Editor's note: This article was
originally published in The Charger in the Spring of 2002.
On the way to Washington, three
days after his 53rd birthday, President-elect Abraham Lincoln
stopped overnight in Cleveland for his only visit to the city.
(Three days later in Montgomery, Alabama, Jefferson Davis was
inaugurated President of the Confederacy.) To feel the immediacy of
the times, the story is best told directly from the pages of the
Cleveland Plain Dealer that was then an evening newspaper. These
accounts are quoted over a two-day period beginning on Friday
evening, February 15, 1861.
EPITAPH FOR THE LATE AMERICAN
Here lies a people, who, in attempting to liberate the Negro, lost
his or her own freedom.
THE PRESIDENT IS COMING
As we go to press the city is astir in anticipation of the arrival
of the President elect. Thousands of strangers are in from the
country to greet him. He will leave the Pittsburgh train at Euclid
depot, and will travel through the ‘Street of Palaces’ to the
MUD AND MUTINY
We are sorry that mud paves our streets and mutiny dwells in the
camp of the Republicans on this occasion. The mud can be
endured...but mutiny, which has been the death of the old Whig
party, divided the Democratic Party, and now threatens the
existence of the dominant party... Peace be with thee, Whigs and
Wide Awakes! Let the President leave town and then-- (!)
As the reader has already
suspected, the Plain Dealer had little sympathy with the
Republican Party in those bygone days.
PREPARING FOR UNCLE ABE
Flags are flying from the many liberty poles about the city.
Numerous buildings are decorated with the stars and stripes and
the streets look quite gay. The mud, however, is awful. The rain
last night softened it up and some of the streets through which
the procession will pass are a perfect mush. Some forty young
Republicans are prepared to form an escort on horseback to Mr.
Robert Lincoln, the ‘Prince of rails,’ in case the clouds are not
too threatening.” The weather did not cooperate, but Lincoln’s
eldest son still rode with them.
LINCOLN COME AND GONE
A very flattering reception was given to the President-elect in
this city, and we are happy to state by citizens, without respect
of party... Euclid Street was alive with teams and people...and
during a portion of the afternoon it alternately rained and
snowed. Artillery and Dragoon [troops] were drawn up in line...The
Grays were stationed to keep the platform and station house clear
of the crowd. Mr. Lincoln alighted from the train... A smile
illuminated his countenance as he passed through the crowd (a
friend insists on calling it a disagreeable smirk) and he bowed
stiffly and angularly as he passed along.”
Despite the weather, Lincoln rode
with his wife and sons in an open carriage pulled by four white
horses. The parade started at the railroad station where today
East 55th Street crosses Euclid Avenue. Wagons carried workmen from
local industries, “one of which bore a portrait of the President,
and another this inscription, ‘We forge bonds for the Union.’ As the
procession moved down Euclid Street, the throng was immense.”
Along the way, Lincoln stopped his
carriage and climbed out to hear music performed by a brass band,
and then, carried by her father, a little girl “presented Mr.
Lincoln with a handsome bouquet for which he rewarded her with a
House Hotel where Lincoln spent his night in Cleveland.
He addressed the crowd the next day from its second floor
When the procession arrived at the
Weddell House both Bank and Superior streets were "densely thronged
with people.” Lincoln, along with his family and entourage, spent
the night in the Weddell House, the best hotel in Cleveland. Among
those going to Washington, John Milton Hay, Lincoln’s assistant
private secretary, later married a Clevelander and spent some time
in the city before becoming Ambassador to Great Britain and then
Secretary of State under William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.
Coming up from his wholesale
business in the Flats, John D. Rockefeller probably stood in the
rain like the others to hear Lincoln address the crowd. The
Rockefeller Building, constructed by the Oil Tycoon in 1903, stands
at the corner of Superior Avenue and West 6th Street where Lincoln
spoke from a balcony in 1861. A plaque marks the historic spot of
Lincoln’s speech, ignored by most pedestrians on their way to work
or a football game.
“Fellow-citizens of Cleveland and
Ohio,” Lincoln said, looking down at the crowd. “We have come here
upon a very inclement afternoon. We have marched for two miles
through the rain and mud. Your large numbers testify that you are in
earnest about something. Do I desire that you should think this
extreme earnestness is about me? I should be exceedingly sorry to
see such devotion, if that were the case. But I know it is paid to
something worth more than any one man, or any thousand, or ten
thousand men—devotion to the Constitution; to the Union and the
Laws; to the perpetual liberty of the people of this country...
There is one feature that gives me great pleasure; and that is to
learn that this reception is given, not alone by those with whom I
chance to agree, politically, but by all parties... If Judge Douglas
had been elected President of the United States, and had this
evening been passing through your city, the Republicans ought, in
the same manner, to have come out to receive him. If we don’t make
common cause and save the good old ship, nobody will pilot
Lincoln finished his brief speech
and then mingled with well-wishers. “The workmen at the Newburgh
Rolling Mill presented Mr. Lincoln with a T-rail of their
manufacture, which was courteously received.” Stepping forward, Mr.
McIlrath turned around and “backed up to Lincoln’s back, and
reaching over patted the President elect on the head, saying ‘I am
taller than the President.’”
Besides reporting on the
celebrations, the Plain Dealer made note of other occurrences
at the corner of Bank and Superior.
The ardent and admiring devotees of ‘Old Abe’ gave him more
attention than they did their pockets last night...” Among those
who were robbed was “E. F. Gaylord, gold watch ($125) and cash
($50)... We will report the rest when they come in. No Democrats
in the above list.
Saturday was as fine a day as could be desired for the trip of the
Presidential party to Buffalo and formed a delightful contrast to
the previous day... There was a very large crowd at the depot when
the train started, to whom Mr. Lincoln waived an adieu from the
A band played “Hail Columbia”
amidst shouts of “Goodbye Uncle Abe” and “God bless you.” When the
train pulled out of the station, like an omen of things to come,
“Wm. Hazen had his hand shot off whilst firing a salute.”