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Lincoln's Inauguration Journey – February 11, 1861

Nov 29, 2017
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The first day of Abraham Lincoln’s Inaugural Journey to Washington City (as it was called in those days) began with his famous Farewell Address he gave that morning to his friends and neighbors in Springfield. That was the subject of my previous post. This post will cover the rest of that first day’s journey.

Lincoln appeared to the crowd that day as the photo above depicts. The pose was taken in photographer C.S. German’s Springfield gallery only two days prior to departure, February 9, 1861. It shows the President-Elect with a full beard and somewhat shaggy hair. His wife Mary thought it made him look almost “saintly.”

After Lincoln and his family departed Springfield, he briefly wrote some of the lines of his Farewell Address down on paper for posterity, then his personal secretary John Nicolay wrote out some more of the Address. Lincoln finished it, so the original manuscript of the Address is in both of their handwriting.

Train travel being what it was in the 1860’s, meant frequent stops along the way for more water or wood or coal for the locomotives. This journey would be no different. At most of the stops, Lincoln would at least appear very briefly at the rear of the train and say a few appropriate remarks to the gathered villagers or townspeople. He saved his more important speeches along the journey for the large cities or state capitals of each state he traveled through.
The first stop that day was in the small town of Tolono, Illinois. He spoke only a couple of lines to the crowd, telling it that he hoped that “Behind the cloud the sun is still shining.”
In Danville, Illinois, Lincoln no doubt was greeted at least briefly by some old friends. Lincoln often participated in court cases in that small town, and he had become quite close with two men there. Oliver Davis was Lincoln’s floor manager at the Republican Convention in 1860 which nominated Lincoln. They had served on several cases together. Another friend in that town was Oscar Harmon, also a fellow lawyer and former Illinois state representative. Harmon was killed in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain during the Civil War. When Lincoln himself was later killed, a lock of his hair was given to Harmon’s widow. You can read more about Lincoln’s friends in Danville here.
Soon after, Lincoln’s train reached the Indiana state line, where he spoke about having lived in that state from 1816 to 1830. He promised a bigger and better speech in Indianapolis at the state capitol. The next stop was in Lafayette, Indiana where he marveled at the speed he had traveled that day, remarking that in his youth, it was good if a person had been able to travel 30 miles. He went on to talk about the Union and how he felt that it would yet remain whole.
In Thorntown and Lebanon, Indiana, Lincoln tried to tell a humorous story about a slow horse to the crowds, but the train departed before he could finish the story. The point was basically that he wanted to make it to Washington prior to the Inauguration on March 4. This was a theme he repeated frequently on the journey.
He finally arrived in Indianapolis, the state capital later in the day. In response to a hearty welcome from the governor, Lincoln addressed a large assembly of people as he stood on the rear platform of the train. He told the crowd that the preservation of the Union was as much as their responsibility, if not more, than it was his own responsibility. That everyone who loved the Union must struggle to preserve it.
Later that day from the Bates House (a hotel) also in Indianapolis, Lincoln addressed another large crowd. In this speech, Lincoln spoke strongly against the southern states’ claims that the northern states were trying to “invade” their territory. Lincoln replied or asked that if the Federal Government was simply trying to hold onto its property (i.e., forts being seized by the southern states), how could that, then, be invading? He also asked how could the “sacredness” of a given state be more important than that of the Union?
Thus ended a long first day of Abraham Lincoln’s Inauguration Journey to Washington, February 11, 1861. He had said farewell to his beloved Springfield, and spoken at small towns and large ones as well, in both Illinois and Indiana. The next day was his 52nd birthday.
Won’t you join the Abraham Lincoln Blog as I commemorate each day of his journey, on the 150th anniversary of each particular day? It will be a memorable trip.
I should mention that my source for this series of posts is primarily The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, published in 1953, Roy Blaser, editor. It is an indispensable resource for researching the life of Abraham Lincoln.
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