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Albany, February 18, 1861

Cannon boomed as the pre-presidential entourage approached Albany. "The special train which conveyed the Presidential party arrived at half past two P.M. precisely upon time, but Company B. of the Twenty-fifth Regiment, which was to act as a guard of honor, was very greatly too late. When the train moved up, the engine gaily decorated with flags, the excitement was intense," wrote journalist Henry Villard. "The police, arriving like the military, behind time, were unable to do anything with the crowds which pressed upon and surged around them. Little boys and big men climbed under and over the train, only to be kicked and thrown back. Ladies essayed to get near the car with no success. Mayor Thacher, whom no one seemed to take any particular pride in honoring, was jostled and hustled about as badly as any of them and with the greatest difficulty succeeded in getting a position upon the platform. The Mayor asked if Mr. Lincoln would wait for the military; Mr. Lincoln said he would wait. The wait was a very long one, and afforded a fine opportunity for the display of the relative muscle of the policemen and the crowd....Personal quarrels between policemen and obnoxious individuals relieved the monotony of the general battle, and gave an agreeable variety to the combat....All was confusion, hurry, disorder, mud, riot and discomfort."1 In reply to Mayor Thacher's greetings, Mr. Lincoln said:
I can hardly appropriate to myself the flattering terms in which you communicate the tender of this reception, as personal to myself. I most gratefully accept the hospitalities tendered to me, and will not detain you or the audience with any extended remarks at this time. I presume that in the two or three courses through which I shall have to go, I shall have to repeat somewhat, and I will therefore only repeat to you my thanks for this kind reception.2


Journalist Villard wrote: "At last the soldiers arrived and clubbed muskets soon cleared a way to the carriages and made a space upon the platform large enough to stand upon. Then Mr. Lincoln, who had passed all this time in the car, came upon the platform and was greeted by a faint cheer. A moment and the crowd came forward irresistibly and swept Mr. Lincoln before the Mayor....Standing uncovered even the President-elect was hardly recognized by the crowd, and anxiety to see him and to be certain that they saw the right man overcame any disposition to cheer. When the eyes of the people were so very wide open it is no wonder that their mouths remained shut, and that Mr. Lincoln was not cheered....Lincoln, tired, sunburned, adorned with huge whiskers, looked so unlike the hale, smooth shaven, red-cheeked individual who is represented upon the popular prints and dubbed the rail-splitter' that it is no wonder that the people did not recognize him until his extreme height distinguished him unmistakably...."

According to Villard's report: "The progress of the cortege was uninterrupted by incident....The sidewalks were lined with people, but the crowds were neither so great nor so enthusiastic as at the Prince of Wales's reception. Not until he turned into State Street did the President have a really hearty cheer. Just as the corner the Young Men's Christian Association displayed the following unique motto: 'We will pray for you that you may preserve the Constitution and the laws as they are.' While passing this piece of political Christianity the President was loudly cheered, and the shouts continued all the way up State Street, Mr. Lincoln standing upright in his carriage, bowing and swaying like a tall cedar in a storm, for the hill was steep and the carriage rocky."3

One Albany law student wrote his father: "I have just come in from the throng of the thousands who had been greeting the arrival of Pres. Lincoln. I should judge that the crowd was quite as large as that which was present on the visit of the Prince [of Wales]. The streets & all the steps and windows of the buildings for a distance of more than a mile were densely crowded. And as for getting inside or within twenty rods of the Capitol building it was impossible after the throng had once stationed themselves."4

Villard wrote: "The Capitoline Park was crammed with people. The soldiery with some difficulty formed a line through the crowd, and Mr. Lincoln passed up to the Capitol steps, the national salute being fired as he entered the building. He was received in the hall of the Capitol by Governor [Edwin D.] Morgan who addressed him....Mr. Lincoln who appeared pale and wan replied in a low but steady voice....Mr. Lincoln was then escorted by the legislative committee into the Assembly chamber, where the two Houses were in joint session — Speaker Littlejohn occupying the Speaker's desk.5 The address born of a controversy, reported Victor Searcher, over whether Governor Morgan would keep the President-elect to himself for dinner or share him with the legislature. There was a "struggle between the governor and the legislative committee...because Governor Morgan wanted Lincoln alone so that he might find out if Lincoln were going to compromise or if there would be war. He could then confidentially advise his cousin and partner in the brokerage business [George Morgan] whether to sell or hold their supply of Missouri bonds."6 Speaking to the New York Legislature, President-elect Lincoln's message was "frank, dignified and reassured. He justified parties as an instrument of popular self-government, but held that the man elected by the majority belonged, while in office, not to a party, but to the whole country," wrote Albert Shaw.7 Mr. Lincoln told his audience:
It is true that while I hold myself without mock modesty, the humblest of all individuals that have ever been elevated to the Presidency. I have a more difficult task to perform than any one of them. You have generously tendered me the united support of the great Empire State. For this, in behalf of the nation, in behalf of the present and future of the nation, in behalf of the civil and religious liberty for all time to come, most gratefully do I thank you. I do not propose to enter into an explanation of any particular line of policy as to our present difficulties to be adopted by the incoming administration. I deem it just to you, to myself and to all that I should see everything, that I should hear everything, that I should have every light that can be brought within my reach, in order that when I do speak, I shall have enjoyed every opportunity to take correct and true ground; and for this reason I don't propose to speak at this time of the policy of the Government; but when the time comes I shall speak as well as I am able for the good of the present and future of this country—for the good both of the North and the South of this country—for the good of the one and the other, and of all sections of the country.8


After Governor Morgan spoke, President-elect Lincoln delivered this reply: "I was pleased to receive an invitation to visit the capital of the great Empire State of this nation on my way to the federal capital, and I now thank you, Mr. Governor, and the people of this capital and the people of the State of New York, for this most hearty and magnificent welcome. If I am not at fault, the great Empire State at this time contains a greater population than did the United States of America at the time she achieved her national independence. I am proud to be invited to pass through your capital and meet them, as I now have the honor to do. I am notified by your Governor that this reception is given without distinction of party. I accept it more gladly because it is so. Almost all men in this country, and in any country where freedom of thought is tolerated, attach themselves to political parties. It is but ordinary charity to attribute this to the fact that in so attaching himself to the party which his judgment prefers, the citizen believe he thereby promotes the best interests of the whole country; and when an election is passed, it is altogether befitting a free people, that until the next election; they should be as one people. The reception you have extended to me to-day is not given to me personally. It should not be so, but as the representative for the time being of the majority of the nation. If the election had resulted in the selection of either of the other candidates, the same cordiality should have been extended him, as is extended to me this day, in their testimony of the devotion of the whole people to the Constitution and to the whole Union, and of their desire to perpetuate our institutions, and to hand them down in their perfection to succeeding generations. I have neither the voice nor the strength to address you at any greater length. I beg you will accept my most grateful thanks for this devotion, not to me, but to this great and glorious free country."9

Historian James A. Rawley wrote: "At six that evening a party of fifteen dined in the Governor's brilliantly lighted mansion. At eight, in the Delevan House which was surrounded by a drunken crowd, a reception began for 1,000 persons eager to meet Illinois's famous son."10 Contemporary humorist Charles F. Browne penned a satirical view of the visit for Vanity Fair:
At Albany we were not "recepted," until sometime after our arrival, on account of our inability to find Gov. Morgan. We all went off to find the old Governor, and finally [Thurlow] Weed and I discovered him in the colored tier of the theater, in company with Horace Greeley. The came down and "recepted" us. "Got any tobacker in your trowses, Horace?" says I. "No," he replied, looking sternly at Thurlow, 'the Weed don't agree with me."

On entering the Capitol, Mr. Lincoln remarked to Gov. Morgan, that he believed the other Penitentiary was located at Auburn [home of William H. Seward]. It was a painful error. Mr. Lincoln apologized immediately, on discovering his mistake.

Col. [Elmer E.] Ellsworth is with us. Old [Winfield] Scott is to resign in favor of Col. Ellsworth, immediately on our arrival at Washington. We all think that Scott is played out, and are in favor of Col. Ellsworth. Scot is very old. Dear, me yes! Col. Ellsworth is only thirteen years of age.11


Leaving Albany was more complicated than entering it, according to John W. Starr in Lincoln and the Railroads. "At that time there was no railroad bridge crossing the Hudson River at Albany. The usual mode of travel was for passengers to cross by Ferry to the town of East Albany. There they took a train over the Hudson River Railroad following the lordly stream down to the metropolis....The usual route as above outlined was not followed by Lincoln's party, however, because of unusually high water prevailing at Albany. Arrangements were made to detour by way of Troy. This necessitated the passing of the special train over three different roads in a short distance."12

 

Footnotes

  1. Henry Villard, Lincoln on the Eve of ‘61, p. 91-92.
  2. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume IV, p. 224 (New York Herald, February 19, 1861).
  3. Henry Villard, Lincoln on the Eve of ‘61, p. 91-94.
  4. Harry E. Pratt, Concerning Mr. Lincoln, p. 55 (Letter from Adoniram J. Blakely to Dan Blakely, February 18, 1861).
  5. Henry Villard, Lincoln on the Eve of ‘61, p. 94.
  6. Victor Searcher, Lincoln’s Journey to Greatness, p. 155.
  7. Albert Shaw, Abraham Lincoln: His Path to the Presidency, p. 246-247.
  8. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume IV, p. 226 (February 18, 1861).
  9. Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume IV, p. 224-225 (February 18, 1861).
  10. James A. Rawley, Edwin D. Morgan, 1811-1883: Merchant in Politics, p. 128.
  11. Herbert Mitgang, editor, Lincoln as They Saw Him, p. 229 (Vanity Fair, reprinted in the Columbus Crisis, March 7, 1861).
  12. John W. Starr, Jr., Lincoln and the Railroads, p. 186-187.

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