- Historic Sites
Lincoln’s Second Inauguration
“The President came forward and the sun burst through the clouds.”
February 1958 | Volume 9, Issue 2
When the visitors got inside they were hurried through the halls to the East Room, where the Marine Band was playing and where government and military dignitaries were clustered in exclusive little groups around the formal reception room. There, according to the Star, “The President, in a plain black suit with white kid gloves, was in excellent spirits … and received all visitors cordially. It is estimated that he shook hands with between five and six thousand persons during the course of the evening. Mrs. Lincoln was also kept fully occupied. … She was dressed most charmingly in an elegant white satin dress, the skirt tastefully draped with black lace, a rich black lace shawl … a costly pearl necklace, etc., etc.”
The carpets were covered to protect them from mud brought in on the visitors’ feet, and soldiers and police guided the line of eager people through the hallways. But despite these precautions, the visitors did some damage, as they always did when they were permitted to invade the White House. Even the watchful soldiers and Metropolitan Police could not entirely prevent the souvenir hunting and actual vandalism that were characteristic of American sightseers in the mid-nineteenth century. William H. Crook, one of the President’s bodyguards, said that “a great piece of red brocade, a yard square almost, was cut from the windowhangings of the East Room, and another piece, not quite so large, from a curtain in the Green Room. Besides this, flowers from the floral design in the lace curtains were cut out, evidently for an ornament for the top of pincushions or something of the sort.”
The crush went on all evening. Those who came by carriage had to wait for several hours while the long line of vehicles slowly unloaded passengers. At eleven o’clock a large crowd was still trying to gain admission, but the doors were firmly closed on the hour, and the latecomers had to go home without seeing the President. Just before midnight the Marine Band played “Yankee Doodle,” and the White House was then cleared of guests so rapidly that the downstairs rooms were dark before the clock struck twelve.
A noon on Monday, March 6, the Senate, sitting in extra session, was called to order by the new Vice President. As soon as the formalities of the day were over, Henry Wilson of Massachusetts got up to ask for the floor. When Vice President Johnson recognized him and gave him the right to speak, he proposed a resolution that was intended to be a deliberate insult to the Senate’s new leader. It directed “the sergeant-at-arms to remove from the Senate side of the Capitol the sale of intoxicating or spirituous liquors.” Wilson said that he was willing to let his resolution lie over until the next day, but his colleague from Massachusetts, Charles Sumner, got up to ask very coolly, “Why not act upon it now?” Everyone must have felt very uncomfortable, but no one dared to offer an objection so the resolution was considered passed. The sergeant-at-arms promptly closed the bar known as “The Hole in the Wall,” and the sign over it which read EXCLUSIVELY FOR SENATORS was turned to the wall.
The great Inauguration Ball was held in the Patent Office that evening. The north wing had just been completed, and the building formed an enormous quadrangle, with an open court in the center. Part of the building’s spacious halls had served as a military hospital from October, 1861, to March, 1863.
All four of the enormous second-story rooms, each one approximately 270 feet long and 60 feet wide, were used for the ball. The south wing, with its elaborate and colorful English tiled floor, tall pillars, and large glass showcases, was the main entrance. The east wing was used as a promenade leading to the north wing, which was to be the main ballroom. The elaborate supper was served in the west wing at midnight.
The engraved tickets cost ten dollars each; the price entitled a gentleman to bring as many ladies as he wished. The local newspaper had made it clear that contrary to rumor—Negroes would not be admitted to the ballroom, although many of them were, of course, employed as waiters and servants. Three orchestras were used; the one that provided the dance music was conducted by Professor William Withers, Jr., leader of the orchestra at Ford’s Theatre.