President Travels to Philadelphia for Sanitary Fair Speech

June 16, 1864

President Lincoln departs Washington by special train for Philadelphia early in the morning. After stops in Baltimore and Wilmington, President Lincoln arrives in Philadelphia in late morning.   In the late afternoon, he visits the Great Central [Sanitary Commission] Fair. The New York World, a strongly anti-Democratic newspaper, reported:

“At a quarter past four Mr. Lincoln entered a barouch and four and was conveyed to the fair, escorted by various military organizations, and flanked by the inevitable rag, tag and bobtail. At five o’clock the President arrived at the entrance on eighteenth Street, and after considerable squeezing was passed into the building, the police being scarcely able to keep off the crowd…

“Mr. Lincoln, with great difficulty, reached the reception room of the executive committee. Here he gave wings to one of those terse, clear-cut and original expressions which so mark the man. ‘I’d like,’ said he, ‘I’d like a little cold water.’ Memorable words!…

“Shortly after this solemn passage in a great man’s life, Mrs. Lincoln was announced. She speedily passed into the ladies’ room. The President’s wife looks as robust as ever. Her maternal graces bloom so brilliantly as when she left her rural home, wondering what ‘they say of us,’ and when she left her rural home, wondering what ‘they say of us,’ and floated toward Washington. Time does not attenuate her substantial form, and evidently sits lightly on her plac’d brow. Her walk is not less queenly than when she played in the prairie state the charming role of the ‘pretty maid milking her cow;’ and while possibly greater amplitutde of shirt is necessary than of yore, yet she still shows traces of her youthful ensemble.

“The President spent about an hour in making the tour of the fair, and finally brought up at the ‘collection room,’ where a well-prepared table was arranged. Your reporter was no near enough to catch the President’s first words upon entering the banquet hall, but is informed that he whispered to a companion on the left flank, ‘this is a right smart get-out.’”

At the Great Central Sanitary Fair, President Lincoln says: “I suppose that this toast was intended to open the way for me to say something. [Laughter.] War, at the best, is terrible, and this war of ours, in its magnitude and in its duration, is one of the most terrible. It was deranged business, totally in many localities, and partially in all localities. It has destroyed property, and ruined homes; it has produced a national debt and taxation unprecedented, at least in this country. It has carried mourning to almost every home, until it can almost be said that the ‘heavens are hung in black.’ Yet it continues, and several relieving coincidents [coincidences] have accompanied it from the very beginning, which have not been known, as I understood [understand], or have any knowledge of, in any former wars in the history of the world. The Sanitary Commission, with all its benevolent labors, the Christian Commission, with all its Christian and benevolent labors, and the various places, arrangements, so to speak, and institutions, have contributed to the comfort and relief of the soldier. You have two of these places in this city–the Cooper-Shop and Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloons. [Great applause and cheers.] And lastly, these fairs, which, I believe, began only in last August, if I mistake not, in Chicago, then at Boston, at Cincinnati, Brooklyn, New York, at Baltimore, and those at present held at St. Louis, Pittsburg, and Philadelphia. The motive and object that lie at the bottom of all these are most worthy; for, say what you will, after all the most is due to the soldier, who takes his life in his hands and goes to fight the battles of his country. [Cheers.] In what is contributed to his comfort when he passes to and fro [from city to city], and in what is contributed to him when is sick and wounded, in whatever shape it comes, whether from the fair and tender hand of woman, or from any other source, is much, very much; but, I think there is still that which has as much value to him [in the continual reminders he sees in the newspapers, that while he is absent he is yet remembered by the loved ones at home.]–he is not forgotten. [Cheers.] Anotherview of these various institutions is worthy of consideration, I think; they are voluntary contributions, given freely, zealously, and earnestly, on top of all the disturbances of business, [of all the disorders,] the taxation and burdens that the war has imposed upon us, giving proof that the national resources are not at all exhausted, [cheers;] that the national spirit of patriotism is even [firmer and stronger than at the commencement of the rebellion [war].

It is a pertinent question often asked in the mind privately, and from one to the other, when is the war to end? Surely I feel as deep [great] an interest in this question as any other can, but I do not wish to name a day, or month, or a year when it is to end. I do not wish to run any risk of seeing the time come, without our being ready for the end, and for fear of disappointment, because the time had come and not the end. [We accepted this war; we did not begin it.] We accepted this war for an object, a worthy object, and the war will end when that object is attained. Under God, I hope it never will until that time. [Great cheering.] Speaking of the present campaign, General Grant is reported to have said, I am going through on this line if it takes all summer. [Cheers.] This war has taken three years; it was begun or accepted upon the line of restoring the national authority over the whole national domain, and for the American people, as far as my knowledge enables me to speak, I say we are going through on this line if it take three years more. [Cheers.] My friends, I did not known but that I might be called upon to say a few words before I got away from here, but I did not know it was coming just here. [Laughter.] I have never been in the habit of making predictions in regard to the war, but I am almost tempted to make one. [Do it--do it!]–if I were to hazard it, it is this: That Grant is this evening, with General Meade and General Hancock, of Pennsylvania, and the brave officers and soldiers with him, in a position from whence he will never be dislodged until Richmond is take [loud cheering], and I have but one single proposition to put now, and, perhaps, I can best put it in form of an interrogative [interragotry]. If I shall discover that General Grant and the noble officers and men under him can be greatly facilitated in their work by a sudden pouring forward [forth] of men  and assistance, will give them to me? [Cries of 'yes.'] Then, I say, stand ready, for I am watching for the chance. [Laughter and cheers.] I thank you, gentlemen.

Later at the Continental Hotel, President Lincoln addressed a serenade outside: “I attended the Fair at Philadelphia to-day in the hope that possibly it might aid something in swelling the contributions for the benefit of the soldiers in the field, who are bearing the harder part of this great national struggle in which we are engaged. [Applause.] I thought I might do this without impropriety. It did not even occur to me that a kind demonstration like this would be made to me. [A voice---``You are worthy of it,'' and cheers.] I do not really think it is proper in my position for me to make a political speech; and having said at the Fair what I thought was proper for me to say there in reference to that subject, and being more of a politician than anything else, and having exhausted that branch of the subject at the fair, and not being prepared to speak on the other, I am without anything to say. I have really appeared before you now more for the purpose of seeing you [a voice: ``Three cheers for Honest Old Abe!''] and allowing you to see me a little while, [laughter] and, to show to you that I am not wanting in due consideration and respect for you, when you make this kind demonstration in my honor. At the same time I must beg of you to excuse me from saying anything further.

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