Lincoln's Appointment With Destiny

Lincoln's Appointment With Destiny  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

It was a cloudy, drizzly, late-winter day on March 4th 1865 when Pres. Abraham Lincoln took his oath of office for the second time. Lincoln rose to the podium on the steps of the Capital Building for what he called the best speech of his career. 

They seemed to hang on his words as though they were meat and drink.
— Lincoln's Bodyguard

To an audience of both blacks and whites Lincoln declared that Americans from the North as well as the South deserved some of the suffering taking place in the Civil War because they had all tolerated the sin of slavery.

Lincoln ended his sermon-like speech to the 30,000-40,000 people gathered on a note of peace.

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations,” he said.

His speech lasted 6-7 minutes. As he spoke the sun appeared from behind the clouds and Chief Justice Salmon Chase administered the oath of office.  Lincoln’s brief second term began.

"They seemed to hang on his words as though they were meat and drink," Lincoln’s bodyguard recalled. "And when he concluded the last paragraph, beginning, 'With malice toward none, with charity for all,' which fell like a benediction from heaven, the shout of the people seemed to rise to the very sky."

The Inaugural ball took place in the enormous Patent Office. The north hall of the building served as the main ballroom decked out in flags, banners and army corps insignia.

Just before 11 p.m., the military band started playing “Hail to the Chief” and the President and Mrs. Lincoln entered the hall. Lincoln was dressed in a plain black suit and white kid gloves. Mrs. Lincoln wore a white silk dress and lace shawl.  Guests included Former Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, Speaker of the House Schuyler Colfax, and Generals U. S. Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, and others.

The presidential party dined on pickled oysters, oyster stew and terrapin stew made from the Diamondbacks living in the Chesapeake Bay plus an endless assortment of other meats and sweets. 

More than 4,000 attended the ball most rushing to the supper room determined to eat their $10 worth.

Within an hour food lined the floor in what The Washington Star called a sticky, oily, pasty mess.  Many of the ball gowns were ruined in the process. When the crowd finished eating they returned to the ballroom and danced until dawn.   

“He was in his plain two-horse barouche, and looked very much worn and tired; the lines, indeed, of vast responsibilities, intricate questions, and demands of life and death, cut deeper than ever upon his dark brown face; yet all the goodness, tenderness, sadness, and canny shrewdness [showed] underneath the furrows,” Walt Whitman said about Lincoln’s return to the Whitehouse.

Lincoln hoped the ball would mark a new beginning in America.  Six weeks later he was assassinated. 

On June 21, Swann Auction Galleries featured a selection of Lincoln items in its auction. 

Here are some current values.

Abraham Lincoln

Autograph Letter Signed; to William P. Fessenden from J.G. Blaine; inquiring about his interest in becoming part of Lincoln's cabinet; Augusta; 1862;  $625.

Invitation to Lincoln’s second National Inauguration Ball; engraved broadside; Washington, 1865;  $1,750.

Autograph Letter Signed; to Lincoln from James Speed; sending affidavit; Louisville; 1864;   $3,120.

Harper’s Weekly: A Journal of Civilization; seven volumes; covering the entirety of the Civil War; New York; 1859-76;  $4,250.

Lincoln Signature;  $4,940.


Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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