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Lincoln's Inauguration Journey Buffalo To Albany February 18, 1861

Nov 29, 2017
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The day of rest was over now for Abraham Lincoln and his family 150 years ago today as they resumed the Inauguration Journey with a very early departure from Buffalo, N.Y. The destination for February 18, 1861 was the state capital in Albany. It wasn’t even 6 a.m. when the train got under way that day, leaving early enough, hopefully, to avoid the bedlam which greeted Lincoln when he arrived in Buffalo two days earlier.

There were many stops required along the way that day as the train crossed the entire width of New York state along in order to reach Albany. Newspaper reports from the New York Times tell us that there was deep snow on that cold February morning, which did not deter the determined crowds from showing up at stops along the way in order to see Mr. Lincoln.

At Batavia, New York, it was still very early when Lincoln’s train stopped for a short time. A cannon was fired and the crowd lustily cheered his arrival. As at so many other stops in the past week, Lincoln declined to give a speech. Instead, he thanked the crowd for their dedication and enthusiasm for coming out so early to greet him.

Rochester, New York citizens were probably devastated when they went to the hotel where Lincoln was supposed to speak that morning in their town. Unfortunately, plans had changed and Lincoln instead spoke from the rear of the train, still to a large enough crowd. Once more, he simply spoke some pleasantries and went on his way.

The next stop was in the small town of Clyde, New York. According to the fascinating Disunion Blog by today’s New York Times tells it, a photographer actually took some photographs of Lincoln as he spoke to the crowd assembled there. Unfortunately, those images have never been found. As far as I know, no images of Lincoln’s Inauguration Journey from any stop along the way have been found.

When Lincoln spoke in Syracuse, New York that day, 10,000 people were in the crowd to hear him. The Times reported that a boy who threw a snowball towards Lincoln was arrested, but no other significant crowd problems were noted. Lincoln acknowledged the “very fine and handsome platform” the town had erected for him, yet declined to speak from it. He reminded the crowd that even if he was unwilling to speak from the platform, the crowd should not draw any inference concerning any other platforms (i.e. political platforms or policies) he may or may not be connected with. The crowd laughed and good naturedly forgave Lincoln’s speaking from the train.

In Utica, New York, Lincoln mostly greeted the crowd and addressed the ladies in it by saying that he thought he had the “best of the bargain in sight,” a joke about his supposed “ugliness.” After being introduced to some of the “important men” of Utica, Lincoln once more came out onto the train platform to say farewell.

At Little Falls, New York, Lincoln repeated what he had just said at Utica about the ladies and telling the men that he didn’t think he had the best of the bargain looking at them. Of course the crowd appreciated his short remarks and the train continued onward.

Fonda, New York heard more of the same. The citizens there had erected it’s own platform, which Lincoln declined to speak from. He was very apologetic to the crowd, stating that he simply didn’t have time to say lengthy speeches at every stop.

Next up on the journey that day was Schenectady, New York which also got an apology from Mr. Lincoln for not using its platform to speak from. I wonder if people were disappointed by Lincoln’s refusal to speak on their platforms, even though they were excited by his appearance?

Lincoln’s Inaugural Train finally arrived that day in Albany at around 2:20 p.m. Another mass of humanity awaited the President-Elect as one had at the other major cities along the journey. John Wilkes Booth was appearing in a play at that time in Albany and may very well have been in the crowd. The Times reported that this time around, Lincoln and the rest in the party waited for the military and police to better secure the crowd so the mob scene in Buffalo wouldn’t be repeated here. The image shown above, courtesy of the Gilder Lehrman Institute, shows how Albany appeared in those days.

When Lincoln left the train, he was greeted officially by both the Albany mayor, and the Governor of New York. Lincoln responded with thanks and particularly noted how happy he was that the welcome from the welcoming reception was given “without distinction of party.” He pointed out that the reception should be met for the President-Elect, no matter who had won the election.

Later in the afternoon, Lincoln addressed the State Legislature at the capitol. He profusely thanked them for the pledge that the state’s leaders gave to Lincoln for its support of the Union and assistance to the nation should it come to that. He said “in behalf of the nation, in behalf of the present and future of the nation, in behalf of the civil and religious liberty for all time to come, most gratefully do I thank you.” (yes, Lincoln said “in behalf”, not “on behalf” as we would today) Indeed, New York would eventually contribute more Union soldiers during the Civil War than any other state. Of course, it happened to be the most populous state in the Union, too.

That night Lincoln and Mary were decidedly torn between what turned out to be “warring receptions” as the Governor and Legislature each put on a reception. Apparently the two branches were in strong opposition to each other. The Lincolns did their best, but found the evening to be exhausting, and were very angry at both the Governor and Legislature for the ridiculousness of having to attend two receptions.

The day had been a long one and the Lincolns were exhausted as they retired in Albany for the night. The next day would bring Lincoln’s return to New York City, where nearly one year before he had given his brilliant Cooper Union speech, the speech which even he said had made him President. Would the City residents welcome him adoringly or with skepticism? Only time would tell.

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