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New York City, February 19-20, 1861The New York Herald editorialized before President-elect Lincoln's arrival in New York City: "What will Mr. Lincoln do when he arrives? What will he say to the citizens of this great metropolis? Will he kiss our girls, and give a twirl to the whiskers which he has begun to cultivate? Will he tell our merchants, groaning under the pressure of the greatest political convulsion ever experienced in America that 'nobody is hurt' or that 'marching troops into South Carolina' and bombarding its fortresses is 'no invasion'?"1 A New York Herald journalist , Henry Villard, who had followed Mr. Lincoln's activities for the previous three months, filed his last dispatch about the train ride from Albany to New York City:
In the special car were Mr. And Mrs. Lincoln and their suite....Martin J. Townsend, Esq., a Chicago delegate, and a great friend of Thurlow Weed, was also on board; but Mr. Lincoln was so unwell and fatigued that he seemed to take very little interest in the political conversation. Mrs. Lincoln chit-chatted with her friends, and seemed all life and enjoyment....It was plain to see that the Lincolns are common sense, homelike folks unused to the glitter and flutter of society. Towering above all, with his face and forehead furrowed by a thousand wrinkles, his hair unkempt, his new whiskers looking as if not yet naturalized, his clothes illy arranged, Mr. Lincoln sat toward the rear of the saloon car.
The pre-presidential train pulled into the Hudson River Railroad Company train station at tenth Avenue and 30th Street at 3 P.M, precisely on time. Before the Lincolns stepped off the train, Mrs. Lincoln allegedly said: "Abraham, I must fix you up a bit for these city folks." The size of the crowd was no doubt augmented by the commercial holiday that been declared in Mr. Lincoln's honor. Future presidential aide John G. Nicolay recalled that "...at the great city of New York which was reached on Tuesday afternoon the 19th, while the crowds were the largest encountered during the whole journey, the police arrangements were among the most perfect, and that neither accident nor inconvenience attended Mr. Lincoln's movement through the numerous 'functions' which committees had prearranged. Broadway had been kept clear, so that the double line of carriages which made up the procession moved from the depot where the train arrived down the whole length of that magnificent street to the Astor House in perfect order and with plenty of room, giving to the people who crowded the side streets, doors, balconies, windows, and lined even the roofs of buildings with a continuous fringe of humanity, a clear view of the President-elect."3
The New York Illustrated News reported:
A peculiarity of the reception was the absence of all military display and the utter disregard of formal preparation. The City Authorities were not represented here, the Committee being on the train with Mr. Lincoln. The Mayor was not present, and the immense crowd were gathered together simply by their desire to see and to do honor to a single man their choice, their hope, their reliance. There was no looking for a grand display, there was no promise, and no need of extraneous aids to attract the throng no drums, no uniforms, no speeches from loud-mouthed cannon or soft-mouthed politicians, were promised, expected or desired.....
Another famous New Yorker was caught up in the events of that day. "I shall not easily forget the first time I ever saw Abraham Lincoln. It must have been about the 18th or 19th of February, 1861," wrote writer Walt Whitman. "It was a rather pleasant afternoon in New York City, as he arrived there from the West, to remain a few hours and then pass on to Washington to prepare for his inauguration. I saw him in Broadway, near the site of the present post office. He came down, I think from Canal Street, to stop at the Astor House."
The broad spaces, sidewalks, and street in that neighborhood and for some distance were crowded with solid masses of people many thousands. The omnibuses and other vehicles had all been turned off, leaving an unusual hush in that busy part of the city. Presently two or three shabby hack barouches made their way with difficulty through the crowd and drew up at the Astor House entrance.
New York attorney George Templeton Strong wrote in his diary: "I walked uptown at 3:30. Broadway crowded, though not quite so densely as on the Prince of Wales avatar last October. The trottoir well filled by pedestrians (vehicles turned off into side streets, and sidewalks by patient and stationary sight-seers. Above Canal Street they were nearly impassable. At St. Thomas's Church I met the illustrious cortege moving down to the Astor House with its escort of mounted policemen and a torrent of rag-tag and bobtail rushing and hooraying behind. The great rail-splitter's face was visible to me for an instant, and seemed a keen, clear, honest face, not so ugly as his portraits..."6
Mr. Lincoln's visit was not all ceremony and entertainment. "In this metropolis he was confronted with Republican opponents of Seward, who had set afoot plans to persuade him to exclude the Senator from his Cabinet. It was a repetition of situations in other states Republican factions combatting each other, jockeying for party supremacy all determined that this man, or that man, must be appointed to or excluded from, the President-elect's as yet uncompleted Cabinet," wrote Albert Shaw.7
Shaw, who chronicled Mr. Lincoln's rise to the presidency, wrote that President-elect Lincoln "was escorted to the old Astor House at City Hall Park by the Common Council riding in carriages, proceeding down Ninth Avenue to Twenty-third Street, through to Fifth Avenue, and from Fourteenth Street down Broadway to the hotel. The spectacle imitated somewhat the recent pageants in honor of the Prince of Wales and the Japanese delegation. At an ovation given by Republican clubs that evening, Lincoln asked to be allowed to make excuses for avoiding discourse upon the issues of the day. He admitted that he might easily talk upon the matters that were in the public mind..."8 President Lincoln addressed the crowd:
I am rather an old man to avail myself of such an excuse as I am now about to do, yet the truth is so distinct and presses itself so distinctly upon me that I cannot well avoid it, and that is that I did not understand when I was brought into this room that I was brought here to make a speech. It was not intimated to me that I was brought into the room where Daniel Webster and Henry Clay had made speeches, and where one in my position might be expected to do something like those men, or do something unworthy of myself or my audience. I therefore will beg you to make very great allowance for the circumstances under which I have been by surprise brought before you. Now, I have been in the habit of thinking and speaking for some time upon political questions that have for some years past agitated the country, and if I were disposed to do so, and we could take up some one of the issues as the lawyers call them, and I were called upon to make an argument about it to the best of my ability, I could do that without much preparation. But that is not what you desire to be done here to-night. I have been occupying a position, since the Presidential election, of silence, of avoiding public speaking, of avoiding public writing. I have been doing so because I thought, upon full consideration, that was the proper course for me to take. (Great applause.) I am brought before you now and required to make a speech, when you all approve, more than anything else, of the fact that I have been silent--(loud laughter, cries of 'Good--good,' and applause)--and now it seems to me from the response you give to that remark it ought to justify me in closing just here. (Great laughter.) I have not kept silent since the Presidential election from any party wantonness, or from any indifference to the anxiety that pervades the minds of men about the aspect of the political affairs of this country. I have kept silent for the reason that I supposed it was peculiarly proper that I should do so until the time came when, according to the customs of the country, I should speak officially. (Voice, partially interrogative, partially sarcastic, 'Custom of the country?") I heard some gentleman say, 'According to the custom of the country;' I alluded to the custom of the President elect at the time of taking his oath of office. That is what I meant by the custom of the country. I do suppose that while the political drama being enacted in this country at this time is rapidly shifting in its scenes, forbidding an anticipation with any degree of certainty to-day what we shall see to-morrow, that I was peculiarly fitting that I should see it all up to the last minute before I should take ground, that I might be disposed by the shifting of the scenes afterwards again to shift. (Applause.) I said several times upon this journey, and I shall now repeat it to you, that when the time does come I shall then take the ground that I think is right (Interruption by cries of 'Good,' 'good,' and applause) the ground I think is right for the North, for the South, for the East, for the West, for the whole country (cries of 'Good,' 'Hurrah for Lincoln,' and great applause). And in doing so I hope to feel no necessity pressing upon me to say anything in conflict with the constitution, in conflict with the continued union of these States (Applause) in conflict with the perpetuation of the liberties of these people (cheers) or anything in conflict with anything whatever that I have ever given you reason to expect from me. (Loud cheers.) And now, my friends, have I said enough (Cries of 'No, no,' 'Go on,' &c.) Now, my friends, there appears to be a difference of opinion between you and me, and I feel called upon to insist upon deciding the question myself (enthusiastic cheers.) 9
The following morning, President Lincoln and the city's business elite attended a breakfast at the home of the daughter of businessman Moses Grinnell. According to Leo Hershkowitz in Tweed's New York: Another Look, "At 8 A.M., accompanied by General James Watson Webb, duelist and former editor of the Courier and Enquirer, and Thurlow Weed, Republican king-maker, Lincoln was quietly spirited out the Vesey Street entrance of Astor House and driven to the home of Moses Grinnell's daughter, where he found about a hundred of the most prosperous merchants waiting to greet him."10
It may have been at this breakfast that an incident occurred about which Connecticut farmer Bronson Murray wrote to Lincoln friend Ward H. Lamon: "There is a story that a purse proud chap was presented to [President-elect Lincoln]. and said 'Mr. L ahem I am a director of the bank of commerce Sir.' 'Are you sir & where is that.' 'Why here in New York Sir. We take all the Govt. Loans.' 'Oh well' said L 'then we will become better acquainted.' This is thought a capital thing here & people want to know who the director is. Some of these fellows fancy there is no place in the Union but N. York and their clique or sett [sic]."11
Bronson, who knew Lamon from Illinois, had met the future U.S. Marshal for the District of Columbia that morning: "Just before we met, my father & old ald[erman] Purdy (both wheel horses of the Dem[ocratic] party here) were canvassing matters politic. Purdy said he had seen Lincoln & liked the man, said he was much better looking & a finer man than he expected to see; and that he kept aloof from old politicians here & seemed to have a mind of his own. Old Judge Benson too (who was with us) is a democrat and was equally pleased with L. He says L. has an eye that shows power of mind & will & he thinks he will carry us safely."12
"Mayor Fernando Wood, handsome, smooth-shaven, dressed in a double-breasted frock coat and black stock, received Lincoln publicly but his welcome was almost insolent," wrote Jay Monaghan in Diplomat in Carpet Slippers.13 "At New York City, being introduced by one of his bitter opponents, Mayor Wood, he managed to capitalize the fact of party disagreement among those who welcomed him. Always he had a word for the occasion and the locality," wrote historian James G. Randall.14 "In his address of welcome to Mr. Lincoln," according to Albert Shaw, Wood "reminded the President of his grave responsibilities in the following terms: 'Coming office with a dismembered government to reconstruct, and a disconnected and hostile people to reconcile, it will require a high patriotism and an elevated comprehension of the whole country and its varied interests, opinions and prejudices to so conduct public affairs as to bring it back again to its former harmonious, consolidated and prosperous condition."15 While Mrs. Lincoln visited the nearby Barnum's Museum, President-elect Lincoln spoke to the Mayor and the City Council that afternoon:
It is with feelings of deep gratitude that I make my acknowledgement for this reception which has been given me in the great commercial city of New York. I cannot but remember that this is done by a people who do not by a majority agree with me in political sentiments. It is the more grateful [to me] because in this reception I see that, in regard to the great principles of our government, the people are very nearly or quite unanimous.
Before leaving City Hall, Mr. Lincoln appeared on the balcony and told the crowd below: "Friends: I do not appear for the purpose of making a speech. I design to make no speech. I came merely to see you, and allow you to see me. [Cheers] And I have to say to you, as I have said frequently to audiences on my journey, that, in the sight, I have the best of the bargain. [Tremendous cheers.] Assuming that you are all for the Constitution, the Union [renewed cheering], and the perpetual liberties of this people, I bid you farewell. [Cheers]."17
New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley said he never heard Mr. Lincoln tell a story except on this visit to New York City. "Almost every one was asking him, with evident apprehension if not perturbation: 'What is to be the issue of this Southern effervescence? Are we really to have civil war?'" wrote Greeley after the Civil War. Mr. Lincoln responded with this story:
"Many years ago, when I was a young lawyer, and Illinois was little settled, except on her southern border, I, with other lawyers, used to ride the circuit; journeying with the judge from county-seat to county-seat in quest of business. Once, after a long spell of pouring rain, which had flooded the whole country, transforming small creeks into rivers, we were often stopped by these swollen streams, which we with difficulty crossed. Still ahead of us was Fox River, larger than all the rest; and we could not help saying to each other, 'If these streams give us so much trouble, how shall we get over Fox River?' Darkness fell before we had reached that stream; and we all stopped at a log tavern, had our horses put out, and resolved to pass the night. Here we were right glad to fall in with the Methodist Presiding Elder of the circuit, who rode it in all weather, knew all its ways, and could tell us all about Fox River. So we all gathered around him, and asked him if he knew about the crossing of Fox River. 'O yes,' he replied, 'I know all about Fox River. I have crossed it often, and understand it well; but I have one fixed rule with regard to Fox River: I never cross it til I reach it.'"18
"Mrs. Lincoln gave a reception of her own on the day after their arrival at which she received with Mrs. James Watson Webb [who was the wife of the editor of the Courier & Enterprise]. There was nothing ostentatious about her manner or attire. Her high-necked gown of steel-colored silk was trimmed with plaited satin ribbon. A diamond brooch held her lace collar in place, and she wore diamond eardrops under a black chenille and gold headdress. She carried a nosegay and a small ivory fan, which she whisked restless as she chatted with her guests," wrote her biographer Ishbel Ross. "More than a hundred of New York's leading social figures paid their respects to Mrs. Lincoln that night, but one who was conspicuously absent was Mrs. August Belmont. The social freeze on interloper from the Middle West became public chatter when Leslie's Weekly ran a revealing item: 'We are requested to state that Mrs. August Belmont did not call upon Mrs. Lincoln during her stay at the Astor House.'"19
That night the President-elect's party was given a dinner after which he attended a performance of Verdi's opera, "Un ballo in maschera" at the Academy of Music. He shocked some sophisticated New Yorkers by wearing black rather than white gloves to the opera. According to Carl Sandburg: "In a box opposite, a Southern man remarked to the ladies of his party, 'I think we ought to send some flowers over the way to the Undertaker of the Union.' The word spread, and the press commented on the one pair of black gloves in the packed house."20 Mr. Lincoln's aide, John G. Nicolay, wrote:
At about a quarter past eight Mr. Lincoln, accompanied by Judge [David] Davis of Illinois, and Alderman Cornell, entered, wholly unnoticed, the right hand proscenium box, on a line with the second tier. Another party, including two ladies, took seats behind the distinguished visitor. The first act over, the audience, having discovered his arrival, applauded him loudly. Mr. Lincoln bowed his acknowledgement of this courtesy, and resumed his seat amid renewed enthusiasm. After the lapse of half a minute a second round of applause was elicited, accompanied by cheers and the waving of hats and handkerchiefs. The ladies evinced much curiosity and fluttered their fans and mouchoirs with patriotic fervor. Again Mr. Lincoln bowed and sat down. The efforts to obtain a speech failed, as was only proper it should, under the circumstances. The curtain now rose, and the entire company sang the 'Star Spangled Banner', the audience rising en masse. Miss Phillips sang the solo stanzas correctly. At the end of the first stanza a magnificent American flag was suddenly dropped half way down to the floor from between the flies. The presidential party remained standing, as did the entire audience, until the good old tune was finished. The band played 'Hail Columbia' as the curtain fell, after which the opera proceeded. The President and the gentlemen who attended him took their leave quietly at the close of the second act."21
David Davis (Mr. Lincoln and Friends)
David Davis (Mr. Lincoln's White House)
Horace Greeley (Mr. Lincoln and Friends)
Horace Greeley (Mr. Lincoln's White House)
Ward Hill Lamon (Mr. Lincoln and Friends)
Ward Hill Lamon (Mr. Lincoln's White House)
John G. Nicolay (Mr. Lincoln and Friends)
John G. Nicolay (Mr. Lincoln's White House)
Henry Villard (Mr. Lincoln and Friends)