Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin had never met before. The closest they came was when both served in Congress in 1849-51, when Lincoln was in the House and Hamlin was in the Senate. When the Republicans had nominated Lincoln for president in 1860, Lincoln adhered to political custom and left it to his party to pick his running mate. So, two days after the election, Lincoln wrote to Hamlin asking that they finally meet:
“I am anxious for a personal interview with you at as early a day as possible. Can you, without much inconvenience, meet me at Chicago? If you can, please name as early a day as you conveniently can, and telegraph me; unless there be sufficient time, before the day named, to communicate by mail.”
The meeting was set for the 21st. That day Lincoln boarded a train at Springfield with his wife Mary, Senator and Mrs. Lyman Trumbull (Trumbull was known as “the President’s mouthpiece in the Senate”), and Mr. and Mrs. Donn Piatt. Various correspondents joined as well, including “one of the most unscrupulous & notorious of all the gang” according to a Lincoln ally.
The train pulled out of the station at 11 a.m. Reporter Henry Villard noted that the Lincolns rode in a “crowded and inconvenient car… neither the company nor conductor showing him any courtesy whatever.” The passengers in Lincoln’s car included two prisoners, one of which was a convicted murderer, escorted by a sheriff known to have supported Lincoln’s opponent Stephen A. Douglas for president.
The train stopped at several towns along the way, including one named after Lincoln. A crowd gathered to see him, but he asked to be excused from speechmaking. He did speak when the train stopped at Bloomington, however. He assured the people that even a Republican president elected by a minority of voters could never be evil enough to destroy the country.
Upon reaching Chicago, the Lincoln party was taken to the Tremont House, an elegant hotel on the southeast corner of Lake and Dearborn which had served as Republican headquarters during the national convention in May. Hotel manager George Gage gave the Lincolns one of his finest parlor suites, which was the fanciest room in which the president-elect had ever stayed. Members of the “Wide Awakes,” the paramilitary wing of the Republican party, gathered outside the hotel and sang patriotic songs to welcome Lincoln to Chicago.
Later that night, Lincoln and Hamlin met. Hamlin later recalled that Lincoln asked him, “Have we ever been introduced to each other, Mr. Hamlin?” Hamlin replied, “No sir; I think not.” Lincoln said, “That is also my impression, but I remember distinctly, while I was in Congress, to have heard you make a speech in the Senate. I was very much struck with that speech, Senator–particularly struck with it–and for the reason that it was filled ‘chock up’ with the very best kind of anti-slavery doctrine.”
Hamlin responded, “Well now, that is very singular; for my one and first recollection of yourself is of having heard you make a speech in the House–a speech that was so full of good humor and sharp points that I, together with other of your auditors, was convulsed with laughter. And I see that you and I remain in accord on our anti-slavery principles.”
Reporters called the meeting “cordial in the highest degree,” and nicknamed the two men the “Rail-Splitter” and the “Type-Sticker” (referring to Hamlin’s former job in a printing house). Lincoln and Hamlin toured the Wigwam where the Republican National Convention had been held, the courthouse, the post office, and the customhouse. Then they continued their meeting in private to discuss various matters, including potential cabinet appointments.
The men held a public reception in the center parlor of the Tremont House at 10 a.m. the next day. Nearly 3,000 people braved a snowstorm to meet the president and vice-president elect. Lincoln stood at the head of the receiving line and introduced the “constant stream of visitors” to Hamlin, while the editor of the Chicago Journal introduced guests to Mrs. Lincoln. The pro-Lincoln Chicago Tribune reported, “The affair was an ovation throughout.”
After the two and a half-hour reception, the Lincolns dined on wild game and oysters at the Tom Andrews Head Quarters Restaurant. Lincoln then went to the shop of “merchant tailors” Titsworth & Brother, on Lake Street, and ordered a “magnificent suit” for his inauguration. It consisted of black cashmere pants, a black vest “of the finest grenadier silk,” and a black coat “of the best cloth that could be bought in the country, and made up with a taste and in a style that cannot be surpassed in any country.” An inscription was stitched inside the coat collar: “To Hon. Abraham Lincoln, from A.D. Titsworth, Chicago, Illinois.”
Lincoln spent the night meeting with various politicians, including Congressman William Kellogg of Illinois and Carl Schurz, a Republican leader with powerful influence over the German immigrants who had vigorously supported Lincoln. Hamlin, Trumbull, and Piatt also participated. The men discussed potential cabinet appointees, which included former Ohio Governor Salmon P. Chase, “old Jacksonian Democrat” Gideon Welles of Connecticut, Congressman Henry W. Davis of Maryland, and former Congressman Robert C. Schenck of Ohio. But Senator William H. Seward of New York topped the list.
Seward had been the initial frontrunner for the Republican nomination that Lincoln had won. He was considered the top politician in the party, and as such, his political manager Thurlow Weed expected Lincoln to offer him the highest office he could give: secretary of state. Weed noted that William Henry Harrison, after being elected president, had gone to Henry Clay’s home to offer him the State Department post, and proposed that Lincoln do the same with Seward.
Lincoln not only declined, but he also turned down Weed’s suggestion to invite Seward to Chicago. Instead, Weed sent a message to Lincoln claiming that “the offer of the State Department was due to Mr. Seward, but S. would decline it. The courtesy, however, was, he claimed, due to Mr. S. and to New York.”
Both the Chicago conference and the discussion of cabinet appointees continued over the next few days.
- Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, (Kindle Edition), 2011.
- Holzer, Harold, Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter of 1860-1861. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, Reprint Edition, 2008.
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.