar curious to see what manner of uncouth westerner a freak of popular fancy had raised to this eminence; some who wanted advice, and others who sought to give it.” Nicolay wrote that his face was “never so kindly as when he greeted some old man or woman who had known him in his boyhood and had come to wish him well.”5

Newton Bateman wrote: “Souvenirs of almost every description were brought from near and far and presented to him in that famous reception room, both during and after the canvass, until it resembled a museum of curiosities. The articles were of all sorts and sizes, – some very quaint and curious, some cheap and homemade, others elegant and costly, canes in great variety, from the woods of Indiana and Kentucky, and from the shops of Broadway. There were pieces of old rails that he had split, fragments of the log cabin in which he had lived, dilapidated specimens of the furniture he had made and used, stray bits of the surveyor’s instruments he had once owned, mementoes of the Black Hawk war, in which he took part, books, pictures and engravings. There was a rustic chair, composed of thirty-seven little saplings, one from every state in the Union and each piece labelled with the name of the sender, and of the State whence it came; and an immense wooden chain of thirty-seven links, all carved with rare skill from a single piece of timber, and designed to symbolize the indissoluble union of the states.”

Bateman recalled: “The months passed in that reception room were turned to the best account by Mr. Lincoln. Meeting there men from every portion of the country, he was afforded rare facilities for increasing his already remarkable knowledge of the American people, and of the gigantic political problem, the solution of which he was soon to undertake. Those daily receptions, therefore, were not merely occasions for the interchange of social and personal courtesies, but for the study of the general situation, and of those intricate and delicate questions which would inevitably confront his administration, at its very opening. That room was a school to him, and to the uttermost did he improve its advantages.”7

Election Day was tense in Springfield. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote: “At five, he headed home to have supper with Mary and the boys, returning to the State House at seven, accompanied by Judge Davis a few friends. An immense crowd followed him into the Capitol, leading one supporter to suggest that he ask everyone but his closest friends to withdraw. ‘He said he had never done such a thing in his life, and wouldn’t commence now.’ When the polls had closed, the first dispatches began to filter into the telegraph office.”8

According to aide John G. Nicolay, “At about nine o’clock on the night of that eventful day, the Republicans of Springfield filled the Representatives’ Hall of the State House to overflowing to await and hear the election returns that were beginning to come from the State and Nation. On one side of the public square in which the State House stood were gathered in a large second story room over one of the principal stores two or three score of the wives and daughters of prominent Republicans, leaders of Springfield society, decorating the room with flags, and spreading a bountiful improved collation – quite as eager as the most excited street politician in the State House to learn whether presidential honors had certainly fallen upon the city. At the same hour, on another side of the public square, in a small second story room occupied by the Western Union Telegraph, sat Mr. Lincoln alone, excepting only the superintendent and operators, where undisturbed by any sound save that of the clicking instruments and the ever increasing volume of distant hurrahs that floated across the street from the State House, he read the telegrams that were silently handed him, conveying from every northern State decisive news of the great political change which the day had wrought.”9

Newton Bateman recalled Election Night: “The streets and public places were thronged with anxious people waiting to hear how the battle had gone. It was known by some of the ladies that their husbands, brothers and friends would be up nearly all night, watching for the telegrams from the different states; they therefore met, about ten o’clock in Watson’s Hall, on the south side of the public square, with a good supply of refreshments. The attractions of this place were soon widely known, and instead of the expected few, the ladies extended their hospitality to hundreds. It was a memorable night. Instead of toasts and sentiment, we had the reading of telegrams from every quarter of the country. As these came in from time to time, and the reader mounted a chair with the dispatches in his hand, all was breathless stillness in a moment. If the news was unfavorable, anxious glances were exchanged, and for a moment the hum of voices would be restrained and subdued. But if, as was generally the case, the telegrams told of fresh majorities for Father Abraham, they were greeted with shouts that made the very building shake.”10

Dr. Preston H. Bailhache recalled: “While waiting for the news, campaign songs were sung and gaiety was the order of the night. Later on, coffee and oysters were served and we were all having a good time when the dispatches began to come in to liven things up still more. Mr. Lincoln with a few friends was at the telegraph office near by, and towards midnight he and the others joined the gay crowd. At last a dispatch was handed to him at midnight stating that New York City had given him 2,800 majority and the state 30,000.”11 Bailhache wrote: “I dare not even try to describe the scene that followed, where men fell into each other’s arms shouting and crying, yelling like made, jumping up and down, pandemonium in fact – Bedlam let loose might describe it, words fail to do so. But Mr. Lincoln slipped out quietly, looking grave and anxious.”12

The election results did not change Mr. Lincoln’s unassuming ways. One Springfield woman wrote: “I spent an evening at Mr. Lincolns a few evenings since and had a very pleasant time. Mr. L. has not altered one bit he amused us nearly all the evening telling funny stories and cracking jokes. I could hardly realize that I was sitting in the August presence of a real live President. Mrs. L. is just as agreeable as ever, does not put on any airs at all but is as pleasant and talkative and entertaining as she can be. Applications are pouring in for office, everybody is receiving letters to please intercede for them.”13

Lincoln aides Nicolay and John Hay wrote: “There was free access to him, not even an usher stood at the door; any one might knock and enter. His immediate personal friends from Sangamon County and central Illinois availed themselves largely of the opportunity. With men who had known him in field and forest he talked over the incidents of their common pioneer experience with unaffected sympathy and interest as though he were yet the flatboatman, surveyor, or village lawyer of early days.”14

Humorist Artemus Ward, whom Mr. Lincoln enjoyed reading, wrote a story about an “Interview with President Lincoln” in Springfield:

I found the old feller in his parler, surrounded by a perfect swarm of orfice seekers. Knowin he had been capting of a flat boat on the roarin Mississippy I thought I’d address him in sailor lingo, so sez I, ‘Old Abe, ahoy! Let out yer main-suls, reef hum the forecastle & throw yer jib-poop over-board! Shiver my timbers, my arty!” [N.B. This is ginuine mariner langwidge. I know, becawz I’ve seen sailor plays acted out by them New York theater fellers.] Old Abe lookt up quite cros & sez, ‘Send in yer petition by & by. I can’t possibly look at it now. Indeed I, I can’t. It’ onpossible, sir!”
“Mr. Linkin, who do you spect I air?” sed I.
“A orfice-seeker, to be sure,” sed he.
“Wall, sir,” sed I, ‘you’s never more mistaken in your life. You hain’t gut a orfiss I’d take under no circumstances. I’m A. Ward.15

Late in November, Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln visited Chicago, where they stayed at the Tremont hotel and visited the Wigwam where his presidential nomination had occurred. General James Grant Wilson wrote: “Soon after Lincoln’s election, he held a reception in the principal hotel of Chicago. For several hours a continuous procession of friends and admirers passed before him, many of them old and intimate acquaintances. It was amusing to observe Lincoln’s unfeigned enjoyment and to hear his hearty greetings in answer to family friends who exclaimed, ‘How are you, Abe?’ he responding in like manner with ‘Hello, Bill! Or ‘Jack’ or ‘Tom,’ alternately pulling or pushing them along with his powerful hand and arm, saying: ‘There’s not time to talk now, boys; we must not stop this big procession; so move on.’”16

According to the Chicago Tribune, “ Messrs. Lincoln and Hamlin on Sunday attended divine service in company with Congressman I. N. Arnold at St. James’s Church on Cass Street, and in the afternoon they visited the North Market Mission where, after the usual services, the President elect delivered a short address which was received with much pleasure by the destitute children attending the Sabbath school.” Lincoln scholar Blaine Brooks Gernon wrote that “the moving spirit” of the school was Dwight L. Moody.”18

Chicago businessman Herring Chrisman recalled trying to work with President-elect Lincoln to keep Virginia in the Union. Chrisman wrote that “a very alarming letter from John Baldwin, stating that the sand was sinking under Virginia Unionists and asking for the best platform Mr. Lincoln dare send them to stand on.” Mr. Lincoln cogitated on the letter over night and returned to Chrisman’s hotel room at 8 a.m. the next day. Chrisman recalled that “he came stalking gloomily in, and without salutation sat down upon the bed and began to deliver himself with great solemnity in this wise: ‘you may tell them I will protect slavery where it exists; I can do that. You may tell them I will execute the fugitive slave law better than it ever has been; my people will let me do that. You may tell them they shall have all the offices south of Mason’s and Dixon’s line if they will take them. I will send nobody down there to interfere with them.’ He then remarked to me personally, and in a tone that pierced me almost like the faint wail of a suffering infant, and with a look of anguish I shall never forget: ‘But all of that will do no good. They have got themselves to where they might have the right to carry slavery into the territories, and I have lived my whole life and fought this campaign; and I can’t go back on myself.”19

This period was not all pleasantries and patronage. “Some time in January, 1861, upon a cold and dismal afternoon, I called at Lincoln’s house in Springfield, to see him about a matter of some important to him,” recalled Henry C. Whitney. “I found the President-elect surrounded by five or six exceedingly small bores, and one very disagreeable large bore: the latter trying to make himself solid with the prospective dispense of a large patronage, and all trying to air their shrunken wit for their self-aggrandizement in this sublime presence. I never listened with greater impatience to an aimless drivel of small talk. Lincoln himself was sad, abstracted and wearied: still, he responded to the flippant and inane remarks on the political situation, with a jaded smile and a mechanical assent, which I misconstrued at the time: and it was with great difficulty that I restrained myself from making a savage assault on their batteries of pointless jokes, aimed at the unresisting President. But all things have an end, and when the door had closed on the last hoof of the retiring bores, I said, impatiently: ‘I wish I could take as rose-colored a view of the crisis as you seem to do.’ He replied promptly, with no asperity, but with great sadness: ‘I hope you don’t feel worse about it than I do: I can’t sleep nights:’ and then he went on to tell me both of his general and of his especial troubles.”20

Whitney wrote: “Lincoln’s best friends besought him to quiet the public apprehension by saying – something. One of the most popular and honored men in Illinois – Joseph Gillespie – beseeched him, in the name of their old ‘Whig’ intimacy, to issue an address, setting forth pacific views, and upon Lincoln declining, burst forth in a flood of tears. Yet Lincoln was neither unadvised, nor insensible to the situation and its needs, as I happen in more than one way to know.”21

According to Whitney: “I asked Lincoln what reply he had made to these importunities: he said: ‘I told him I should issue no address: I was, as yet, still a private citizen, having no authority over politics: my sentiments were well known, I could but reiterate them: if I should now avow any different views, they would not be believed and would be accepted as a mark of cowardice: and I was not going to back down from anything I had said.’”22

“Meanwhile owning the approaching meeting of the Legislature of Illinois and the need by that body of the room in the State House which Lincoln for some months had occupied as an office, the latter deemed it proper to vacate the premises and secure quarters elsewhere.” Biographer Jesse W. Weik wrote that Mr. Lincoln “accepted the offer of Mr. Joel Johnson and took up his abode in the second story of a building owned by the latter opposite the Chenery House, the leading hotel in the town. We are therefore reminded in the ‘Springfield Journal,’ February 4thth, that ‘The present week being the last that Mr. Lincoln remains in Springfield, and it being indispensable that he should have a portion of the time to himself, he will see visitors only at his office No. 4 Johnson Building from 3.30 to 5.00 P.M. each day’; and thither, until the time was ripe for the inaugural journey to Washington, trudged the long line of weary pilgrims anxious to graduate to seek the favor of the President elect. It was during this period that Mr. Lincoln, betaking himself to an unfurnished room over his brother-in-law’s store in Springfield, spent several days in the preparation of his Inaugural Address…”23

The office of the Illinois State Journal editors was also one of the hideaways which Mr. Lincoln used to retreat from public viewing and think through policy for his Inaugural Address. At the merchant office of Clark M. Smith, Mr. Lincoln used a third-floor room as his writing room for the Inaugural.

A reporter for the Missouri Democrat wrote in early February: “The first levee given by the President elect, took place last evening at his own residence, in this city, and it was a grand outpouring of citizens and strangers, together with the members of the legislature. Your humble servant was invited to attend. Mr. Lincoln threw open his house for a general reception of all the people who felt disposed to give him and his lady a parting call. – The levee lasted from seven to twelve o’clock in the evening, and the house thronged by thousands up to a late hour. Mr. Lincoln received the guests as they entered and were made known. They then passed on, and were introduced to Mrs. Lincoln, who stood near the center of the parlors, and who, I must say, acquitted herself most gracefully and admirably – She was dressed plainly, but richly. She wore a beautiful, full trail, white moire antique silk, with a small French lace collar. Her neck was ornamented with a string of pearls. Her head dress was a simple and delicate vine, arranged with much taste.” He added: “She displayed but little jewelry, and this was well and appropriately adjusted. She is a lady of fine figure and accomplished address, and is well calculated to grace and to do honors at the white House.”24

Whitney recalled that the President-elect took on few airs of office: “In the month of February, 1861, I called at Lincoln’s house one morning early and found that he had not yet breakfasted, but had gone to the Chenery House to see Judge Bates, afterwards Attorney-General, and was soon expected back, as he was going that very morning to Charleston, Illinois, to say ‘good bye’ to his step–mother. I thereupon waited and while absorbed in a book, Lincoln came noiselessly in, and I was not aware of his presence until he actually stood before me. I abruptly informed him what I came for, to which he at once said: ‘You must go with me to Charleston; I want to talk to you.’ I had other engagements and could only go part way. He then went to breakfast, and in a few moments returned, ready for the journey. The nation at large would have been extremely surprised to behold their President-elect at this time. He had on a faded hat, innocent of a nap; and his coat was extremely short, more like a sailor’s pea-jacket than any other describable garment. It was the same outer garment that he wore from Harrisburg to Washington, then he went on to be inaugurated. A well-worn carpet-bag, quite collapsed, comprised his baggage. After we had started to the depot, across lots, his servant came running after us and took the carpet-bag, but he was soon sent back after some forgotten thing, and we trudged on alone. Lincoln said to me: ‘I’m worrying some to know what to do with my house. I don’t want to sell myself out of a home; and if I rent it, it will be pretty well used up before I get back.’”25

Whitney wrote of their trip to Charleston: “As we approached the station, Lincoln said: ‘My hat hain’t chalked on this road now, so I reckon I must get a ticket.’ I ridiculed him, and handing him the attentuated carpet-bag, I went into Mr. Bowen’s office (Superintendent of the road), and asked for a pass for Mr. Lincoln. Mr. Bowen was entirely alone – not even a clerk being present, it being breakfast-time for them – and, as he commenced to write a pass, he suggested that I invite Lincoln in there to wait, the train not yet having come in from the west. Repairing to the common waiting-room, I found the President-elect surrounded by the few persons who were also waiting for the train, while he was industriously at work, tying the handles of his carpet-bag together with a string.”

As soon as he was seated in Bowen’s office, he said: ‘Bowen, how is business on your road now?’ When he was answered, he said: ‘You are a heap better off running a good road than I am playing President. When I first knew Whitney, I was getting on well – I was clean out of politics and contented to stay so; I had a good business, and my children were coming up, and were interesting to me: but now – here I am –’ and he broke off abruptly, as if his feelings overpowered him, and he changed the conservation into another channel. The train came immediately afterward, and we were joined by Judge Pettit and Senator Marshall, of Coles county, who lived at Charleston, and was going home. The little time that the train remained there, Lincoln devoted to anecdotes, for the benefit of Pettit especially, although the passengers in the train also gathered around to listen to the entertainment, and also to ‘behold the man.’
I recollect, in particular, that Lincoln took pains, though not with ostentation, to secure an humble old lady, whom knew, a double seat. He then devoted himself to me and my business; and when we met a train returning to Springfield, I left Lincoln and returned there.26

James A. Connolly recalled Mr. Lincoln’s visit to his step-mother. When Mr. Lincoln arrived by train, “There were no formalities. Mr. Lincoln shook hands with a number of persons, whom he recognized or who greeted him, and in a few minutes left for the residence of a friend, where, it was understood, he was to spend the night. On the way uptown from the station I was joined by Colonel A.P. Dunbar, an old lawyer, who told me that he intended to call on Mr. Lincoln at the residence where the latter was expected to spend the night, and invited me to accompany him. I accepted the invitation and later we walked out to the house together. We timed our call so as to meet Mr. Lincoln after he had eaten his supper. On the way I remember Dunbar expressed a doubt as to how he should approach or address Mr. Lincoln. He told me they were old friends and associates at the bar, but now, since Mr. Lincoln had risen in life and was President elect, Dunbar felt that he must keep within the proprieties of the occasion. There was therefore some question in his mind as to his own manner and behavior. He dared not betray an familiarity in addressing him for fear of offending good taste, and yet there had always been the greatest freedom in their intercourse with each other. Finally he announced that his conduct would depend on Lincoln’s attitude. ‘If he is noticeably dignified and formal,’ said Dunbar, ‘I must act accordingly.’

“When we reached the house the family were still at the supper table, but Mr. Lincoln himself had withdrawn and was in the front room sitting before the fire. In response to our knock the door opened and who should step forward to greet us but Lincoln himself. Grasping Dunbar’s outstretched palm with one hand and resting the other hand on his shoulder, he exclaimed in a burst of animation, ‘Lord A’mighty, Aleck, how glad I am to see you!’ That broke the spell; and if any stiffness or formality was intended it disappeared like magic. I was introduced and presented we were all sitting together and facing the fire. Lincoln did most of the talking. He was cheerful and communicative. After an exchange of ideas and recollections of the past with Dunbar, he was soon telling stories. Apparently there was a flood of them, one following another and each invariably funnier than its predecessor. It was a novel experience for me. I certainly never before heard anything like it. I shall never forget the one story which he had evidently reserved for the last, for he announced that it was the strangest and most amusing incident he had ever witnessed. I knew it would be interesting and was, therefore, all attention. It was about a girl whose duty it was to find and drive home the family cow. ‘One day,’ said Mr. Lincoln, ‘she rode a horse bareback to the woods. On the way home the horse, frightened by a dog or something which darted from behind a bush, made a wild dash ahead, the girl still astride when suddenly – ’ at this point Mr. Lincoln halted a moment, for some one was knocking at the door.”27

The story was never finished.

Lincoln contemporary Robert H. Browne later recalled that “In February, 1861, a few days before his start from Springfield, a few good friends of years’ standing had a friendly interview with him. The talk ran on the questions much as we have been treating them, and all of the dozen or more had heard him and talked them over with him before; but all felt an uncommon wish to hear from him again, before he left his home. He said that the Government, whatever it might be in strength and resources, was all in the hands of the slave-power, and as strong as, or stronger than, any of us could conceive or understand; for we had not seen the inside management. From the outside the Southern politicians appeared to act with such reckless disregard of the men in the North who had served it best and longest…that they believed they had unlimited power to do and carry out their designs, and he verily believed that they were getting ready and intended to contend for their institution in war if they could not get all they wanted, and of that he only knew what the rest of us did.”
“But, rising and walking back and forward as he talked, with determination written in every feature, his eyes kindling with power and spirit, with his strong arm outstretched, now and then clenching the hand that was a wonder of strength, yet as tender as it was strong, he continued: ‘The gravity and seriousness of the situation, to me, is overwhelming, and I feel that a burden such as few men have ever seen or borne is resting upon me. It seems greater to me than the task laid upon Washington, and I have no desire to compare myself with him; but the contest seems as definitely drawn, and the issues involved, in their relation to area, power, and people, are fully ten times as great. Alone I would be utterly powerless, but, sustained by the good people that love our country I will go forward in the plainest and most straightforward path of duty, with the conviction firmly fixed in my mind that God will save and perpetuate the Nation if we but do our duty. It is his Nation, and it is his cause we are contending for. The destinies of nations are in his hands as well as the lives of the little birds that warble in the tree; and he does with them whatsoever he will. The contest may be, and, if the slave-power develops all its strength, it will be, a desperate one. It saddens my heart beyond expression to think what it may be.’”28

Shortly before President-elect Lincoln left for Washington, according to contemporary Robert H. Browne in his memoir, Abraham Lincoln and Men of His Time, Mr. Lincoln met with friends:

Some one present arose and suggested that we retire, and no occupy more of his time which, all of us knew, and so completely taken up. As all were rising to go, he said: “No, remain. I have nothing else do, or at least nothing that can not wait. I want to say a word more. I feel honored by the visit of so many of my near friends and supporters, really my neighbors and friends who have been faithful to me for many years, when defeat was so common that it was not unexpected, and now, when something of success has come to us, to encourage me in work, to come from your homes – many of you at considerable expense and inconvenience – and no one of you making any request for place or position for yourselves or friends, and with no wish that is not for mine or our country’s welfare, is an unselfish act on your part that is truly gratifying to me. I have never doubted your friendship, and if I ever had, surely now I never can.
“You have spoken of my strength and the greater strength that must support me in the path of right and duty. I am much affected by your tender expression of sympathy, and I assure you that all the strength that God has give me, and all that he gives in the future, will be freely used and given to save the Union. You are friends who have never faltered, and as we are parting it gives me an example of my duty; and I assure you again that, as God gives me wisdom and strength, it shall be faithfully used for the salvation of our country and its liberties untarnished.”
Mr. Lincoln’s presence, conduct, and expression on the occasion seemed an inspiration. He was with the friends of his earlier years – some of them from more distant places, but mainly from the central counties. One of his long-time friends said: ‘For twenty years we have stood by him through thick and thin, and only just now learned that Abe Lincoln is a great man. We’ve always know he was a good man; and if he is as great as he is good, this country will have the best President it ever had.”
The most salient feature of this parting meeting among these thirty men – many of them able leaders before and after – was his commanding presence and his great tenderness of heart, which appeared as delicate as a child’s. He seemed to have correctly estimated and foreseen what was to come and what did come. His thoughtfulness seemed quick and alive for every one, so careful as to tell one who seemed to have forgotten that it was time for his train. 29

After renting their house at the beginning of February, the Lincolns stayed at a local hotel, the Chenery House. “On the morning of Mr. Lincoln’s departure from Springfield,” recalled the son of the owners, he passed my mother on the stairs of the hotel as he descended to breakfast while he was accenting the stairs….He stopped to greet her and inquire for her health. His great affability was one of the traits that so endeared him to those who knew him well.”30

William B. Thompson, who lived as a boy near Mr. Lincoln recalled: “The day Mr. Lincoln left Springfield in 1861 to go to Washington for the inauguration was the last time I saw him. All of the boys were at the station, and the most enthusiastic cheering came from them. Some of the older people looked very serious; they were predicting that Mr. Lincoln would not be allowed to reach Washington; that he would be able to reach Washington; that he would be stopped if he tried to pass through Maryland. Many believed there would be interference. I remember that I went up to John Hay, who was going with Mr. Lincoln, and asked him if he had any doubt about getting through. As we young fellows shouted our farewell to Mr. Lincoln that day we felt as we if were parting from a personal friend to whom we were deeply attached.”31

The next two weeks on the way to Washington were a wearisome trial for the President-elect who was repeatedly forced to give speeches in which he sought to rally public opinion in a way that did not divide the country. Along the train route, he was also forced to greet thousands of Americans who wanted a chance to hear and see their newly-bearded President – and preferably to shake his hand.

Mr. Lincoln could be charming in large as well as intimate surroundings – when literally hundreds of people sought to meet him. Benjamin Rush Cowen recalled seeing President-elect Lincoln in Ohio on his way to Washington in February 1861. His initial speech was received unfavorably, but at a reception at the Governor’s mansion that night “he appeared to much better advantage and made an excellent impression. The travel stains were removed and a rest had evidently refreshed him. There was a singular charm in his manner, despite his ungainly person, which was a real attraction. His voice was peculiar, his speech quaint and homely, and his manner and bearing, though awkward according to the tents of fashion, was unaffected, easy and natural. The center of observation in a crowd of keen-eyed strangers, he was totally unembarrassed, and had a pleasant word for all. What he said, and the way he said it, conveyed an unexpected charm which was as pleasant as unexpected….all went away delighted with his good humor, his jocular talk and the facility with which he caught the temper of every group with which he conversed.”32


  1. Henry Clay Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln, p. 142-143.
  2. William Hawley Smith, Old-Time Campaigning and the Story of a Lincoln Campaign Song, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, p. 26-27.
  3. Newton Bateman, Abraham Lincoln: An Address, p. 18 .
  4. Newton Bateman, Abraham Lincoln: An Address, p. 22-23.
  5. “Lincolniana Notes: Recollections of a Springfield Doctor”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, June 1954, p. 62.
  6. “Lincolniana Notes: Recollections of a Springfield Doctor”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, June 1954, p. 63.
  7. Frank Pratt , Concerning Mr. Lincoln, p. 32 (Letter from Mrs. William H. Bailhache to Mrs. Mason Brayman).
  8. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, p. 421 (James Grant Wilson, Putnam’s Magazine, February-March, 1909).
  9. Blaine Brooks Gernon, “Chicago and Abraham Lincoln”, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Association, p. 282.
  10. Henry Clay Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln, p. 431.
  11. Jesse W. Weik, The Real Lincoln: A Portrait, p. 297-298.
  12. M. E. Burkhardt , “Lincoln’s First Levee”, Missouri Democrat, February 7, 1861, .
  13. Henry Clay Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln, p. 434.
  14. Henry Clay Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln, p. 435.
  15. Jesse W. Weik, The Real Lincoln: A Portrait, p. 295-296.
  16. Clyde C. Walton, Mr. Lincoln Opens His Mail, p. 17.
  17. Helen Nicolay, A Candidate in His Home Town, The Abraham Lincoln Quarterly, September 1940, p. 135.
  18. Newton Bateman, Abraham Lincoln: An Address, p. 19-20.
  19. Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, p. 276-277.
  20. Michael Burlingame, editor, “An Oral History of Abraham Lincoln”, John G. Nicolay’s Interviews and Essays, p. 106.
  21. Newton Bateman, Abraham Lincoln: An Address, p. 32-33.
  22. John G. Nicolay and John Hay, .
  23. Artemus Ward, .
  24. Jesse W. Weik, The Real Lincoln: A Portrait, p. 290 (Chicago Tribune, November 27, 1860).
  25. Herring Chrisman, Memoirs of Lincoln, p. 92-93.
  26. Henry Clay Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln, p. 370.
  27. Henry Clay Whitney, Life on the Circuit with Lincoln, p. 431.
  28. Robert H. Browne , Abraham Lincoln and Men of His Time, p. 408-409.
  29. Robert H. Browne, Abraham Lincoln and Men of His Time, p. 409-411.
  30. Jesse W. Weik , “The Real Lincoln: A Portrait”, p. 330 (William Dodd Chenery).
  31. Michael Burlingame, editor, Walter B. Stevens , A Reporter’s Lincoln, p. 100.