The 1861 Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln
Under Construction: A City and a Presidency
The beginning and closing scenes featuring Washington DC in the film Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, accurately portray architectural construction underway on the partially built Capitol Building and Washington Monument. The sight of the partial construction fading into the completed modern-day city is eerie in the final scene - we viewers want to go back and be with Abraham -- Back to the Gettysburg Address, back to the First Inaugural Address.
On Inauguration Day, March 4, 1861 the Capitol's iron rotunda was not yet completed and by order of the President Elect, construction continued as a symbol of strength and of promise that the United States of America would endure. Seven Southern States had already seceded from the Union (see the link above in order to view the order of succession of States). Lincoln's First Inaugural Address reasoned with them to stay, on the basis of Constitutional Law and of friendship.
If people see the Capitol going on, it is a sign we intend the Union shall go on. - Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln Years: From March 4, 1861 to April 14, 1865
Site of President Lincoln's Assassiation on April 14, 1865, approximately one month after his second Inauguration.
Swearing Allegiance on March 4, 1861
The US Presidential Inauguration of 1861 occurred on a Saturday (?) nine years before the birth of my grandfather, his side of the family all living to about 100 and having children almost as long. My great grandfather was living on Eastern Ohio farmland, son of English parents that had lived long in Ireland.
During the Great Potato Famine, these folks came to America before they were sent away like others in their country, leaving one or two in Pennsylvania and waving goodbye as others went on to the West to settle in Texas and California, passing through US Territories that were not yet States.
The westward bound saw different Native Americans from those in the East and they saw ranchers, banditos, and Black cowboys; they viewed deserts, plains, and mountains. They saw cattle drives and Main Street saloons and they saw thousands of miles in their new homeland.
The locomotive had proven useful for transportation and rail lines proceeded westward to the Pacific Coast with some of the Famine escapes building it alongside the Chinese. The National Road was also under construction and Ohio had been a US State for just 58 years.
The United States of America was less that a hundred years old and already, seven states had withdrawn from the Union before the 16th President could sit in the Oval Office.
This was the nature of life in America at the time that Abraham Lincoln took the Presidential Oath of Office for the first time and my great grandfather joined the Union Army and went to war.
I happen temporarily to occupy this big White House. I am a living witness that any one of your children may look to come here as my father's child has.-- Abraham Lincoln, speech to 166th Ohio Regiment, August 22, 1864
Note: the Ohio 166th was one of two regiments in which my great grandfather served.
Route To the 1861 Inauguration
The Willard Hotel is a few blocks from the White House, which is at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
The Hub of DC
The Willard Hotel was the prime meeting place in DC during the Lincoln years. During the month of February 1861, the Peace Conference of States met at the Willard continually in efforts to avoid the American Civil War.
The Lincolns stayed in a large corner suite on the second floor. Today, an Abraham Lincoln Suite is 1245 square feet in size. It functions as a full scale residence and sits on a courtyard.
See The Willard Intercontinental Hotel.
Half-Completed Capitol Dome
The Lincoln Papers
Historic Hotel Stay, February 23 - March 4, 1861
According to Mary Higgins Clark in her historical fiction work called Mount Vernon Love Story, President George Washington walked a short distance to the inauguration of his successor, John Adams.
On a Monday, the day of Lincoln's first inauguration, the President Elect, staying at the Willard Hotel, was met by outgoing President President James Buchanan. They left in a horse drawn carriage in enough time to arrive at the half-completed Capitol Building before the 1:00 PM event commencement. The wseather was rainy until the middle of the morning, followed by sun and mild temperatures during the afternoon.
All points along the Inaugural Procession route were covered by US Army Cavalry and Infantry with riflemen perched in windows of the Capitol Building as well.
The Willard Hotel is still a successful establishment in the 2010s, with room rates beginning at $207/night (2013) and ranging upwards of $900; higher prices are required for suites. A five-star hotel and registered on the National Historical Records of Historic Places, the hotel displays Abraham Lincoln's own bill as a historical decoration.The President Elect chose to stay at the Willard before his inauguration, because of an assassinaton plot in Baltimore MD was uncovered. feeling the hotel to be the safest place to stay. He checked in on February 23, 1861. Mary Todd Lincoln and the Lincoln sons joined him and they stayed together at the Willard until March 4, Inauguration Day.
Beginning as a few connected buildings in the mid-1800s, the structure expanded vertically and horizontally, becoming Washington DC's first skyscraper with a grand reopening in 1904.
Willard Hotel records (willardhotel,com) show that after the Inauguration ceremoneis, the new President returned to the hotel to watch the Inaugural Parade and participate in the Inaugural Luncheon.
INAUGURAL LUNCHEON MENU
- Mock Turtle Soup
- Corned Beef and Cabbage
- Parsley Potatoes
- Blackberry Pie.
The Half-Completed Capital Building
1:00 PM, Monday, March 4, 1861: US Capitol Building
In front of a crowd of 25,000 onlookers, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Roger B. Taney administered the US Presidential Oath of Office to Abraham Lincoln, making him the 16th President of the United States in 1861.
In 2013, President Elect Barack Obama borrowed the Lincoln Bible used in 1861 by the 16th President, for.the January 2013 Inauguration.
I, Abraham Lincoln, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Lincoln was sworn in as he repeated the words above, wearing a beard in public for the first time. The swearing-in ceremony was witnessed by Clerk of the Supreme Court, William Thomas Carroll, who purchased the Bible shown below, right, for the occasion. Carroll then recorded the event in the back of this Bible used that day.
After the swearing in, Lincoln went to the White House and that evening, he and wife Mary Todd Lincoln attended the single Inaugural Ball, outside in a temporary building. There remains at least one picture or drawing of the structure today (see below).
The dance hall was erected behind Washington DC City Hall at the time and called the "White Muslin Palace of Aladdin." It must have been similar to the big white tents used for weddings today. Author Margaret Leech wrote in her book, Reveille in Washington (1941):
The palace was actually a temporary plank structure, divided into rooms for dancing and for supper, and dependent for dressing rooms on City Hall, ladies in the Common Council chamber, and gentlemen in the courtroom.
The New York Times printed that the temporary ballroom was gas-lighted by lamps and decorated with shields and flags. The décor probably reflected the upcoming Civil War and the Union's and Lincoln's determination to win and to preseerve the United States as a nation. The following day, the US Capitol and the Inuaguration Ball structure were put to use as camps and headquarters for Union troops. The ballroom was moved to the east about one kilometer and reconstructed after July 1861 and stood until 1866.
1861 Inaugural Ball
To the White House and the Inauguration Ball
The Lincoln Family returned to the Willard Hotel for the Inauguration Parade and Luncheon, then moved into the White House.
Site of the Inaugural Ball
President's National Park, the White House
- President's Park (White House)
The President of the United States and their family live in a national park! This park, called President's Park, has been a part of the national park system since 1933.