Lincoln Briefly Sidesteps Business

In the midst of dealing with the endless stream of well-wishers and office seekers, President-elect Abraham Lincoln found time to have his photograph taken. The studio, located above a drugstore on the west side of Springfield’s public square, belonged to Christopher S. German, who would “pose him for some pictures the President-elect desired to present to a very dear friend.”

Lincoln had been brought to the studio by Thomas D. Jones, a sculptor who had been struggling to shape a bust of him. Jones helped German capture a series of three-quarter profiles of the president-elect in a broadcloth suit, high collar, and small tie. Also captured for the first time was the full beard that Lincoln had begun growing after the election last November.

The president-elect quickly returned to his routine of greeting the flood of visitors seeking his audience. One visitor was Matias Romero, Mexico’s charge d’affaires to the United States. Romero had been sent by Mexican President Benito Juarez, and he was the only foreign delegate to visit Lincoln before his inauguration. According to Lincoln’s secretary John Hay, Romero had “deep respect and consideration” for Lincoln, who greeted the dignitary “with great courtesy.” It was noted that Lincoln had opposed the war with Mexico while a member of Congress. Romero expressed not only his hope for “cordial relations” between the two administrations, but also opposition to “the formation of an independent Southern confederacy” which might threaten Mexico’s delicate political condition.

On the 29th, Henry Villard, the reporter assigned to cover Lincoln by the New York Herald, wrote: “The pressure of place seekers from both home and abroad continues unabated,” despite “the various devices he has resorted to within the last fortnight to keep the expectants at a safe distance.” People helped themselves to “his private residence, and, if admission to the Presidential palace be denied them upon the first application they never fail to make a second, third, etc., one, until their wishes are… gratified by their obtrusiveness… Lincoln’s inexhaustible good naturedness is mostly at fault in this.”

But by this time, Lincoln had become more withdrawn. He announced that he and his family would leave Springfield for Washington on February 11, and then he asked for “the utmost privacy” while he secluded himself “in a room upstairs over a store across from the Statehouse” to draft his inaugural address. Lincoln announced, “No further invitations will be issued to prominent politicians to visit,” and “none are desired here.” However, he did respond to an invitation from an Indiana delegation to speak in Indianapolis on his way to Washington: “Permit me to express to the citizens of Indianapolis, through you, their committee, my cordial thanks for the honor shown me. I accept with great pleasure the invitation so kindly tendered, and will be in your city on the 12th day of February next.”

Lincoln then made arrangements to visit his country relatives in the Coles County town of Farmington, southeast of Springfield. A newspaper reported that Lincoln sought “a desire for rest, not to be had in Springfield, where the incoming dispenser of place and pap is ‘run to death’ by eager and hungry crowds of patriots who ‘carried the lamps’ and split rails in the late canvass.” But in truth Lincoln was responding to his 72-year-old stepmother Sarah Bush Lincoln, who had “expressed a strong wish to see him before he left Springfield for Washington.” Lincoln, who was 10 when Sarah married his father, was always close to her and even called her “Mother.” He asked his cousin John Hanks to join him on the trip, writing on the 28th, “I now think I will pass Decatur, going to Coles, on the day after tomorrow. Be ready and go along.”

The president-elect left Springfield on the 30th, accompanied by Judge John Pettit, state senator Thomas A. Marshall, and Henry Clay Whitney. Lincoln’s wife Mary and their sons did not join him; interestingly, despite Lincoln’s affection for his stepmother, neither Mary nor the sons had ever met her before. The travelers boarded a train on the Great Western Railway, where Whitney believed that onlookers “would have been extremely surprised to behold their President-elect.” He noted that Lincoln wore “a faded hat, innocent of a nap; and his coat was extremely short, more like a sailor’s pea-jacket than any other describable garment… A well-worn carpet bag, quite collapsed, comprised his baggage.”

John Hanks joined the party at Decatur, and because they missed their transfer at Mattoon, they did not arrive at Charleston, north of Farmington, until around 6 p.m. They spent the night at Marshall’s house, where hundreds of residents flocked to meet Lincoln and the local “Brass & Strings Band” serenaded him, despite it being a “very cold” evening.

On the frigid morning of the 31st, Lincoln, Hanks, and other cousin Dennis Hanks took a two-horse buggy over the rough dirt roads and, with “much difficulty,” crossed the icy Kickapoo Creek before arriving at the log cabin where Sarah lived with her daughter’s family. The reunion between Sarah and her stepson was “very affectionate.” The family shared a quiet dinner, and Lincoln visited the nearby grave of his father, with whom he had never had a very good relationship.

Sarah and the family then joined Lincoln in a return trip to Charleston, where an “an impromptu reception” was held for him at city hall. It was reported that a “very large number of ladies and gentlemen took advantage of the opportunity to shake him by the hand.” When asked to give a speech, Lincoln declined, saying “he could but express his gratification at seeing so many of his old friends and give them a hearty greeting.” Instead he told a few stories and shared memories as the month of January ended.


  • 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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