The Lincolns Leave Chicago

During his stay in Chicago, President-elect Lincoln met and consulted with various politicians on administration policies and cabinet considerations. On the night of the 23rd, he dined with Vice-President-elect Hannibal Hamlin, former Ohio Congressman Robert C. Schenck, and political advisor Donn Piatt. The topic of discussion quickly turned to the southern states possibly seceding from the Union.

Lincoln said he doubted that southerners would act so rashly. Piatt took the opposite view, warning that the situation had become so serious that he “doubted whether he (Lincoln) would be inaugurated in Washington.” Lincoln joked that Piatt’s judgment must have been influenced by the decline of pork prices in his native Ohio, but Piatt insisted that “in 90 days the land would be whitened by tents.”

Lincoln responded, “Well, we won’t jump that ditch until we come to it. I must run the machine as I find it.” Later, Piatt expressed concern that the incoming president, so “strange and strangely gifted,” could “not be made to realize the existence of the gathering storm. He would not admit that the masses could be aroused to a bloody war against their brothers.”

The evening edition of the New York Herald reported that Lincoln would “have some peace tomorrow, as many of the vultures left tonight, supposing Mr. Lincoln would leave in the morning train.” But pundits and office-seekers were surprised when Lincoln decided to extend his stay in Chicago so he could continue talks with Hamlin about the cabinet and other administrative issues.

On the 24th, Lincoln and Hamlin met at the home of political ally Ebenezer Peck in Lake View, a community on Chicago’s North Side. They discussed potential cabinet appointees, which included several of Lincoln’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination: William H. Seward of New York, Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania, Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, and Edward Bates of Missouri. Nathaniel P. Banks of Massachusetts was also mentioned.

Lincoln considered the possibility of nominating a southerner to his cabinet, possibly old friend Joshua Speed or James Guthrie from Lincoln’s native Kentucky. But since nearly every Republican politician was from a northern state, Lincoln would only seriously consider northerners.

By meeting’s end, Lincoln had designated both Hamlin and Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, whom reporters called Lincoln’s “mouth-piece” in the Senate, to return to Washington and keep him posted on what happened there between then and the inauguration in March.

John Defrees, head of Indiana’s Republican party, was one of many who offered Lincoln unsolicited advice regarding his cabinet. Defrees wrote: “The adoption of a rule, excluding members of Congress from Executive appointments, during the term for which they were elected, would be right in itself, and would remove many difficulties which now surround you. If the wisdom and statesmanship of the country was monopolized by Congress, it might be different; but fortunately it is not. The people did not go to Congress for a President; nor, is it necessary, or expedient, to go there for his appointees for office.” Since Lincoln was already going to Congress for members of his cabinet, this advice was likely unheeded.

The next morning, the Lincolns attended Sunday services at St. James Episcopal Church on Huron Street. They were accompanied by Hamlin and their friend Isaac N. Arnold, and surrounding pews were occupied by Chicago’s most prominent officials and business leaders. Afterward, the Lincolns returned to their suite at the Tremont Hotel for their Sabbath midday dinner. But this was interrupted by John V. Farwell, a local merchant who reminded the president-elect that he had promised to visit a Sunday school in a less privileged section of town.

Lincoln and Farwell took a carriage to the North Market Mission Sabbath School, where Reverend Dwight Moody delivered a sermon to about 600 youths. Word quickly spread that the visitor among the audience was the president-elect, and Moody announced that Lincoln was there only on the condition that he not be required to speak. However, “if Mr. Lincoln finds it in his heart to say a few words for our encouragement, of course, we will listen attentively.”

Lincoln reluctantly came up to the pulpit and delivered a brief, unrehearsed speech to the children. He urged them to obey their teachers and if they “put into practice what you learn from them,” then “some of you may become President of the United States.” Later that night, Lincoln and Hamlin dined at the home of Illinois legislator Jonathan Y. Scammon.

The Lincolns left Chicago the next morning. Unlike the crowded railroad car they took into the city on the 21st, the Lincolns took a private car home. Freezing rain kept most onlookers away from the stations where the train stopped, so Lincoln didn’t have to deliver any more impromptu speeches. The president-elect returned to his Springfield home at 6:30 p.m., and according to reporter Henry Villard, he looked “rather the worse for wear.” Villard warned, “If he expects relief here he will be disappointed. A number of expectants have been lying in wait for him during the last 24 hours, who will swoop upon him in the morning with an eagerness doubled by the delay.” This, combined with all the mail that had piled up over the past few days, assured that the president-elect would be very busy.


  • 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.

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