Lincoln’s Second Inauguration
“The President came forward and the sun burst through the clouds.”
February 1958 | Volume 9, Issue 2
Hamlin then adjourned the old Senate, and the new Vice President called the new Senate to order. But Johnson’s ordeal was not yet over. Eight newly elected senators were called upon to take their oath of office. Johnson held out a Bible to them, so they could touch it and bow their heads. Then he dismissed them without formally giving them the oath. Some of the bewildered senators began leaving the stand. J.W. Forney, the clerk of the Senate, had to take over and recall them so he could administer the official oath of office. Since the weather was rapidly improving, he then announced that the procession to the east front of the building should be formed.
The great occasion had begun badly, and there was much shaking of heads when the people who had been in the Senate chamber went outside to seek places on the platform. It was the first inauguration to be held in front of the new iron dome, which had been completed on December 2, 1863, when the head of Thomas Crawford’s statue of Freedom was hauled into place.
The New York Herald’s correspondent tells how the platform quickly filled up: “Ladies, Senators, Negroes, Justices, secretaries, diplomats, and people generally, tumbled upon the platform pell-mell. As the ladies moved on to the north entrance there was a grand national display of ankles. Representative ankles were exhibited by the fair dames and lasses of every state in the Union. The variety of shape and size of hose was perfectly bewildering; but every foot was muddy and every skirt bedraggled. … Colored persons innumerable flocked around, though none were admitted to the Capitol. Soldiers off duty were present in large numbers. … Men, women and children soaked about quietly, caught cold, and waited … The rain had taken all the starch out of them.
“Stanton and Seward retired to the left at some distance from the President and sat down together. They seemed very friendly. Stanton had his arm around Seward’s neck and constantly whispered in his ear. Welles sat by himself, and Justice Chase sat erect and dignified, evidently reflecting that he ought to be in Lincoln’s place. Senator Sumner stood prominently forward as if to attract attention. … The President smiled to himself and seemed greatly to enjoy the sunshine which now streamed upon him. He was dressed in black, with a plain frock coat. In his hand he held a printed copy of his inaugural address. The marshals of the day were grouped around the President, swelling with pride, and often excluding him from sight. The planks of the platform were wet, and the airy position rather chilly. The bands played away most lustily, and their ‘Hail to the Chief' could scarcely be stopped.
“From the platform nothing could be seen but a sea of faces below and a sea of mud beyond. … In the Capitol all the windows were filled with ladies, and the steps and esplanade at the north wing presented the same dense crowd that the central steps did, while on the unfinished parts of the south wing, on all the scaffolding, hundreds of soldiers had clambered up and decorated all that part with the army blue. … As the President came forward there was a cheer but not a great one, and at the same time the sun burst through the clouds, and, though pretty well to the south, lighted up the whole east face very brilliantly. …
“At about one o’clock … the President rose and stepped forward to the reading desk. He was greeted with very faint applause; indeed there was no enthusiasm throughout the address. It was not strictly an inaugural address, since it was read before Mr. Lincoln took the oath. It was more like a valedictory. The President read in a very loud, clear voice, and hundreds of the audience could hear it.
“During the delivery of the speech Stanton and Seward were remarkably attentive, rising and bending forward to listen. The crowd kept pushing nearer and nearer the platform. Sumner smiled superciliously at the frequent scriptural quotations. Negroes ejaculated ‘Bress de Lord’ in a low murmur at the end of almost every sentence. Beyond this there was no cheering of any consequence. … After a brief pause the President and Chief Justice rose together and the oath of office was administered. The voice of the Chief Justice was inaudible, but the workings of his countenance could be distinctly seen as he labored to be impressive. Then there was a cheer, and the President came forward and bowed and smiled. During the whole ceremony he looked unusually handsome. When delivering his speech his face glowed with enthusiasm, and he evidently felt every word that he uttered.
“Cries for Andy Johnson next ensued. There was a momentary delay and then the Vice President presented himself and waved both hands. There were calls of ‘Speech! Speech!’ and some applause when Andy appeared. He rubbed his red face with his hands as if to clear up his ideas, but did not succeed and said nothing. A lane was then opened through the crowd on the platform, and the presidential party retired into the Capitol amid the thunders of artillery in Capitol Square and the music of the bands.”