Lincoln and Seward Drop By Uninvited

Saturday, Februrary 23, 1861

Lincoln quietly slipped into Washington DC as William Seward, soon to be the new administration’s Secretary of State, overslept. He wanted to meet Lincoln at the depot, but instead met him at the Willard Hotel. He and Lincoln shared a few words and breakfast before the former retired to his room for a few hours rest.1

Word was now getting around town that Lincoln was at the Willard Hotel. The Peace Conference, also being held in the Willard, was abuzz with the news. And speaking of news, the reporters descended and word swiftly spread across the land.

After getting some shut-eye, Lincoln and Seward dropped in on President Buchanan. They were unannounced. Although Buchanan was in the middle of a cabinet meeting, he and the cabinet were cordial and welcoming.

General-in-Chief Winfield Scott’s office was their next stop, but since he was not expecting to be called upon, he wasn’t there. Lincoln headed back to the Willard for a nap, which actually turned into a meeting with Stephen Douglas and a few Illinois politicians.

That afternoon, Lincoln met with possible cabinet member Montgomery Blair while Seward met Mary Lincoln and family at the Depot.2

Mary’s journey from Harrisburg to Washington is a story in and of itself. Mr. Lincoln had heard that the whole train he was believed to be on was to be blown up. While he took a secret train, his family remained on schedule, leaving Harrisburg in the morning and arriving in Baltimore at 11:30am. The crowds in Baltimore had gathered and they were most definitely not Lincoln supporters. The rumor that Lincoln was already in Washington was making the rounds, but few believed it.

Mary’s train was boarded by some especially enthusiastic onlookers while others cursed and some cheered. At the depot, “oaths, obscenity, disgusting epithets and unpleasant gesticulations were the order of the day,” according to the New York Times.

They made it to the capitol safely, but the whole ordeal was highly criticized in the press.3

That evening, Mary took a tour of the White House while Lincoln dined with Seward. Then it was back to the Willard for a meet-and-greet with 100 or so Peace Convention delegates. Salmon P. Chase, also on the cabinet shortlist, provided the introductions.

The Peace Convention was just that: a convention to find a peaceful solution. It was sponsored by Virginia and therefore was pretty much all about compromise. Lincoln admitted that, while there might be good reasons for a compromise and that now could be the time for one, that was not what he was elected to do.

This whole meet-and-greet quickly turned into an hour long debate with neither side gaining anything.4

__________________

This date was the day that the Texas public would decide upon secession. While the Texas Secession Convention drew up the orders to leave the Union, they left it subject to a public vote.

They clearly thought highly of their constituents as they had already sent members to the Confederate capitol in Montgomery and had been officially accepted as the seventh state of the Confederacy.

Though the votes wouldn’t be counted and everything finally resolved until early March, the public voted 46,135 to 14,747 in favor of secession.5



  1. Days of Defiance by Maury Klein. []
  2. Lincoln President-Elect by Harold Holzer. []
  3. A wonderful account of this day can be found in the book The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage by Daniel Mark Epstein. []
  4. Lincoln President-Elect by Harold Holzer. []
  5. Texas in the Confederacy by Clayton E. Jewett, University of Missouri Press, 2002. []
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