Lincoln Becomes President

Monday, March 4, 1861 – Lincoln’s Inauguration

The morning of the Inauguration was cloudy and rainy. Lincoln was up early, going over his speech while President Buchanan was holding his last cabinet meeting.

It was during this meeting that Secretary of War Holt rushed into Buchanan’s office with a dispatch from Major Anderson at Fort Sumter. A couple of weeks ago, Anderson had said that he could hold out, that reinforcements weren’t needed. However, now that the Confederates were building more and more batteries, he felt that he needed 20,000 troops. That was nearly 4,000 more men than were in the entire United States army and most of those were in the west.

Thankfully (for Buchanan), this was the last dispatch he received before leaving office and the last thing discussed before leaving to pick up Lincoln.

It was Buchanan’s duty to accompany Lincoln to the inauguration ceremonies.

The crowds had been clogging the streets since 8am. By the time Buchanan’s carriage pulled up to the Willard Hotel, the place was packed with men climbing fences and trees to get a better look.

As President and President-elect made their way to the Capitol, the crowds cheered and numerous soldiers in town to police the event snapped to attention. It took an hour to arrive. It was during this procession that Buchanan, finally relieved, finally finished said to Lincoln, “My dear sir, if you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man indeed.”

Vice President-elect Hannibal Hamlin swore his oath to a “standing room only” Senate Chamber. Lincoln’s oath would be sworn outside, in front of the Capitol.

As per tradition, Lincoln would give his address prior to being sworn in.

Lincoln spoke slowly, clearly. He addressed the United States, but looked towards the South. Not only was there no reason for secession, but there was not even reason for apprehension. He had no interest in interfering with slavery.

“The Union of these States is perpetual,” said Lincoln. It could not be dissolved. “The Union is unbroken.” He assured, “there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority.”

His address was drawing to a close. “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.”

The ending that he had originally conceived was harsher. With the help of Seward and of poetry, he had turned it around.

“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 battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone 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.”

With that, Chief Justice Taney, who had delivered the Dred Scott ruling, swore in Abraham Lincoln as the 16th president of the United States of America.1


In the other capital, the capital that Lincoln would not recognize, the Confederate Congress flew the first official Confederate Flag over the Alabama state Capitol. It was run up at noon, just as Lincoln was arriving for the ceremonies in Washington.

The flag consisted of a “red field with a white space extending horizontally through the center, and equal in width to one-third the width of the flag. The red space above and below to be the same width as the white. The union blue extending down through the white space and stopping at the lower red space. In the center of the union a circle of white stars corresponding in number with the States in the Confederacy.”

It would be known as the “stars and bars.”2

  1. Lincoln President-Elect by Harold Holzer with Days of Defiance by Maury Klein. []
  2. Days of Defiance by Maury Klein. []
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3 thoughts on “Lincoln Becomes President

  1. It’s interesting that everyone thinks of the second flag and forgets the stars and bars. It’s a nice looking flag… Why did it get forgotten?

  2. Perhaps it was considered too similar to the United States flag? The \Confederate Flag\ as we are accustomed to calling the \X\ with stars on a field of red was distinctly different…

    1. That’s pretty well right. They felt it was too confusing on the field of battle (which it was). The “Confederate Flag” we know of now was originally the CS Navy ensign. It was then adopted as the battleflag and then incorporated into the National Flag.

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