About noon, President-elect Lincoln travels to the unfinished U.S. Capitol by carriage with outgoing President James Buchanan. Army and police were on high alert for potential violence on the cold, windy day.
Journalist Ben Perley Poore wrote: “The preparations for the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln were of an unusual character. Many believed that an attempt would be made on that day by the Secessionists to obtain possession of the Government, and great precautions against this were taken. The ostensible director was General Scott, who had his headquarters at a restaurant near the War Department, and who rode about the city in a low coupe drawn by a powerful horse. But the real director of the military operations was Colonel Stone, of the regular army, who had been organizing the military of the District, and who had been organizing the military of the District, and who had a very respectable force at his command. He had a battalion of the united States Engineer Corps directly in the rear of the President’s carriage, and sharp-shooters belonging to a German company were posted on buildings all along the route, with orders to keep a vigilant watch as the President’s carriage approached, and to fire at any one who might aim a weapon at the President. There was also a large force of detectives stationed along the route and at the Capitol.
“The procession was a very creditable one, the United States troops and the District Militia making a fine show, with the Albany Burgess Corps, and a few organizations from a distance. Mr. Lincoln rode with President Buchanan, and, on arriving at the Capitol, entered the Senate Chamber leaning on the old gentleman’s arm. After Mr. Hamlin had taken his oath of office as Vice-President, and several new Senators had sworn in, a procession was formed, as usual, which repaired to the platform erected over the steps of the eastern portico of the Capitol. When Mr. Lincoln came out he was easily distinguished as his tall, gaunt figure rose above those around him.
“His personal friend, Senator [Edward D.] Baker, of Oregon, introduced him to the assemblage, and as he bowed acknowledgments of the somewhat faint cheers which greeted him the usual genial smile lit up his angular countenance. He was evidently somewhat perplexed, just then, to know what to do with his new silk hat and a large gold-headed cane. The cane he put under the table, but the hat appeared to be too good to place on the rough boards. Senator Douglas saw the embarrassment of his old friend, and, rising, took the shining hat from its bothered owner and held it during delivery of the inaugural address. Mr. Lincoln was listened to with great eagerness. He evidently desired to convince the multitude before him rather than to bewilder or dazzle them. It was evident that he honestly believed every word that he spoke, especially the concluding paragraphs, one of which I copy from the original
Indiana Congressman George W. Julian recalled: “The day was beautiful, and the procession to the Capitol quite imposing. Mr. Lincoln and ex-President Buchanan entered the Senate chamber arm in arm; and the latter was so withered and bowed with age that in contrast with the towering form of Mr. Lincoln he seemed little more than half a man. The crowd which greeted the President in front of the east portico of the Capitol was immense, and has never been equaled on any similar occasion with the single exception of General Garfield’s inauguration. Mr. Lincoln’s voice, though not very strong or full-toned, rang out over the acres of people before him with surprising distinctness, and was heard in the remotest parts of his audience. The tone of moderation, tenderness, and good-will, which marked his address, made an evident impression, and the most heartfelt plaudits were called forth by the closing passage..
Massachusetts Congressman Charles Francis Adams remembered: “Lincoln’s inauguration (Monday) came with a sudden change of weather. The sun shone brightly, but a strong wind carried on it clouds of that Washington dust, which, then much more than now — for the streets were not yet asphalted — was wont to render walking detestable on days of early march. I wrote two accounts of what took place; one in my diary, which, however, was rather short, as I also wrote for publication a long descriptive letter, printed a few days later in the Boston Transcript.. It was dated March 4th. From the Senate gallery I saw Lincoln walk in, army in arm with Buchanan, and the two seated themselves in front of the desk of the Vice-President. And, ‘in spite of the wry neck and dubious eye, the outgoing President was,’ to my mind, ‘undeniably the more presentable man of the two; his tall, large figure, and white head, looked well beside Mr. Lincoln’s lank, angular form and hirsute face; and the dress of the President-elect did not indicate that knowledge of the proprieties of the place which was desirable. Then followed the inaugural, delivered from ‘the miserable scaffold’ on the east front before ‘a vast sea, not exactly of upturned human faces, but of hats and shirt-bosoms of all descriptions.’ Of the inaugural, I did not hear one word; for I was standing on a projection of the unfinished Senate wing of the standing on a projection of the unfinished Senate wing of the Capitol, watching the scene, and was thus too far removed. But ‘Mr. Lincoln’s delivery struck me as good; for it was quiet, with but little gesture and small pretence of oratory; the audience did not strike me as very enthusiastic — not such as they tell us hailed Jackson when he stood on the same steps on the occasion of the first invasion of Washington by the hordes of the youthful West — but it was silent, attentive, appreciate, and wonderfully respectable and orderly. At length a louder and more prolonged cheer announced that the inaugural was delivered. The Chief Justice administered the oath of office, and the long, eager, anxious struggle was over. A Republican President was safely inaugurated.
“Not until the ceremony was over did the curious cease to speculate as to the probabilities of ‘a bead being drawn on Mr. Lincoln,’ and the chances of assassination; and the question was curiously discussed whether the whole South would not yet furnish one Ravaillac.’ Now the procession was re-formed, and the new President was escorted to the White House. I started for home. As I walked up by way of F Street and the Patent Office, parallel with Pennsylvania Avenue, the procession’s route, I chance to meet Mr. Sumner, and joined him. ‘He seemed satisfied with the inaugural, and remarked of it: ‘I do not suppose Lincoln had it in his mind, if indeed he ever heard of it; but the inaugural seems to me best described by Napoleon’s simile of ‘a hand of iron and a velvet glove.’‘ At home, on the other hand, I found my father in high glee over the endorsement that same inaugural gave him, and he was declaring the party saved. I also met Winter Davis, who pronounced himself as ready to stand on the President’s position.’ Thus, that day, every one was, as Seward predicted they would be, ‘satisfied.’”
Journalist Henry Villard wrote:“Great efforts were made to render the inauguration an imposing occasion. The city itself indicated, by the scantiness of festive array, that the mass of the inhabitants were hostile to the new rule. Burt many thousands, including militia and political organizations, had come from the North and helped to give imposing proportions to the traditional procession from the White House to the farther end of Pennsylvania Avenue. The morning was cloudy and raw; nevertheless, at least thirty thousand people listened to the reading of the message from the historical corner of the Capitol. Probably two-thirds of the immense audience caught every word of the clear utterance of the new President. Not the faintest disturbance occurred then or at any time during the day. On the contrary, the chief figure of the occasion was lustily cheered. For some reason or other, offensive demonstrations and even violence to the President had been apprehended, and the small regular force held in readiness for the repression of such attempts. Old General Scott, who rarely left his quarters, owing to his infirmities, made a special effort and was on duty near the Capitol, receiving frequent reports from the army officers in charge of the detachments of regulars distributed over the city; but not the remotest sign of mischief appeared. In the evening, the customary big inauguration ball came off, and, as usual, it was a very crowded, much mixed and, upon the whole, very ordinary affair, though the newspapers the next morning praised it as the most brilliant festivity that had ever taken place in the national capital.”
Iowan Charles Aldrich wrote: “The days dragged slowly, but finally the 4th of March dawned upon the federal city, and everyone wsa bestirring himself in preparation for the great event of the century. I had secured a ticket which I could obtain admission to the Capitol building and possibly a seat in the gallery of the proceeedings were to take place. I preferred, however, to join the crowd outside, in the hope that I could get close enough to the stand to hear the great inaugural address. At that time little had been done in the way of decorating the grounds on the east front of the Capitol. Across the street from the northeast entrance there still stood a high board fence. These boards were set up on end, and were far from being a graceful addendum to the landscape. The platform had been erected about halfway up the northeast steps, and extended in the direction of the street. There was a multiplicity of seats provided for such people as could gain admittance. At the outer edge of the platform a wide board was set up on its end, and formed the back of the seat from which the occupant could face the President while he was speaking. Stephen A. Douglas sat on the south end of this front row of seats, occupying a place in the corner. I had heard him speak in the United States Senate and in Tammany Hall, New York City, and was familiar with his appearance.
“I went across the street a distance of ten or twelve rods, and selected standing-room with my back against one of those tall boards. The area in front of this northeast corner of the Capitol was filled with spectators to the number of many thousands. Just before the appearance of Mr. Lincoln, a file of soldiers, doubtless regulars, came into the area, and marched along in front of the platform, slowly making their way through the crowd. From where I stood I could see their bayonets above the heads of the people. There was at that time serious apprehension that the President might be shot when he appeared to make his address, but this small company of men was all that was in sight in the way of defense. It was quietly understood, however, that several hundred men were scattered through the crowd armed with revolvers. Had any hostile hand been raised against the President its owner would very speedily have bitten the dust. It was a solemn and almost gloomy time, because there was a universal consciousness that we were just on the outbreak of war.”
“However, the assembled multitude had not long to wait before President Lincoln appeared, walking alone through the door that led to the portico outside of the Senate chamber. He walked quickly down the steps to the front of the platform. Removing his hat he looked for some place to dispose of it. From where I stood I plainly saw Stephen A. Douglas reach for the hat and the President yielded it to him. It was stated afterwards in the papers that Mr. Douglas quietly remarked: ‘Mr. President, I will take your hat.’ Some of the newspaper people who were sadly lacking in reverence stated that ‘Mr. Douglas could not be President himself, but that he held the hat of the man who was.’ The next movement on the part of Mr. Lincoln was thrusting his hand into his right breeches pocket and taking out a steel spectacle case. He opened this with a snap and drew out a pair of spectacles which he placed before his eyes. At that time he could not make a movement, however slight, which did not elicit rounds of applause. When he removed his hat, when he put on his glasses, and when he restored the steel case to his pocket, there were loud cheers. He took his place at a table which had been conveniently placed, and drew out the manuscript of his inaugural address. The first words he uttered were — ‘Fellow citizens of the united States!’ It seemed to everybody who heard him that he dwelt upon and emphasized the word ‘united.’ At all events, his expression was greeted with loud cheers. From this time until the close of his address his auditors were loud in their applause. I never listened to a speaker whose enunciation was so clear and distinct as that of Mr. Lincoln. You not only heard every word that he uttered, but every sentence was most clearly expressed. I believe his voice was perfectly audible to every one of the people who occupied the acres before and around him. At the close of his address he was greeted with deafening cheers, which seemed to carry with them an expression of highest confidence in the President.”
“When he concluded he stepped to one side of the table upon which lay an apparently well-worn copy of the Bible. The oath of office was administered by Chief Justice Taney — the President kissing the Bible — after which the people who occupied the platform and steps arose and slowly filed into the Capitol. The address was already printed and was at once upon the streets. I know that it was as profoundly satisfying to the people present, as it was to the loyal people of the whole country.”
Wisconsin’s Carl Schurz recalled the scene: “I saw Lincoln step forward to the desk upon which the Bible lay — his rugged face, appearing above all those surrounding him, calm and sad, but so unlike any other in that distinguished assemblage that one might well have doubted how they could work together. I saw Senator Douglas standing close by him, his defeated antagonist, the ‘little giant’ of the past period, who, only two years before, had haughtily treated Lincoln like a tall dwarf. I witnessed the remarkable scene when Lincoln, about to deliver his inaugural address, could not at once find a convenient place for his hat, and Douglas took that hat and held it like an attendant, while Lincoln was speaking. I saw the withered form of Chief Justice Taney, the author of the famous Dred Scott decision, that judicial compend of the doctrine of slavery, administer to oath of office to the first President elected on a distinct anti-slavery platform. I saw, standing by, the outgoing President, James Buchanan, with his head slightly inclined on one side, and his winking eye, and his white neck-cloth — the man who had done more than any other to degrade and demoralize the National Government and to encourage the rebellion, now to retire to an unhonored obscurity…”
Benjamin Brown French, who became a Lincoln Administration official, recalled: “The inauguration ceremonies over, we escorted the new President to the white house where he received all comers with that cordial welcome that so strongly marks the sincerity of the man.
“In the procession was a sort of triumphal car, splendidly trimmed, ornamented and arranged, in which rode thirty-four young girls. On our return, the girls all alighted, & I took them in and introduced them to the President. He asked to be allowed to kiss them all, & he did so, It was a very interesting scene, & elicited much applause.”