Lincoln Holds First State Dinner

State Dining Room

Thursday, March 28, 1861

As the Fort Sumter situation worsens, the Lincolns prepare for their first state dinner at the White House. Mary Todd Lincoln writes: “We have given our last general levee until next winter, our cabinet dinner comes off this evening, a party of 28 will dine with us. Our friends have all left, except Mrs Grimsley & Mr and Mrs Kellogg of Cincinnati. The latter leave for home, tomorrow. Mrs. G will remain a week or two longer. This is certainly a very charming spot & I have formed many delightful acquaintances. Every evening our blue room is filled with the elite of the land, last eve, we have about 40 to call in, to see us ladies from Vice P. Breckinridge down.”

New American ambassador to Britain Charles Frances Adams visits Secretary of State William H. Seward who tells him that in the Lincoln government there is: “No system, no relative ideas, no conception of his situation – much absorption in the details of office dispensation, but little application to great ideas. The Cabinet without unity, and without confidence in the head or each other.”

After the state dinner, President Lincoln calls a special meeting of the cabinet at which he reads a letter from General Winfield Scott calling for abandoning Forts Pickens and Sumter. A Scott aide writes: “Before dinner the General received from President Lincoln a note, asking him to come at once to the executive mansion. On setting out, the General whispered to me, that Mr. Lamon had informed him (Mr. Lamon had been down to Charleston with a letter from General Scott, with the sanction of Mr. Lincoln) that Governor Pickens wished to come back into the Union. The General also remarked that he supposed Mr. Lincoln wished to converse with him about Forts Sumter and Pickens, and he seemed to expect the President would be willing to give up both.”

The Scott memo read: “It is doubtful, according to recent information from the South, whether the voluntary evacuation of Fort Sumter alone would have a decisive effect upon the States now wavering between adherence to the Union and secession. It is known, indeed, that it would be charged to necessity, and the holding of Fort Pickens would be adduced in support of that view. Our Southern friends, however, are clear that the evacuation of both the forts would instantly soothe and give confidence to the eight remaining slave-holding States, and render their cordial adherence to this Union perpetual.” At the Cabinet meeting, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair is infuriated by Scott’s suggestion and states: “‘Mr. President, you can now see that General Scott, in advising the surrender of Fort Sumter, is playing the part of a politician, not a general.”

Published in: on March 19, 2011 at 12:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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