Monday, March 4, 2013

Abraham Lincoln's First Inauguration as President, Monday, March 4, 1861

"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
~ Abraham Lincoln, first Inaugual Address

Since Lincoln's election in November 1860, seven states had left the Union. Worried that the election of a Republican would threaten their rights, especially slavery, the lower South seceded and formed the Confederate States of America. In the process, some of those states seized federal properties such as armories and forts. By the time Lincoln arrived in Washington, D.C., for his inauguration, the threat of war hung heavy in the air. Lincoln took a cautious approach in his remarks, and made no specific threats against the Southern states. As a result, he had some flexibility in trying to keep the states of the upper South--North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware--in the Union.
Jefferson Davis had been inaugurated as the President of the Confederacy two weeks earlier.  
Chief Justice Roger Taney administered the executive oath for the seventh time. The Capitol itself was sheathed in scaffolding because the copper and wood "Bulfinch" dome was being replaced with a cast iron dome designed by Thomas U. Walter.
Lincoln in carriage en route to Capitol Building
The burden of Lincoln's safety fell on the aged shoulders of Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott, celebrated war hero and head of the U.S. Army. He wrote of this duty as "the most critical and hazardous event with which I have ever been connected." Not only was Lincoln's life endangered by Southern secessionists, but Scott himself received many death threats if he "dared to protect the ceremony by military force." Scott rounded up as many soldiers as possible from his scant forces, so when Lincoln rode to the Capitol, a reporter noted, "His carriage was closely surrounded on all sides by marshals and cavalry, so as almost to hide it from view."   Sixteen-year-old Julia Taft and her mother watched the procession from a hardware store because the Capitol might prove too dangerous. "As we took our places a file of green-coated sharpshooters went through up to the roof. The whisper went round that they had received orders to shoot at any one crowding toward the President's carriage."  She noticed the crowd seemed hostile toward Lincoln and heard a woman remark, "There goes that Illinois ape, the cursed Abolitionist. But he will never come back alive."

The President-elect rode with President Buchanan in an open carriage to the Capitol, where he took the oath of office on the East Portico. This was the first time Lincoln appeared in public with his beard as president, which he had grown in between being elected and his inauguration. 

Senator Edward D. Baker, a longtime friend of the Lincolns, introduced the president-elect to a crowd of about 25,000 people. Carl Schurz, another political friend, watched the proceedings intently. "I saw Lincoln step forward to the desk upon which the Bible lay -- his rugged face, appearing above all those surrounding him, calm and sad."

Lincoln pulled out a pair of reading glasses, secured his manuscript with a gold-headed cane, and tried to lay down his new silk hat. Schurz said, "I witnessed the remarkable scene when Lincoln, about to deliver his inaugural address, could not at once find a convenient place for his hat, and Douglas took that hat and held it like an attendant, while Lincoln was speaking."

As for 83-year-old Roger Taney, he said, "I saw the withered form of Chief Justice Taney, the author of the famous Dred Scott decision, that judicial compend of the doctrine of slavery, administer the oath of office to the first President elected on a distinct anti-slavery platform." Taney died in office three years later, and Lincoln filled the position with abolitionist Salmon Chase.

In his inaugural address, Lincoln promised not to interfere with the institution of slavery where it existed, and pledged to suspend the activities of the federal government temporarily in areas of hostility. However, he also took a firm stance against secession and the seizure of federal property. The government, insisted Lincoln, would "hold, occupy, and possess" its property and collect its taxes. 

Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, sat behind Lincoln during the speech,  "expecting to hear its delivery arrested by the crack of a rifle aimed at his heart, but it pleased God to postpone the deed, though there was forty times the reason for shooting him in 1860 that there was in '65, and at least forty times as many intent on killing or having him killed. No shot was then fired, however; for his hour had not yet come."

Six weeks later, the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, and the Civil War began.

Abraham Lincoln's First Inaugural Address

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