Lincoln Sworn in as 16th President
President-elect Lincoln had arrived in Washington clandestinely before dawn on February 23, escorted by a railroad detective named Allan Pinkerton. But on March 4, rampant rumors and the real danger of assassination notwithstanding, Lincoln rode with President Buchanan in an open carriage to the Capitol. Riflemen had taken positions on the roofs of prominent buildings along Pennsylvania Avenue and in windows of the Capitol building.
The inauguration ceremony took place on the East Portico of the Capitol, the opposite side of the building from what we know as the “national mall.” The Capitol itself, its dome unfinished, was surrounded by scaffolding.
Lincoln’s close friend and former legal and political associate Senator Edward D. Baker of Oregon began the ceremony, saying simply, “Fellow-citizens, I introduce to you Abraham Lincoln, the President-elect of the United States.” Then Lincoln, dressed in a new tall hat and black suit, black boots, and white shirt, stepped forward to deliver his address. He said, in part:
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Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States, that by the accession of a Republican Administration, their property, and their peace, and personal security, are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed, and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”
In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to “preserve, protect, and defend it.”
I am loath to close. 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 hearth-stone, 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.
Only then did the elderly Chief Justice Roger Taney, author of the Dred Scott decision and described by Carl Sandburg as “worn, shrunken, odd, with ‘the face of a galvanized corpse,'” administer the presidential oath to his most prominent critic. An artillery battery boomed its salute, and the ceremony was over.
Confederates Run it up the Flagpole
It was no coincidence that at noon the same day in Charleston, South Carolina, the first flag of the Confederate States of America was adopted and run up the flag pole, to the cheers of the crowd.
For want of a national anthem, the band played, apparently without any sense of irony, “Massa’s in de Cold Ground.” 1
The inaugural ball was held in Washington’s Judiciary Square, in a temporary structure that the press called the “Palace of Aladdin.” Those whose sympathies lay with the South did not attend.
President Gets Bad News on Day One
On the morning after the Inauguration, Lincoln found on his desk a report from the officer in command of Fort Sumter, Major Robert Anderson, saying that their provisions would be exhausted by April 15. Unless resupplied by then, he would have to surrender. Anderson estimated that it would take a force of 20,000 to make the fort secure. In 1861 the entire U.S. Army numbered about 16,000, mostly scattered in western outposts along the Indian frontier.” 2