Six Months at the White House/XL
Among my visitors in the early part of May was the Hon. Mr. Alley, of Massachusetts, who gave me a deeply interesting inside glimpse of the Chicago Republican Convention in 1860. The popular current had, at first, set very strongly in favor of Mr. Seward, who, many supposed, would be nominated almost by acclamation. The evening before the balloting the excitement was at the highest pitch. Mr. Lincoln was telegraphed at Springfield, that his chances with the Convention depended upon obtaining the votes of two delegations which were named in the despatch; and that, to secure this support, he must pledge himself, if elected, to give places in his Cabinet to the respective heads of those delegations. A reply was immediately returned over the wires, characteristic of the man. It was to this effect:--
"I authorize no bargains, and will be bound by none. A. LINCOLN."
It is unquestionable that the country was not prepared for the final action of this Convention. In various sections of the Eastern and Middle States, the antecedents and even the name of Mr. Lincoln were entirely unknown. The newspapers announced the nominee as the "Illinois Rail-splitter;" and however popular this title may have been with the masses, it is not to be denied that it seemed to many people a very extraordinary qualification for the Presidency. An acquaintance of mine, who happened to be in Boston on the evening of the day the Convention adjourned, formed one of a large group at his hotel, eagerly discussing the result. Only one or two of the party knew anything whatever of the first name on the "ticket," and what they knew was soon told. Considerable disappointment could be seen in the faces of those composing the circle. One rough-looking sovereign, from Cape Cod, or Nantucket, had listened attentively, but taken no part in the conversation. Turning away at length, with an expression of deep disgust, he muttered: "A set of consummate fools! Nominate a man for the Presidency who has never smelt salt water!"
Some of Mr. Lincoln's immediate neighbors were taken as completely by surprise as those in distant States. An old resident of Springfield told me that there lived within a block or two of his house, in that city, an Englishman, who of course still cherished to some extent the ideas and prejudices of his native land. Upon hearing of the choice at Chicago he could not contain his astonishment.
"What!" said he, "Abe Lincoln nominated for President of the United States? Can it be possible! A man that buys a ten-cent beefsteak for his breakfast, and carries it home himself."
A correspondent of the "Portland Press" has given to the public the following account of Mr. Lincoln's reception of the nomination:--
"In June, 1860, a Massachusetts gentleman was induced to take the opportunity, in company with several delegates and others interested in the objects of the Convention, to go to Chicago and spend a few days in visiting that section of our country. In a very few minutes after the final balloting, when Mr. Lincoln was nominated, it happened that a train of cars started upon the Central Railroad, passing through Springfield, and Mr. R. took passage in the same. Arriving at Springfield, he put up at a public house, and, loitering upon the front door-steps, had the curiosity to inquire of the landlord where Mr. Lincoln lived. While giving the necessary directions, the landlord suddenly remarked, 'There is Mr. Lincoln now, coming down the sidewalk; that tall, crooked man, loosely walking this way. If you wish to see him, you will have an opportunity by putting yourself in his track.'
"In a few moments the object of his curiosity reached the point the gentleman occupied, who, advancing, ventured to accost him thus: 'Is this Mr. Lincoln?' 'That, sir, is my name,' was the courteous reply. 'My name is R., from Plymouth County, Massachusetts,' returned the gentleman, and learning that you have today been made the public property of the United States, I have ventured to introduce myself with a view to a brief acquaintance, hoping you will pardon such a patriotic curiosity in a stranger.' Mr. Lincoln received his salutations with cordiality, told him no apology was necessary for his introduction, and asked him to accompany him to his residence. He had just come from the telegraph office, where he had learned the fact of his nomination; and was on his return home, when Mr. R. met and accompanied him thither.
"Arriving at Mr. Lincoln's residence, he was introduced to Mrs. Lincoln and the two boys, and entered into conversation in relation to the Lincoln family of the Old Colony,--the Hingham General Lincoln of the Revolutionary army, and the two Worcester Lincolns, brothers, who were governors of Massachusetts and Maine at one and the same time. In reply to Mr. R.'s inquiry, whether he could trace his ancestry to either of those early families of his own name, Mr. Lincoln, with characteristic facetiousness replied that he could not say that he ever had an ancestor older than his father; and therefore had it not in his power to trace his genealogy to so patriotic a source as old General Lincoln of the Revolution; though he wished he could. After some further pleasant conversation, chiefly relating to the early history of the Pilgrim Fathers, with which he seemed familiar, Mr. R. desired the privilege of writing a letter to be despatched by the next mail. He was very promptly and kindly provided with the necessary means. As he began to write, Mr. Lincoln approached, and tapping him on the shoulder, expressed the hope that he was not a spy who had come thus early to report his faults tu the public. 'By no means, sir,' protested Mr. R.; 'I am writing home to my wife, who, I dare say, will hardly credit the fact that I am writing in your house.' 'O, sir,' rejoined Mr. Lincoln, 'if your wife doubts your word, I will cheerfully indorse it, if you will give me permission;' and taking the pen from Mr. R., he wrote the following words in a clear hand upon the blank page of the letter:--
"'I am happy to say that your husband is at the present time a guest in my house, and in due time I trust you will greet his safe return to the bosom of his family. A. LINCOLN.'
"This gave Mr. R. an excellent autograph of Mr. Lincoln, besides bearing witness to his hospitable and cheerful spirit.
"Whilst thus engaged in pleasant conversation, the cars arrived that brought from Chicago the committee of the Convention appointed to notify Mr. Lincoln of his nomination. He received them at the door, and conducted them to seats in his parlor. On the reception of this committee, Mr. Lincoln appeared somewhat embarrassed, but soon resumed his wonted tranquillity and cheerfulness. At the proper time, Governor Morgan, of New York, chairman of the committee, arose, and, with becoming dignity, informed Mr. Lincoln that he and his fellows appeared in behalf of the Convention in session at Chicago; to inform him that he had that day been unanimously nominated to the office of President of the United States; and asked his permission to report to that body his acceptance of the nomination. Mr. Lincoln, with becoming modesty, but very handsomely, replied that he felt his insufficiency for the vast responsibilities which must devolve upon that office under the impending circumstances of the times; but if God and his country called for his services in that direction, he should shrink from no duty that might be imposed upon him, and therefore he should not decline the nomination.
"After this ceremony had passed, Mr. Lincoln remarked to the company, that as an appropriate conclusion to an interview so important and interesting as that which had just transpired, he supposed good manners would require that he should treat the committee with something to drink; and opening a door that led into a room in the rear, he called out 'Mary! Mary!' A girl responded to the call, to whom Mr. Lincoln spoke a few words in an under-tone, and, closing the door, returned again to converse with his guests. In a few minutes the maiden entered, bearing a large waiter, containing several glass tumblers, and a large pitcher in the midst, and placed it upon the centre-table. Mr. Lincoln arose, and gravely addressing the company, said: 'Gentlemen, we must pledge our mutual healths in the most healthy beverage which God has given to man--it is the only beverage I have ever used or allowed in my family, and I cannot conscientiously depart from it on the present occasion--it is pure Adam's ale from the spring;' and, taking a tumbler, he touched it to his lips, and pledged them his highest respects in a cup of cold water. Of course, all his guests were constrained to admire his consistency, and to join in his example.
"Mr. R., when he went to Chicago, had but little political sympathy with the Republican Convention which nominated Mr. Lincoln; but when he saw, as he did see for himself, his sturdy adherence to a high moral principle, he returned an admirer of the man, and a zealous advocate of his election."