Lincoln Holds First White House Reception

Elizabeth Todd Grimsley

Friday, March 8, 1861

The Lincolns are overwhelmed in their first White House reception for what Attorney General Edward Bates calls “a motley crowd” that required President Lincoln to shake hands for two and a half hours. Lincoln aide John G. Nicolay writes: “For over two hours the crowd poured in as rapidly as the door would admit them, and many climbed in at the windows. It was withal more ‘ton’-ish than such things usually are. Of course in such a crowd crinoline suffered, and at least fifty men have been swearing worse than ‘our army in Flanders,’ ever since they home that evening, over the loss of new hats and valuable overcoats.”

“And what a crush and jam it was!,” recalled Elizabeth Todd Grimsley, Mrs. Lincoln’s cousin. “But the young private Secretaries Nicolay and Hay managed the introductions to the President and the receiving party wonderfully well. The hand shaking was a thing long to be remember by the President, and while it was gratifying, we must confess to a sigh of relief when we heard the marine Band strike up ‘Yankee Doodle’, the signal for retiring. The President took me on his arm and we made the circuit of the East room, a custom as old as the house itself, I believe, and a silly one, in that the wife of the President is relegated tot he escort of another gentleman.”
“We were amused at the many remarks we overheard — such as, ‘The President bears himself well, and does not seem the least embarrassed’. ‘How much alike the President and Mrs. Grimsley are!’ ‘Yes! Brother and sister. They must belong to a very tall family.’
“And so ended that memorable reception, the last in which north and south would mingle for many years.”

Charles Francis Adams, soon to be the U.S. ambassador to England, wrote: “Such a crush was, I imagine, never seen in the White House before, on a similar, or any other, occasion. After two vain attempts to get into the reception room, Dexter and I resolutely set ourselves in the main current, and were pushed and squeezed along. It was a motley crowd. There they were — the sovereigns; some in evening dress, others in morning suits; with gloves and without gloves; clean and dirty; all pressing in the same direction, and all behaving with perfect propriety. There was no ill temper; no vulgarity or noise; no rudeness; in spire of the crowd and discomfort, everything was respectful and decorous. The sight was one not pleasant to see, and even less pleasant to participate in; but still good of its kind. Here, as everywhere, the people governed themselves. At last, after the breath was nearly out of our bodies, Dexter and I came in sight of the President — the tall, rapidly bobbing head of the good ‘Abe,’ as he shook hands with his guests, and quickly passed them along. The vastly greater number he hurried by him; but, when any one he knew came along, he bent himself down to the necessary level, and seemed to whisper a few words in the ear, in pleasant, homely fashion; though not exactly in one becoming our President. I hurried by as quickly as I could, and retreated into the rear of the room, there to observe. I stayed about an hour and a half, meeting Mr. Sumner, Mr. and Mrs. S.A. Douglas and others, and subsequently, leaving by the south front, reached home with ‘tir’d eye-lids upon tir’d eyes.’”


The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: