In the days following the election, President-elect Abraham Lincoln was inundated with visitors to his Springfield, Illinois, home congratulating him and asking for jobs. He was also pressed to issue some kind of statement to curry favor with the South. But Lincoln refused to issue any kind of official statement, instead he referred questioners to his past statements and maintained his pledge that he would not interfere with the domestic affairs of the states.
Near mid-month, reporter Henry Villard noted that the president-elect had grown an “adornment of whiskers” for the first time. Villard wrote, “His old friends, who have been used to a great indifference as to the ‘outer man,’ on his part, say that ‘Abe is putting on airs.’” On a more serious note, Villard documented how Lincoln was trying to stand up to the immense pressure of being a president-elect in such uncertain times:
“Always cadaverous, his aspect is now almost ghostly. His position is wearing him, terribly. Letters threatening his life are daily received from the South… But these trouble him little compared with the apprehended difficulty of conciliating the South without destroying the integrity of his own party. I doubt Mr. Lincoln’s capacity for the task of bringing light and peace out of the chaos that will surround him.”
Villard believed that although Lincoln was “a man of good heart and good intention,” “he is not firm,” which was unfortunate because, “The times demand a Jackson.”
Lincoln opted not to attend a Republican victory celebration in Springfield, but he sent a message for Senator Lyman Trumbull to deliver that promised to intensity southern animosity: “I am rather glad of this military preparation in the South. It will enable the people the more easily to suppress any uprisings here, which their misrepresentation of purposes may have encouraged.”
Trumbull decided not to read Lincoln’s message to the crowd out of fear that it might be too antagonistic. But then he delivered an antagonistic speech of his own in which he condemned secession as terrorism and vowed to support forceful action against southern “traitors.” A more moderate passage from Lincoln pledged that “each and all of the states will be left in as complete control of their own affairs respectively, and at as perfect liberty to choose, and employ, their own means of protecting property, and preserving peace and order… as they have ever been under any administration.” This did nothing to dispel southern angst.
After celebrating a traditional Thanksgiving dinner on the 29th, Lincoln reviewed his accumulating mail. According to correspondent Villard, the mail contained many congratulations, as well as “senseless fulminations and, in a few instances, disgraceful threats and indecent drawings.” Some messages contained the “advice of patriots,” while others consisted of “seditious pamphlets and manifestos,” and “female forwardness and inquisitiveness.”
By month’s end, Lincoln remained at his Springfield home and continued to reiterate that he would not interfere in state affairs. But southerners continued to doubt his sincerity since he expressed such little concern about the South’s resolve to leave the Union.
- Catton, Bruce and Long, E.B. (ed.), The Coming Fury. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. (Kindle Edition), 1961.
- 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.