The Farewell Soiree

On the 6th, President-elect and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln held a “farewell soiree” for their “friends in this city” of Springfield. According to the Baltimore Sun, the guests comprised “the political elite of Illinois and the beauty and fashion of the area.” Abraham Lincoln received guests at the front door, and Mary Todd Lincoln received them in the center of the Lincolns’ parlor.

A reporter covering the event, noting that Mary had recently gone on a shopping trip in New York, wrote: “Mrs. Lincoln’s splendid toilette gave satisfactory evidence of extensive purchases during her late visit to New York.” Henry Villard, covering the president-elect for the New York Herald, wrote that the future first lady wore a “beautiful, full trail, white moiré antique silk, with a small French lace collar. Her neck was ornamented with a string of pearls. Her head dress was a simple and delicate vine, arranged with much taste… She is a lady of fine figure and accomplished address, and is well calculated to grace and do honors at the white house.”

Of the reception, Villard wrote: “Hundreds of well dressed ladies and gentlemen gathered at the Presidential mansion to spend a last evening with their honored hosts. The occasion was a success in every respect, with the exception of a slight jam created by the limited dimensions of the building.” With the flood of visitors, “the first and second floor was densely packed with a fashionable multitude.” A friend of Mrs. Lincoln’s said: “Such a crowd I seldom, or ever saw at a private house. It took about 20 minutes to get in the hall door.” Some 700 guests were welcomed from 7 p.m. until midnight, and Villard wrote that despite the crowding, it was “the most brilliant affair of the kind witnessed here in many years.”

Lincoln spent the next few days finalizing his move to Washington. He planned to make frequent stops on his train ride, including the capitals of Indiana, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. He also planned to stop at Philadelphia on the 22nd, which was George Washington’s birthday. William S. Wood, an operator of hotels and railroads in New York (and later revealed as a crook), was assigned to manage the travel schedule for the “Family and Suite.” Wood submitted the schedule to the press.

Near this time, the president-elect received a forwarded message from Henry C. Bowen, editor of the anti-slavery newspaper The Independent. The message alleged that “traitors” planned to “kill Mr. Lincoln on his way to Washington,” and it would be “impossible” for Lincoln to “go in safety to the Capital when his progress is known to the public.” This was the first warning of impending danger on Lincoln’s journey. It would not be the last.

A member of the Georgia secession convention visited Lincoln on the 8th to try to get a “positive committal” from the president-elect on compromise. Lincoln would not oblige. Shortly afterward, the Lincolns closed up their house and moved into a second-floor suite at the Chenery House, where they would stay until their scheduled departure three days later. Villard reported: “The President-elect, having completed the first draft of his inaugural, is now busily engaged in arranging his domestic affairs.”

The weather warmed on the 9th, and Lincoln spent part of the day posing for photographs in Christopher S. German’s gallery. He also met with Illinois Senator Orville Browning and confided his feeling that the National Peace Conference, then going on in Washington, would not only bring “no good results,” but it would bring positive “evil” because “increased excitement (would) follow when it broke up without having accomplished any thing.” Browning and Lincoln agreed that the South would accept no compromise “short of surrender,” and “that far less evil & bloodshed would result from an effort to maintain the Union and the Constitution than from disruption and the formation of two confederacies.” By this time, “two confederacies” had already been formed.

Lincoln went over his inaugural address with Carl Schurz, the Republican powerbroker with especial influence in the German community. On the day before his departure, the president-elect visited his old law office on Capitol Square and his old partner, Billy Herndon. According to Herndon, “We ran over the books and arranged for the completion of all unsettled and unfinished matters.” Lincoln seemed to be in a good mood as the two men reminisced about the 16 years they had worked together. But then Lincoln turned somber.

“I am sick of office-holding already,” Lincoln confessed, “and I shudder when I think of the tasks that are still ahead.” He told Herndon that he was sad to be leaving Springfield, partly because he did not think he would ever return. Before leaving the office, Lincoln noted the “Lincoln & Herndon” sign hanging over the doorway and said: “Let it hang there undisturbed. Give our clients to understand that the election of a President makes no change in the firm of Lincoln and Herndon. If I live, I’m coming back some time, and then we’ll go right on practising law as if nothing had ever happened.”

As most days since he was elected, Lincoln spent time on his final day in town dealing with job-seekers. Villard wrote his last article covering the president-elect from Springfield:

“The path he is about to walk on may lead to success, glory, immortality, but also to failure, humiliation and curses upon his memory. He may steer clear of the rock of disunion and the shoal of dissension among those that elevated him to the office he is about to assume, and safely conduct the Ship of State from amidst the turbulence of fanaticism and lawlessness to the port of peace and reunion. But he may, on the other hand, take his place at the helm of the craft only to sink with it.”


  • 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.

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