Sunday, May 17, 2009

'The Humblest Of All Individuals'

Lincoln addresses New York crowd en route to inauguration
19th of 45 excerpts from Lincoln by David Herbert Donald:
For 12 days [in February 1861] the presidential train slowly moved across the country, in a journey of 1,904 miles over eighteen railroads. . . . The stated object of this roundabout journey was to give the people an opportunity to become acquainted with their new Chief Executive, the first American president to be born west of the Appalachian Mountains. To satisfy this natural curiosity Lincoln made very frequent appearances at the rear of the train, where, as he said, he could offer people the opportunity "of observing my very interesting countenance." . . .

The journey offered superb opportunities for a politician, and Lincoln played the crowds with consummate skill. He complimented everybody and everything. At Cincinnati he said that the greeting he had received "could not have occurred in any other country on the face of the globe, without the influence of free institutions which we have increasingly enjoyed for three-quarters of a century." Repeatedly he expressed admiration for the many "good-looking ladies" in his audiences. At Westfield, New York, he called up Grace Bedell, who had urged him to let his whiskers grow, and gave her a big kiss. He praised the bands, and to avoid making a speech at London, Ohio, urged them to "discourse in their more eloquent music than I am capable of" while "the iron horse stops to water himself." . . .

The journey had the larger purpose of encouraging support for the Union and fostering loyalty among the Northern people. For this reason Lincoln insisted that all reception committees and demonstrations along the route be nonpartisan. He set the tone early in the joutney in his remarks at Lafayette, Indiana: "While some of us may differ in political opinions, still we are all united in one feeling for the Union. We all believe in the maintenance of the Union, of every star and every stripe of the glorious flag." . . . He called himself "the humblest of all individuals that have ever been elected to the Presidency," a man "without a name, perhaps without a reason why I should have a name."

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