1865 March 18: Letter Describing Lincoln’s Inauguration
The following letter about President Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration comes from The Prescott Journal of March 18, 1865.
Unfavorable Weather—A Great Crowd in Attendance—
An Auspicious Omen—The Inaugural Address—
The Reception at the President’s—A Great Jam—
Mr. Lincoln careworn.
Editorial Correspondence of the State Journal.
WASHINGTON, March 4.
Dear Journal :—This has been a proud day for Abraham Lincoln, and for the United States. Since the days of Old Hickory,¹ no man has been sufficiently strong with the American people to receive a re-election to the highest position in their gift, until they found in Abraham Lincoln, all that is noble, wise and honest, and with an enthusiasm and unanimity never before known in the country, he was chosen for a second term, and today witnessed his re-inauguration, in the presence of assembled thousands and tens of thousands ; and amid the huzzus [sic: huzzahs] of grateful and admiring people.
It is not my intention to give any extended notice of the ceremony. This will reach you from other sources, more ably done, than I could hope to do it, and my time is too much occupied to do more than to give a few brief paragraphs.
For the past week, strangers have been pouring into the city from all parts of the country until, for several days, it was impossible to find a place more eligible than the soft side of a plank upon which to sleep. On Thursday morning the rain began to fall, and continued through that day and the next, rendering the streets muddy to a fearful degree. Saturday morning came, and with it every indication of a terrific storm. At five o’clock the wind blew furiously, causing the people to shudder, as if the rebels were upon them. At nine o’clock, while we were at breakfast, darkness came upon us, as if in a total eclipse, rendering the lighting of gas necessary. All anticipations of pleasure during the day vanished. All hope of witnessing the inauguration, except to such as could find place in the Senate Chamber, was at an end. Tens of thousands who had come thousands of miles to behold the ceremony, felt that they were doomed to a sad disappointment, and gloom pervaded every locality. At about 10 o’clock the clouds lighted up a little, and the masses were on their way to the Capitol. The rain continued to drizzle every few moments, but it had no terror for the people. They were all striving to find some spot where they could witness the inaugural ceremony. It mattered not whether mud was one inch or twelve inches in depth ; or whether ladies were dressed in calico or satin ; regardless of all comfort, of all things, except the one great event, they made their way as fast as they could to some point as near the stand as possible. Thus passed the time till 12 o’clock. Once all the chairs from the platform were removed, during a shower indicating that the ceremony was to take place within the Capitol. The hopes of the crowed again sunk. As the important time approached, the chairs were returned to their place on the platform—all eyes brightened, and were anxiously turned to the East front of the Capitol.
The procession finally arrived. The door of the eastern front of the Capitol were thrown open ; the Chief Marshal appeared on the platform ; he was followed by the Judges of the Supreme Court, headed by the majestic Chief Justice Chase [Salmon P. Chase], all wearing their full silk robes. The tall form of the President appeared. At this very moment the sun came out clear. Shining brightly upon the scene below, for the first time in three days. The clouds broke away at once, and the balance of the day was as beautiful as was ever seen here or elsewhere. He was bullied with shout upon shout from tens of thousands of throats. The platform was soon filled with dignitaries who had been within the Capitol, including foreign ministers, &c., &c. The oath of office was administered by the Chief Justice in an impressive manner. The inaugural address was then pronounced by the President, earnestly and distinctly. At its close, the huzzas of the multitude and the booming of cannon, announced to the surrounding country that Abraham Lincoln had been duly inaugurated President of the United States for a second term of four years.
The spectacle was sublime, and the happiness of the people was unbounded. The prayer of the nation is, that the noble head may live through his term, and that during that time, peace may be restored, and all portions of the country brought to rally under the old flag, in harmony and prosperity.
We are no believer in omen, but may we not look upon the weather preceding the inauguration, and that which followed, as ominous. For days heavy clouds hung over us, and then the threatening storm as of a tornado, the elements gave way, and all was bright and glorious. During the first term of the President, clouds have hung over country. At times fearful forebodings have been witnessed, as of impending ruin. Now, as the second term commences, all is hopeful of peace and quiet. The sun shines upon the country, and every loyal heart boats high with assurance of an early triumph of the National force over all of its enemies, and of a speedy restoration of the Union in all of its former unanimity and glory. God speed today.
Prior to the ceremonies above alluded to, within the Senate Chamber, the Vice President was inaugurated. This ceremony was witnessed by all who could gain admittance to the room. It being so similar to what every body has seen in the opening of our State Senate, no description seems necessary. Vice President Hamlin² delivered a brief and feeling speech on retiring, after which he introduced Mr. Johnson, administered to him the oath of office, and the new Vice President delivered a speech of some length, not in every respect specially appropriate, yet correct in sentiment. Mr. Johnson has just recovered from severe illness, and is hardly himself as yet. The people expect much from him, and we trust they will not deceived. In the past, he has done nobly. In the future, we hope he will do even better.
March 5, 1865.
Last evening the President held a grand reception—more correctly, a grand jam.—Everybody was there, and we should say everybody’s relations. For about three and a half hours the President stood in one spot, shaking hands with the people as fast as they could crowd past him ; and when the doors were closed for the night, thousands were outside, intent upon gaining admission to the Presidential mansion. We were fortunate enough to gain admittance, but were pained to witness the care-worn appearance of Mr. Lincoln. During the whole night previous he was at the Capitol, attending upon the last hours of Congress ; and the labors of the day had been immense. To crowd upon him such labors in the evening seemed almost cruel. But the people must see him, and they did. The noble old chief had a kind word for all, and his tall form—ungainly though it may be called—towered above all others, and was the object of special admiration to all present. As we stood in the crowd, we witnessed one distinguished man looking intent upon the President, and after a few moments he said, audibly, “Say what they will, Old Abe is the noblest looking man in the nation.” In this expression we felt to respond with a hearty Amen!
For the present, adieu. D. A.
1. Andrew Jackson, 7th president of the United States (1767-1845).
2. Lincoln’s first vice president was Hannibal Hamlin (1809-1891), the 26th governor of Maine (1857), a U.S. senator (1848-57, 1857-61, 1869-81) and member of the House of Representatives (1843-47) from Maine, and the United States Minister of Spain (1881-82).