Lincoln’s Pre-Inaugral Visit
View in Salina Street, Syracuse NY
“The train bearing the President-elect left Buffalo at a quarter before six o’clock this morning. He was accompanied to the depot by Company D of the Seventy-fourth Regiment. Notwithstanding the early hour several hundred people were present to bid Mr. Lincoln farewell,” reported Henry Villard.1 Along the eight and a half hour route from Buffalo to Albany on February 18, the Lincoln train stopped briefly at Batavia, Rochester, Clyde, Syracuse, Utica, Little Falls, Fonda and Schenectady. The early departure was intended to avoid the kind of crowds that had met Mr. Lincoln on his arrival.
Victor Searcher wrote: “The Presidential Special took off as quickly as the party could be gotten aboard. Of the two-coach-and baggage train, the last coach was a special sleeping car built for the occasion by Eaton and Gilbert, car builders of Troy. It incorporated a new system of ventilation in the ceiling, provided the most modern comforts, and was occupied by Lincoln, his family and suite.”2
At most of the stops along the route, the train stopped for only five minutes. His remarks were blessedly brief. For example, President-elect Lincoln said at Rochester: “I confess myself, after having seen large audiences since leaving home, overwhelmed with this vast number of faces at this hour of the morning. I am not vain enough to believe that you are here from any wish to see me as an individual, but because I am, for the time being, the representative of the American people. I could not, if I would, address you at any length. I have not the strength, even if I had the time, for a speech at these many interviews that are afforded me on my way to Washington. I appear merely to see you, and to let you see me, and to bid you farewell. I hope it will be understood that it is from no disposition to disoblige anybody, that I do not address you at greater length.””3
“The train arrived at Rochester at eight o’clock. A crowd of people numbering not less than 8,000 filled the space around the depot,” wrote Journalist Henry Villard. According to Searcher: “Rochester did get to hear Lincoln as had been planned. Largely because of arrangements made and unmade, the majority of people waited for Lincoln at the wrong place.”4
Although the public appearances were few, Mr. Lincoln was not allowed to rest. Numerous delegations from New York City, who had already greeted Mr. Lincoln, were on board. John Hay wrote: “The vital history of that day’s ride is to be written in three words: ‘Crowds, cannon, and cheers.’ Such crowds — surging through long arches, cursing the military and blessing Old Abe; swinging hats, banners, handkerchiefs, and every possible variety of festival bunting, and standing with open mouths as the train, relentlessly punctual, moved away. The history of one is the history of all: Depots in waves…..”5 The trip was clearly tiring Hay; he wrote:
But if any thing could enliven it, if any thing could blunt the numerous moral augurs with which the hours probe us, it would be this wild arrival of crowds past which we are whirled. The echo of acclamation scarcely dying behind us, before that far onward breaks upon our ears. But any steration whatsoever wearies at length. Crowds are singularly alike. They are always seen from an elevated point of view, dotted with a bright, almost tropical arabesque of color, and they always bellow. They invariably call for speeches, and then make such a row that the speaker’s voice is inaudible. They are curiously wavy and undulating, like tides which rise and fall and currents which drift across each other. What a world of human experience — of joy and woe, of remorse, anguish, is represented in this herd of men and women, stretching down the bannered street as far as our eyes can penetrate amid the snow!”6
The stop at Clyde, a port on the Erie Canal, was short but well-attended. The New York Tribune reported: “At Clyde an enthusiastic crowd was gathered, who welcomed Mr. Lincoln with a salute and cheers. He thanked the people for the welcome, but had no speech to make, and no time to make it in. He was glad to see them, and bade them good morning.”7 According to Searcher, “The editor of the local paper pushed up to the platform and told Lincoln he had been deputized by the people to shake hands, then distribute the handshake in tomorrow’s edition. Saying it was a fine idea, Lincoln shook hands heartily.”8
Mr. Lincoln’s remarks from a platform Syracuse were more extensive. They were delivered in front of the Globe Hotel: “I see you have erected a very fine and handsome platform here for me and I presume you expected me to speak from it. If I should go upon it you would imagine that I was about to deliver you a much longer speech than I am. I wish you to understand that I mean no discourtesy to you by thus declining. I intend discourtesy to no one. But I wish you to understand that though I am unwilling to go upon this platform, you are not at liberty to draw any inferences concerning any other platform with which my name has been or is connected. [Laughter and applause.] I wish you a long life and prosperity individually, and pray that with the perpetuity of those institutions under which we have all so long lived and prospered, our happiness may be secured, our future made brilliant, and the glorious destiny of our country established forever. I bid you a kind farewell.”9
“At Syracuse a crowd estimated at 10,000 people was assembled to receive Mr. Lincoln. The special train arrived at Utica ahead of time and was awaited by thousands of people who were standing in a snowstorm. The Utica reception was very fine,” wrote Journalist Henry Villard.10 At Syracuse, the train received New York State Democratic leader Dean Richmond and a bounteous lunch which railroad executive Richmond provided.
By the time the entourage reached Utica, it was snowing heavily but the reception was warm and included a delegation of students from nearby Hamilton College. Mary Todd Lincoln’s biographer, Ishbel Ross, wrote: “At Utica a black servant boarded the train with a handsome broadcloth coat and a new stovepipe hat in a box. Mary had become painfully aware of the shabbiness of her husband’s attire after studying the well-groomed politicians they had met along the way. The word had gone forth that he must be smartened up before reaching New York, and the New York Times commented that he looked much better in his new coat and hat, adding: ‘If Mrs. Lincoln’s advice is as near right as it was in this instance, the country may congratulate itself upon the fact that its President-elect is a man who does not reject, even in important matters, the advice and counsel of his wife.'”11 The servant, according to Victor Searcher, was William Johnson, who accompanied Mr. Lincoln from Springfield to the Washington, where Mr. Lincoln expected to make him part of the White House staff. Searcher wrote that “William emerged from the baggage car carrying a handsome broadcloth overcoat and a hat box. The exchange was made, and the press reported that Lincoln’s appearance improved fifty per cent thereby.”12
In Utica, Mr. Lincoln delivered his speech from a platform that had been rolled up next to the train: “I have but a short speech to make you. I have no time to make remarks of any length. I appear before you to bid you farewell — to see you, and to allow you all to see me. At the same time I acknowledge, ladies, that I think I have the best of the bargain in the sight. I only appear to greet you, and to say farewell. I will come out again on the platform before the train leaves, so that you may see me.”
The President-elect introduced some of the traveling party and then addressed the crowd on the north side of the platform: “I come around to say to you what I did to those on the other side, which was but a few words, and little more than good morning, as it were, and farewell. I can’t however say here, exactly what I did on the other side, as there are no ladies on this side. I said that there were so many ladies present that I had the best part of the sight, but bear in mind I don’t make any such admission now. Farewell!”13
Contemporary journalist Villard wrote: “The crowds at Little Falls, Fonda and Schenectady were immense in number and very enthusiastic in spirit. At all the stops impertinent individuals addressed Mr. Lincoln in a very familiar manner and offered to back him against the world. He very good-naturedly submitted to the rough courtesies of the crowd and his remark that he had the advantage of the crowd as to looks elicited cheers and laughter.”14 Victor Searcher wrote: “The brightly-colored train rolled into the storybook village as church bells pealed a welcome on the frosty air. On the hotel veranda a group of ladies applauded Lincoln’s pleasant remarks, and waved their kerchiefs to the tune of ‘Hail, Columbia!’ as the train wound its way down the valley.”15
His remarks followed the usual formula of compliments without controversy. The Herkimer Democrat reported that Mr. Lincoln told the crowd at Little Falls: “I appear before you merely for the purpose of greeting you, saying a few words and bidding you farewell. I have no speech to make, and no sufficient time to make one if I had; nor have I the strength to repeat a speech, at all the places at which I stop, even if all the other circumstances were favorable. I have come to see you and allow you to see me (Applause) and in this so far [as] regards the Ladies, I have the best of the bargain on my side. I don’t make that acknowledgement to the gentlemen, (Increased laughter) and now I believe I have really made my speech and am ready to bid you farewell when the cars move on.”16
The New York Times reported: “At Fonda, in response to enthusiastic greetings, Mr. Lincoln made a short speech, and, in declining to mount a platform prepared for him, said that, though he would not get upon it, he wished it to be distinctly understood that he would never shrink from a platform on which he properly belonged.”17
“Entering Schenectady,” wrote Searcher, “the train was fired on directly by saluting cannon which burst open a door of the forward coach and broke windows. No one was injured.”18 The Schenectady Daily Evening Star reported: “Mr. Lincoln, appearing at the rear end of the car, being introduced by Hon. Judge [Platt] Potter, said that he saw they had done him the honor of erecting a very handsome platform here, but he should be obliged to decline using it, not that he repudiated platforms, but because he had refused to speak on one at other places. He really had no speech to make, no time to make one, and no sufficient strength to make one. You are all here to see and to be seen, but where there are so many assembled he thought that he obtained the best view. And now he must bid them all farewell as the train would soon start. We were able to obtain a few disjointed sentences of what the President said.”
- Henry Villard, Lincoln on the Eve of ‘61, p. 90-91.
- Victor Searcher, Lincoln’s Journey to Greatness, p. 143-144.
- Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume IV, p. 222 (February 18, 1861).
- Victor Searcher, Lincoln’s Journey to Greatness, p. 146-147.
- Michael Burlingame, editor, Lincoln’s Journalist: John Hay’s Anonymous Writings for the Press,1860-1864, p. 37-38 (February 18, 1861).
- Michael Burlingame, editor, Lincoln’s Journalist: John Hay’s Anonymous Writings for the Press,1860-1864, p. 38 (February 18, 1861).
- Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume IV, p. 222 (New York Tribune, February 19, 1861).
- Victor Searcher, Lincoln’s Journey to Greatness, p. 148.
- Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume IV, p. 222 (New York Times, February 19, 1861).
- Henry Villard, Lincoln on the Eve of ‘61, p. 91.
- Ishbel Ross, The President’s Wife: Mary Todd Lincoln, p. 94.
- Victor Searcher, Lincoln’s Journey to Greatness, p. 150.
- Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume IV, p. 223 (Utica Evening Telegraph, February 20, 1861).
- Henry Villard, Lincoln on the Eve of ‘61, p. 91.
- Victor Searcher, Lincoln’s Journey to Greatness, p. 152.
- Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume IV, p. 223 (Herkimer Democrat, February 20, 1861).
- Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume IV, p. 223-224 (New York Times, February 19, 1861).
- Victor Searcher, Lincoln’s Journey to Greatness, p. 152-153.