Mr. Lincoln Goes to Washington

Paul Fatout


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 47, Issue 4, pp 321-332

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Mr. Lincoln Goes to Washington

Paul Fatout∗

The inaugural train, carrying the President-elect, accompanied by Illinois lawyers and politicians, army officers, the Western Union superintendent with a pocket telegraph instrument, press correspondents, secretaries, and others, left Springfield at eight o'clock on the rainy Monday morning of February 11, 1861.1 The talkative bustle in the swaying cars lifted Lincoln's spirits out of the sadness that had clouded his leave-taking and his moving farewell address. "The party, from all we can learn," said the IndianapolisSentinel, "was a very pleasant one and Mr. Lincoln was in his best anecdotal mood."2 For the vinous the trip boded well, one reporter noting that "Refreshments for the thirsty are on board."3 Twenty miles out of Springfield the pilot engine, scouting ahead for sabotage, found a stake and rider rail fence built across the right-of-way by boys, who thus hoped to catch a glimpse of the Railsplitter. The track was quickly cleared, however, without delaying the presidential train, which arrived at the State Line about noon.

Awaiting it there was a committee of seven members of the Indiana legislature, together with the Honorable John L. Mansfield. Having left Indianapolis on Saturday, this delegation had spent Sunday in Lafayette, attending the Presbyterian church in a body, and also accepting the invitation of "the gentlemanly proprietor of the Artesian bath-house, …

  • Paul Fatout is a member of the department of English at Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana.
  • 1 Among numerous rosters of the inaugural party, see James G. Randall Lincoln the President (2 vols., New York, 1945), I, 274-275; Carl Sandburg Lincoln, The War Years (4 vols., New York, 1939), I, 35-36; and Lafayette, Indiana, Daily Courier, February 11, 1861.
  • 2 February 12, 1861.
  • 3Lincoln on the Eve of '61. A Journalist's Story by Henry Villard, edited by Harold G. and Oswald Garrison Villard (New York, 1941), 74.
to visit his establishment and test the cleansing and healing virtues of the water, without money or price … ."4 Well scrubbed, body and soul, the reception committee met the inaugural train, and the chairman, General George K. Steele, welcomed the President-elect to Indiana. Lincoln replied: "Gentlemen of Indiana; I am happy to meet you on this occasion, and enter again the state of my early life, and almost of maturity. I am under many obligations to you for your kind reception, and to Indiana for the aid she rendered our cause which, I think, a just one. Gentlemen, I shall address you at greater length at Indianapolis, but not much greater. Again gentlemen, I thank you for your warm hearted reception."5

After a hurried dinner at the State Line Hotel the party, augmented by the Hoosiers, rolled on over the Valley Road at thirty miles an hour toward Lafayette—past Williams-port, Attica, and Maysville, past cheering clusters of people, waving villagers and farmers. To Republicans, the inaugural journey of a trainload of adherents was a justifiable tour of triumph. Others eyed it disapprovingly. "We think it in bad taste for the President elect to make a 'progress' through the country," said the IndianapolisSentinel. "It would be more in accordance of what was told us of Mr. Lincoln during the canvass if he would take his carpet-sack in his hand and go to Washington like a private citizen, than to suffer himself to be made a show of by office seekers and pot-house politicians."6 The Terre HauteJournal also objected: "Abraham Lincoln … will visit Indianapolis… . invited there by the Republican wire workers and office seekers and the people will have to pay the bill… . [at] a time like this, when the country is moaning in agony and the angry billows of faction are … threatening to destroy it … it would be much more becoming in Republicans to let Mr. Lincoln pass quietly on his way to Washington … ."7 Nevertheless the Indiana citizenry turned out in large numbers, and regardless of party, to see this enigmatic and provocative man.

  • 4Lafayette, Indiana, Daily Journal, February 11, 1861.
  • 5Lafayette, Indiana, Daily Courier, February 11, 1861.
  • 6 February 2, 1861.
  • 7 Reprinted in New Albany, Indiana, Daily Ledger, February 8, 1861.

Disgruntled Tippecanoe County Republicans had perforce to accept, though not without grumbling, cancellation of the promised half-day stop at the county seat, likewise rejection of the compromise proposal of William F. Reynolds, President of the L. & I. Railroad: that Mr. Lincoln be "taken in a carriage to the Bramble [House], and after an informal reception and a hasty plate of soup, be again placed on board the special train … the entire programme to occupy but one hour and a quarter."8

The special paused only ten minutes in Lafayette, but the populace made the most of the short stay. A throng of the curious milled about the Junction—"about two thousand," said the LafayetteCourier; "5,000 or 6,000," said the LafayetteJournal. When the train hove in sight, the Lafayette Artillery Company, commanded by Lieutenant (and county auditor) Chris Miller, began banging away with a brass field piece named "Old Tippecanoe," allegedly the first gun in the Union to sound off in celebration of the Republican victory the preceding November. The gun crew, ably assisted by an agile seventy-five-year-old veteran known as Captain Wood, fired a national salute of thirteen guns, followed by a Federal salute of thirty-four, and so satisfactory was the uproar that farmers north of Delphi heard it twenty-four miles away.

Lincoln, introduced by General Steele, preserved his shutmouth policy in brief and homely remarks about the great changes that had occurred during his lifetime in the Middle West, and concluded with a generalized appeal for unity: "I find myself far from home surrounded by the thousands I now see before me, who are strangers to me. Still we are bound together, I trust in Christianity, civilization and patriotism, and are attached to our country and our whole country. While some of us may differ in political opinions, still we are all united in one feeling for the Union. We all believe in the maintenance of the Union, of every star and every stripe of the glorious flag, and permit me to express the sentiment that upon the union of the States, there shall be among us no differences … ."9

  • 8Lafayette, Indiana, Daily Courier, February 7, 1861. The shell of the Bramble House, which has long since ceased to be a hostelry, still stands on the southeast corner of Fifth and Columbia Streets.
  • 9Ibid., February 11, 1861.

Political bias colored opinions of the impression he made upon his audience. "Our citizens," observed the Republican LafayetteJournal, "were all agreeably disappointed in the personal appearance of the President elect. Instead of finding him an old and ill-looking individual, the universal remark was that he was much younger looking and more impressive … . He certainly has a most irresistible manner which at once convinces the hearer that he is uttering the sentiments of an honest heart in a marvellously simple way."10 On the other hand, the Democratic LafayetteArgus sneered: "The long looked for agony is over—Honest Old Abe … exhibited himself to our citizens at half price. He spoke—actually opened his mouth and spoke (what condescension) and said fellow citizens—I am glad to see you, and presume you are glad to see me. I see their [sic] is no difference between us (laughter from the ladies). I love this whole Union—all the states and all the stars. After thus exhausting himself he bowed to the crowd [sic], and crab fashion, entered the cars, when the train moved away for Indianapolis amidst enthusiastic cheers from the assembled dozens."11

Indiana railroads and others involved in the route to Pittsburgh had tendered Lincoln "a special train of cars … to run at such time as will suit your convenience. One car to be set apart for yourself and suit [sic] free of charge."12 The inaugural entourage, further reinforced by five Lafayette citizens—William F. Reynolds, Joseph Hanna, Cyrus Ball, James P. Luse, and William S. Lingle—left promptly at the scheduled two-forty P.M.

The trip to the capital was enlivened by mildly absurd contretemps, which the opposition press gleefully publicized. At Thorntown, Lincoln, apropos of his leisurely progress toward Washington, embarked on a rambling yarn about a

  • 10 February 12, 1861. Other Indiana editors similarly complimented Lincoln: "a much better looking man than he is generally represented to be… . The play of his features … bespeaks a man of soul and sensibility." Centreville, Indiana True Republican, February 14, 1861; "His countenance … is winning, pleasing and interesting … the stranger reads humor, honesty, firmness and intelligence in every lineament." Logansport, Indiana, Journal, February 16, 1861.
  • 11 February 14, 1861.
  • 12 Sol Meredith to Lincoln, January 26, 1861, Robert Todd Lincoln Collection, 6770-6771. Microfilm, New York State Library, Albany, New York. Newspaper accounts note a change of engines at Lafayette, but none in the makeup of the train.
political candidate whose horse was so slow that he did not arrive at the scene of the nominating convention until it had adjourned. He was much amused when the train pulled out before he reached the nub of this joke, and at Lebanon "he was jocularly told that some of the Thorntown folks had followed … on foot, and were panting outside to hear the conclusion of the story."13 He good-humoredly tried it again at Lebanon, and this time finished. At Zionsville the train rumbled to a stop at a water tank a hundred yards or so past the station. Whereupon the waiting people took out after it in whooping confusion, some plunging into the deep mud of the ditch on one side of the tracks, some tripping into the deep mud of the beaten path on the other side, and being trampled by the pounding feet of heedless neighbors. The sturdy survivors galloped to the rear platform and drowned out Lincoln's remarks by yelling, "How are you, old boy? How are you, Abe?" at the tops of their voices. "Every station along the road," said the IndianapolisSentinel, "had its crowd—all anxious to see the man whose election to the first office in the gift of a free people has been the cause (whether with reason or not) of the distracted state of the country."14

For two weeks Indianapolis had prepared and anticipated. A citizens' meeting in late January had extended to Lincoln a formal invitation, which he had formally accepted.15 When citizens gathered again on February 2, the disrespectful IndianapolisSentinel reported that the meeting "was patronized by all the seekers for and expectants of Federal offices, and was consequently well attended. It was held at the Court house, and was intensely respectable, and cold, and formal, and lifeless … . The Postoffice applicants—forty-eight in number—looked at the mail agent expectants—fifty-four—who winked at the ten who desired the Marshal-ship, and they nodded to the twenty-eight who were after the Land-office …."16 This meeting created a six-man committee of arrangements, which for a week busily and

  • 13Indianapolis, Indiana, Daily State Sentinel, February 12, 1861.
  • 14 Ibid.
  • 15 Lincoln to Messrs. James Sulgrove, Eric Locke, William Wallace, and John F. Wood, committee, January 28, 1861, Robert Todd Lincoln Collection, 6800.
  • 16 February 4, 1861.
confusedly arranged, handicapped by faulty liaison with arrangers in Springfield. Between February 5 and 7 a barrage of frantic letters and telegrams from Governor Oliver P. Morton, General Steele, and committeeman H. H. Connor confessed ignorance of the inaugural itinerary, asked for information, and urged that the party arrive in Indianapolis not later than four P.M. "Fifty thousand 50000 persons," wired Steele, "will be here to see Mr. Lincoln. Our programme is made for the day time."17

His estimate was no great exaggeration, if any. For this uncitified city the first visit of a President-elect was a gala event of more than carnival proportions. The L. & I. and Madison and Indianapolis Railroads had drawn visitors from distant counties by advertising half-fare excursions. By the afternoon of February 11, the skies had cleared, crowds were pouring in, and the city was bedecked. "Black Republicans and Disunionists," stormed the New AlbanyWeekly Ledger, "hang out the Star Spangled Banner throughout the city to-day, welcoming Abraham Lincoln."18

Arriving in Indianapolis at five o'clock, the inaugural train stopped at the L. & I. Railroad's Missouri Street crossing of Washington Street, salutes thundering, and a thousand cheering people waiting in the mud. In line with the rear platform of the last car were Governor Morton and Mayor Samuel D. Maxwell in a barouche drawn by four white horses "suitably decorated."19 From this rostrum the governor welcomed Lincoln, who responded with a brief speech about the salvation of the Union and the people's responsibility for the fate of the country.20 He and General Steele then took their places in the barouche, and a huge parade immediately got under way, moving east on Washington to Pennsylvania, north to Ohio, west to Illinois, and south to the Bates House. Besides the presidential carriage were other carriages bearing

  • 17 G. K. Steele, to Jno. G. Nicolay, February 6, 1861, Robert Todd Lincoln Collection, 7205-7207.
  • 18 February 13, 1861, quoting an Indianapolis dispatch of February 11, 1861.
  • 19 The editor of the Centreville, Indiana True Republican, who wrote an eye-witness account (February 14, 1861) said that the barouche contained "Gov. Morton, Hon. Win. Cumback, and two others," but the eyes of this eye-witness must have deceived him.
  • 20 For the text of this speech, see George S. Cottman, "Lincoln in Indianapolis," Indiana Magazine of History (Bloomington, 1905-), XXIV (1928), 6.
members of the Indiana Senate and House of Representatives, Indiana Supreme Court judges, city officials, and miscellaneous committees; military units—City Greys, Indianapolis National Guard, Independent Zouaves; Indianapolis City Firemen, several bands, and "Citizens of the State generally." Lincoln "stood erect in the carriage … and courteously acknowledged the welcome received from the fair and brave of the vast concoure [sic] which encompassed the entire route."21

Meanwhile, the committee on arrangements having failed to provide enough carriages, non-parading members of the presidential party lugged their carpet bags to the Bates House on foot. At the hotel, also, arrangements were bungled. "The Bates House is like a bee-hive," wrote Henry Villard, "and standing room can hardly be got anywhere. Only five rooms were provided for the Presidential cortege and they had to submit to doubling up and sleeping three and four in one room."22 Such a disorderly rabble stampeded into the supper room that the neglected Lincoln waited a half hour before anybody remembered to serve him.

An Indianapolis citizen named John H. Bradley neatly understated the rackety commotion when, having invited Lincoln and family to stay at the Bradley home, he innocently wrote that "some of us will be at the Train when you come, to show you the way & take charge of Mrs. L, should the Public lay hold of you."23 That "should" is powerful in its naivete. The public laid hold so violently that Lincoln suffered an almost continuous eighteen-hour ordeal of official receptions, speeches made and heard, interminable handshaking—some three thousand lined up for the privilege Monday night—and all the sweaty buffeting that harassed a President on display. Although it was reported that he and his suite were to appear at the theater Monday evening, no evidence shows that he escaped the besieging mob long enough to get there.24

  • 21Lafayette, Indiana, Daily Courier, February 12, 1861.
  • 22 Villard and Villard, Lincoln on the Eve of '61, pp. 77-78.
  • 23 John H. Bradley to Lincoln, January 27, 1861, Robert Todd Lincoln Collection, 6782.
  • 24 See Indianapolis, Indiana, Daily State Sentinel, February 11, 1861. The only advertised performance on that day was of the Naid Queen, or The Nymphs of the Rhine.

For two days a turgid human stream flowed through Washington Street, surged against the Bates House, and flooded the lobby—amiable gawkers, nagging office seekers, officious committeemen, party functionaries from governor to city councilman. "There did not seem to be any object or aim in the crowd," sniffed the Sentinel, "further than to gratify their curiosity—and there was certainly a total absence of enthusiasm."25 Pickpockets did a lucrative business, lifting a rich harvest of wallets from bemused legislators and others; arrests for drunkenness, however, as the Journal complacently noted, were fewer than usual.

So relentless were the demands upon the guest of honor that even the hostile Democratic paper extended its sympathy: "Mr. Lincoln, we hope, slept well after the labors of his reception. To be pushed and crowded around as he was, beset by red hot politicians steaming with patriotism and whisky, and to have his hand shaken at the rate it was and for so long a period must certainly have tried his powers of endurance. What time he went to bed on Monday night, or how he slept, or at what hour he arose on yesterday morning, the court chronicler has not informed us … ."26 That Lincoln himself felt the strain of the intense pressure is apparent in a squib reporting that "Since he has witnessed the savage interest taken in Bob and himself, Mr. Lincoln is calling for facts, and is in close consultation with Major Fifer, of Lafayette, on the momentous question—'Which is the most savage Injuns—the hostile ones or them that go on foot'."27 Lincoln was also reported to have said "that the shaking hands and fatigue of his reception was harder work than mauling rails."28

In his principal Indianapolis speech, delivered from the balcony of the Bates House at the conclusion of the parade on Monday, he asked questions about possible definitions of the loosely used words, "coercion" and "invasion," stated his belief that federal action to retake national forts and to collect duties did not constitute either coercion or invasion,

  • 25 February 12, 1861. Offsetting this belittling remark is the LafayetteDaily Courier's "deafening shouts of the thousands … from every part of the State," February 12, 1861.
  • 26Indianapolis, Indiana, Daily State Sentinel, February 13, 1861.
  • 27Ibid., February 18, 1861.
  • 28 Centreville, Indiana True Republican, February 14, 1861.
and implied that national government was above that of any state. "On what principle of original right is it that one-fiftieth or one-ninetieth of a great nation, by calling themselves a State, have a right to break up the nation."29 As the first important statement of the inaugural journey, this speech was subjected to searching editorial scrutiny, generally favorable from Republican editors, unfavorable from Democratic. The LafayetteArgus snarled that if the speech were a declaration of intentions, "Mr. Lincoln is guilty of a striking lack of dignity as well as of prudence and of justice," but that if it were merely an attempt to sound out public feeling, "his conduct is more befitting a village pettifogger than the President of a dissolving Republic. In either case Mr. Lincoln's remarks are a gross outrage, not only on good taste but the sacred proprieties of his position."30 The New AlbanyWeekly Ledger roundly condemned: "Lincoln makes a speech—not as a President elect, responding to an invitation extended by citizens of all parties, but as a Black Republican partizan; not straightforward and manly … but in the shape of questions and innuendoes … . We expressed the hope, a few days ago, that no Democrat would so far forget himself as to join in this hollow ceremony of 'respect' to a man whom they all despise as a narrow minded bigot … "31 The temperate New YorkTimes succinctly summed up: "It is very evident from his speech at Indianapolis, that Mr. Lincoln has no sympathy with that theory of our Government which regards it as a voluntary league of sovereign States—from which any one of them may secede at pleasure."32

The Times hit the nail squarely. Lincoln's method of asking, without answering, a series of questions, puzzled and irritated some commentators, yet the drift of those questions was so plain that to the perceptive the speech was perfectly clear. It imported a resolute purpose as positive as that in Lincoln's famous letters to Horace Greeley of August 22, 1862, and to the Workingmen of Manchester, England,

  • 29Lafayette, Indiana, Daily Courier, February 12, 1861. For the text of this speech, see Cottman, "Lincoln in Indianapolis," Indiana Magazine of History, XXIV, 8-9.
  • 30 February 21, 1861.
  • 31 February 13, 1861.
  • 32 February 13, 1861.
of January 19, 1863. That purpose was to save the Union. He seemed to his opponents "a narrow minded bigot" because he firmly rejected "peaceable separation"—likewise compromise on the extension of slavery.

Between the two parties, each professing Union sentiments, was a deep, unbridgeable gulf.33 Militant partisanship extended to minutiae. Illustrative are the contradictory stories of a minor Indianapolis incident involving the Reverend J. W. T. McMullen, who spoke impromptu from the Bates House balcony Tuesday morning. Said the Democratic Sentinel: "a fanatical Methodist … a ranting orator who preaches impulsive sermons composed of eloquent thoughts thrown together without … connection—glittering pearls … from the broken thread of a brilliant fancy that never had a balance pole to sustain it… . what he said … was distasteful to a portion of the crowd who hissed their disapprobation … ."34 Said the Republican Journal: "Rev. J. W. T. McMullen… entertained the vast concourse … with some very sensible remarks which were eloquently uttered and well received."35

Preceding departure for Cincinnati at eleven A.M. February 12, Lincoln breakfasted with the governor at the gubernatorial mansion, by-passed the scheduled visit to the Indiana legislature, and weathered a resumption of Monday's hubbub. Delegations from the Ohio legislature and from the city of Cincinnati were on hand to take over the escorting detail. People started hanging around the Bates House at daybreak, assembling in such numbers that Lincoln was once again introduced from the balcony. When he finally struggled to his carriage, so determined a horde of handshakers swarmed around that the driver had great difficulty getting down Meridian Street to the railroad station, where a jostling jam waited "to see as much as possible of the lion of the day." The presidential coach was handsomely decorated with flags and a gilt image of the American eagle: the boiler of the locomotive, named the "Samuel Wiggins," festooned with evergreens, ribbons, and miniature flags; the headlight adorned with lithographs of the presidents; the

  • 33 For an illuminating survey of that gulf, see Allan Nevins, The Emergence of Lincoln (2 vols., New York, 1950).
  • 34 February 13, 1861.
  • 35 February 13, 1861.
smokestack encircled by thirty-four white stars on a blue field.

The line to Cincinnati was well guarded by a watchman every half mile, each man equipped with an American flag that he waved as a signal that the track was clear and safe. Two-minute stops at Shelbyville and Greensburg allowed time only for Lincoln's appearance on the rear platform, a bow to the people, and a word of thanks. If the presidential suite were somewhat jaded after the rugged experience in Indianapolis, animation was supplied by the vivacious conversation of Mrs. Lincoln, who had come aboard there with sons Willie and Tad. One of the boys "amused himself by asking outsiders, 'Do you want to see "Old Abe",' and then pointing to somebody else."36

From Morris, a small town in Ripley County, the train was reported as arriving "without detention. 37 At Lawrence-burg, the last stop in Indiana, flags and banners hung over the rails, and Lincoln made a short speech to the "enthusiastic multitude." He hoped they were all Union men, promised to protect the rights of citizens on both sides of the Ohio River, and once again urged the people to assert their power in choosing public officers. "If the people remain right, your public men can never betray you," he said: "If, in my brief term of public office, I shall be wicked or foolish, if you remain right, and true, and honest, you cannot be betrayed. My power is temporary and fleeting—yours is as eternal as the principle of liberty. Cultivate and protect that sentiment, and your ambitious leaders will be reduced to the position of servants instead of masters."38

One Lawrenceburg incident gave the IndianapolisSentinel another hilarious opportunity. When Lincoln retired after his short speech, the crowd shouted, "Come back, come back!" That—as the paper told the story—was misinterpreted as a curtain call by Will Cumback, elector at large for Indiana, who "felt that he, among all the distinguished

  • 36 William E. Baringer, A House Dividing (Springfield, Illinois, 1945), 272.
  • 37Lincoln Lore (Fort Wayne, Indiana, April 15, 1929-), No. 272 (June 25, 1934), says: "It is evident that the presidential train stopped at Morris," but the evidence is not apparent. Possibly the telegraph operator there was merely reporting safe passage.
  • 38 For the text of the body of this speech, see William T. Cogge-shall, The Journeys of Abraham Lincoln (Columbus, Ohio, 1865), 30.
men who were present, if not first was at least second in the hearts of his countrymen … . He … took the place which had been occupied by the new President, uncovered his Websterian forehead, smiled and bowed … to what he thought was an admiring … assembly … . But alas! how fickle is popular favor … one universal shout went up … 'get out of the way, Will Cumback, we want to see Old Abe.' And Mr. Cumback subsided. His light was suddenly extinguished. He was snuffed out … . He thought Presidential parties did not amount to any particular sum in good funds."39

The train moved away from Lawrenceburg "amid salutes, music, and tremendous cheering," and shortly thereafter entered Ohio, where Cincinnatians labored to outdo Indianapolis in nonstop handshaking and general exhaustion. After something over twenty-four tumultuous hours in Indiana, Lincoln left the state, not to return until his funeral train brought him back over the same route in 1865.

  • 39 February 21, 1861. This sort of harmless raillery eventually hardened into subversive opposition. Sixteen months later Governor Morton cited the Sentinel as one of several papers "doing incalculable injury to the Union cause … by insidious, malignant and vituperative attacks upon Union men … ." See O. P. Morton to Secretary Stanton, June 25, 1862, Robert Todd Lincoln Collection, 16630-16639.

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.