Comparative and Ominous Silence

The Lincolns and their entourage continued their journey to Washington on the 19th aboard the most luxuriant train of the trip. This “magnificent” vehicle heading from Albany to New York City was alternately pulled by the Union and the Constitution, two “new and powerful” locomotives. Moving alongside the western bank of the Hudson River, the train stopped at towns such as Troy, Poughkeepsie, and Peekskill. The seven-hour ride ended at 3 p.m. with the train reaching New York City and making its final stop at the new Hudson River Railroad station, between Ninth and Tenth avenues on 30th Street.

Lincoln stepped off the train to loud cheers and climbed into the first of 35 carriages ready to take the party on a procession through downtown. An estimated 250,000 people witnessed the 90-minute procession as it wound its way down to the Astor House on Broadway. According to Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, the large crowds showed “much respect” but “little enthusiasm” for Lincoln, as most New Yorkers were Democrats. Poet Walt Whitman was among those who watched Lincoln enter the hotel:

“The figure, the look, the gait, are distinctly impress’d upon me yet; the unusual and uncouth height, the dress of complete black, the stovepipe hat push’d back on the head, the dark-brown complexion, the seam’d and wrinkled yet canny-looking face, the black, bushy head of hair, the disproportionately long neck, and the hands held behind as he stood observing the people. All was comparative and ominous silence.”

Lincoln’s party went into the Astor House and took up the second-floor suite that had once been used by President Franklin Pierce. He greeted visitors in the reception room before having a buffet dinner in the 10-seat dining room, which featured the painting Washington Crossing the Delaware. Afterward he delivered a short speech in the reception room, in which he vowed never to “consent to the destruction of the Union… unless it were to be that thing for which the Union itself was made.”

The next morning, Lincoln had breakfast with New York business leaders at former Congressman Moses H. Grinnell’s mansion at Fifth Avenue and 14th Street. The businessmen were not impressed with the president-elect. William Henry Aspinwall felt that Lincoln did not “show any adequate sense of the gravity” of how secession might ruin Wall Street. Hiram Barney described the meeting as “a failure, nobody at his ease, and Mr. Lincoln least of all.”

When Lincoln returned to the Astor House, he was met by city aldermen and taken to City Hall to meet Mayor Fernando Wood, a Democrat who in January had suggested that New York City secede from the rest of the state and trade equally with both North and South. Wood acknowledged his “duty” to greet the president-elect, then warned him that the city’s “commercial greatness” was being threatened by the southern secession.

Lincoln expressed “gratitude” for the hospitality of New York, which contained “people who do not by a majority agree with me in political sentiments.” He then told the mayor, “There is nothing that can ever bring me willingly to consent to the destruction of the Union, under which not only the commercial city of New York but the whole country has acquired its greatness… So long, then, as it is possible that the prosperity and the liberties of the people can be preserved in the Union it shall be my purpose at all times to preserve it.”

A reception was held in the Governor’s Room at 11:15 a.m., where Lincoln stood in the receiving line under a statue of George Washington. In nearly two hours, Lincoln shook the hands of some 5,000 people. Police then led him through a window to a balcony, where he addressed the large crowd below. As Lincoln conducted some private business, Mrs. Lincoln and sons Robert and Willie visited P.T. Barnum’s famous museum. Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln then had dinner with Vice-President-elect Hannibal Hamlin and his wife.

That evening, the Lincolns attended Giuseppe Verdi’s 1859 opera Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball) at the Academy of Music. When they arrived, a reported noted, “one thousand opera glasses turned in one direction” to see “the largest amount of President the country has yet afforded.” Lincoln bowed to the applauding crowd at intermission and left before the second act began. Back at the Astor House, a midnight rally was held by the Wide-Awakes, the paramilitary group that had helped elect Lincoln president. The band played “Yankee Doodle” and “Dixie’s Land.” To their disappointment, Lincoln did not come out to the balcony to address them.

The Lincolns boarded the John P. Jackson on the morning of the 21st to cross the Hudson River into New Jersey. A band played “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and Lincoln gave a short speech. The party moved on to Newark, where he delivered speeches at two rail depots before boarding a train bound for the state capital of Trenton. An estimated 20,000 people greeted Lincoln when he arrived; a carriage took him to the State House, where he delivered speeches to both the Senate and the Assembly.

To the Senate, Lincoln pledged: “I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people.” To the Assembly, Lincoln said: “I shall do all that may be in my power to promote a peaceful settlement of all our difficulties. The man does not live who is more devoted to peace than I am. None who would do more to preserve it. But it may be necessary to put the foot down firmly. And if I do my duty, and do right, you will sustain me, will you not?” This prompted loud cheering in response.

Lincoln then moved on to the Trenton House, where he addressed a crowd from the balcony. The Lincoln party left Trenton at 2:30 p.m. and headed for Philadelphia, arriving at 3:15. The president-elect was greeted by cannon fire and an estimated 100,000 people lining the streets from the depot to the Continental House. Mayor Alexander Henry officially welcomed Lincoln on the balcony and said: “Your fellow countrymen look to you in the earnest hope that true statesmanship and unalloyed patriotism may with God’s blessing restore peace and prosperity to this distracted land.” Lincoln replied: “I do not mean to say that this artificial panic has not done harm. That it has done much harm I do not deny,” but he hoped to resolve it peacefully.

A reception took place that evening, where Lincoln greeted visitors and well-wishers for 90 minutes before enjoying a spectacular fireworks display. The words “Welcome, Abraham Lincoln. The Whole Union” were emblazoned in the sky. The president-elect had received a gracious welcome in Philadelphia. It would be the last one he would get on this trip.


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