Wednesday, February 20, 1861
President-elect Lincoln spends his entire day in a relentless schedule of activities in New York City. He begins the day in a breakfast with New York merchants and ends the day attending one act of a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” at the Academy of Music. Bronson Murray reported: “There is a story that — a purse proud chap was presented to L. and said ‘Mr. L — ahem — I am a director of the bank of commerce Sir.’ ‘Are you sir & where is that.’ ‘Why here in New York Sir. We take all the Govt. Loans.’ ‘Oh well’ said L ‘then we will become better acquainted.’ This is thought a capital thing here & people want to know who the director is. Some of these fellows fancy there is no place in the Union but N. York and their clique or sett.”
In response to a welcome from Mayor Fernando Wood, who had floated the idea that New York City could secede from the Union as well, Lincoln said: “There is nothing that can ever bring me willingly to consent to the destruction of this Union, under which not only the commercial city of New York, but the whole country has acquired its greatness, unless it were to be that thing for which the Union itself was made. I understand a ship to be made for the carrying and preservation of the cargo, and so long as the ship can be saved, with the cargo, it should never be abandoned. This Union should likewise never be abandoned unless it fails and the probability of its preservation shall cease to exist without throwing the passengers and cargo overboard. So long, then, as it is possible that the prosperity and the liberties of the people can be preserved in the Union, it shall be my purpose at all times to preserve it. Thanking you for the reception given me, allow me to come to a close.”
Prior to the opera, the Lincolns and Hamlins shared dinner – and Lincoln’s first encounter with oysters on the half-shell tickled Vice President-elect Hannibal Hamlin. Lincoln told Hamlin: “Well, I don’t know that I can manage these things, but I guess I can learn.”
After dinner, both couples went to the opera, where some New Yorkers criticized Lincoln for wearing black rather than the regulation white gloves. Nevertheless, at the conclusion of the first act, a “demonstration of respect and reverence to the chosen President became so general and enthusiastic that no person present could be said to be a non-participant in it.” After leaving the opera, Mrs. Lincoln holds a reception at their hotel.