Lincoln’s Second Inauguration

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The cooks had been working busily to get the great feast ready. The elaborate bill of fare included fish, beef, veal, game, poultry, and smoked meats, each prepared in a variety of ways; chicken and lobster salads; eight confections called “ornamental pyramides” and a dozen kinds of cakes and tarts; ice cream in six flavors and ices in three; coffee and chocolate.

It was fortunate that the presidential party was permitted to begin eating before the crowd was admitted to the supper room. As soon as the doors were opened, there was a general rush. According to the Star, “The onset of the crowd upon the tables was frightful, and nothing but the immense reserves of eatables would have supplied the demand, or rather the waste. Numbers … with more audacity than good taste, could be seen snatching whole pâtés, chickens, legs of veal, halves of turkies, ornamental pyramids, &s., from the tables, and bearing them aloft over the heads of the shuddering crowd, (ladies especially, with greasy ruin to their dresses impending) …

“The floor of the supper room was soon sticky, pasty and oily with wasted confections, mashed cakes and debris of fowl and meat. The … appropriaters of eatables from the tables left their plates upon the floor … adding to the difficulty of locomotion; and gentlemen, in conscientiously giving a wide berth to a lady’s skirt, not infrequently steered clear of Scylla only to fall upon a Charybdis of greasy crockery. Finally everybody was satisfied, even those who felt bound to ‘eat their ten dollars’ worth’ … the ball room again filled up, and the dance … was resumed.”

When the President and his party wanted to leave, they found it impossible to pass through the mob that was still raiding the food tables. They had to enter an alcove between display cases and then go upstairs to a balcony from which they could make their way through devious and little-used narrow passages to an obscure side exit. No one paid any attention to them as they went, for the guests were so busy getting food, eating it, or chattering while they waited for someone to bring it, that they did not care about anything else.

The grand ball went on until the early morning hours, and the sky was beginning to lighten when the party finally broke up. When the last reveler left the Patent Office that morning and daylight came in through the high windows to reveal the unpleasant mess which was all that remained of the once-imposing display that had been set out on the supper tables, President Lincoln’s second term had been officially and socially launched.

1 On March 9 Johnson wrote to Richard Sutton, chief reporter of the Senate, saying: “I see from the Congressional Globe that the proceedings of Saturday, the 4 inst. have not as yet been published, and as I understand there has been some criticism … will you … preserve the original notes … and bring me an accurate copy of your report of what I said on that occasion.” The speech, as published in the Globe on March 17, is obviously rewritten.