Abraham Lincoln left New York City 150 years ago today, February 21, 1861 with that day’s destination of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on his Inauguration Journey. But between those two cities, Lincoln and his family traveled through the state of New Jersey where yet more adoring crowds waited.
Lincoln departed New York around 8:00 a.m., probably realizing that he had a lot of work to do to win over it’s business and political leaders. Residents of the city still didn’t quite know what to make of this tall lawyer from the prairie who had dared to commit a fashion faux pas at the opera the previous night when he wore black gloves instead of white ones. The city leaders had treated him condescendingly, as if they figured they could easily manipulate this man who lacked political experience.
The crowds in New Jersey, waiting for him on the other side of the Hudson River, greeted Lincoln as enthusiastically as all the other towns and cities along the route. So many, in fact, the New York Times reported that Lincoln couldn’t reach his train at first. Finally, he made it aboard and the Inauguration Journey continued.
In Jersey City, N.J., Lincoln gave his by now traditional speech of thanks, saying he didn’t have time for a speech, and said farewell. But the New York Tribune reported that the “then followed a rush to shake hands with Mr. Lincoln, and in the rush and crush the policemen and reporters were nearly annihilated.” Lincoln had to reappear and say a few more words to quiet the crowd, such was his apparent popularity in New Jersey.
An estimated 75,000 people greeted Lincoln upon his arrival in Newark, N.J. that morning only to see and hear him speak for not more than two minutes. He thanked the Mayor for the introduction and said general pleasantries. It was much the same in New Brunswick, N.J. as the stop was short and the words were brief.
Lincoln finally arrived at Trenton, N.J., the state capital. Lincoln gave two speeches at the New Jersey state house (shown in the modern photo above), first to the New Jersey Senate. In his speech to the state senate, Lincoln displayed some uncharacteristic sentimentality when he mentioned how as a young boy he had read Mason Weem’s “Life Of (George) Washington” (which is the source of many of the Washingtonian myths such as the cherry tree). Lincoln told the men that he had read the book many times and how the accounts of the Revolutionary War battle in Trenton had caused Lincoln to idolize Washington. He stated that “there must have been something more than common that those men struggled for; that something even more than National Independence; that something that held out a great promise to all the people of the world to all time to come.” Then he admitted that he was “anxious” that the Union and the Constitution continue. This speech revealed how deeply Lincoln felt about the Revolution, the Founding Fathers, and the documents which established the United States.
Lincoln then addressed the General Assembly (similar to House of Representatives) in the state house. Lincoln told the Assembly that he would take the actions that he thought would be “most just to the North, the East, the West, the South, and the whole country.” He said that he would do all that would be in his 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.”
Then in only one sentence, Lincoln at last revealed the strength he had in his convictions about the sectional crisis. After stating that he wanted peace and would work for it, Lincoln stated: “But it may be necessary to put the foot down firmly.” As he spoke these words, he lifted his foot and placed it back down on the platform with enough force that it echoed through the chamber. This action brought mighty cheers from the Assemblymen, most of whom were Democrats. Lincoln showed in this simple gesture that he would accept no compromise about saving the Union.
Lincoln left Trenton a short while later and at last arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After being welcomed by the Mayor of the city, Lincoln spoke once more in generalities, mentioning the “sacred walls” of Independence Hall, and promised that he would do his best to always adhere to the teachings which came from them. Lincoln took care to mention both the Declaration of Independence and Constitution in his address.
The main event in Philadelphia was scheduled for the next day, February 22, Washington’s birthday, when Lincoln would speak at the Hall where the founding documents were written. It was to be a glorious day, the most moving of Lincoln’s Inauguration Journey.
What should have been a restful, peaceful night for Lincoln 150 years ago today, February 21, 1861 became anything but. A conspiracy against Lincoln had come to light, one which was so potentially deadly, that his safe arrival in Washington City was now in jeopardy. More on that tomorrow.