Lincoln’s Election, Southern Secession: 1860 to April 1861

Lincoln’s Journey, Davis’ Speech

Had there been previous inaugurals with this level of tension and uncertainty?

Not by a long shot. The first inaugural, that of George Washington in New York City in 1789, had been a calm, dignified affair. Those of John Adams, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams had also been tame. The major exceptions were those of Thomas Jefferson in 1801 and Andrew Jackson in 1829.

Jefferson had been so bitterly hated by the Federalists that hundreds of them had simply turned their backs as he commenced his inaugural address (one of those who did was Chief Justice John Marshall, a distant cousin of the president). Jackson had been such a big surprise—he was the first person elected from a state that did not belong to the original thirteen—that the newspapers had described his followers as moblike. As if to conform to the expectation, many of Jackson’s followers broke down the doors of the White House because they heard cake and punch were to be served. But even those two prior occasions, of 1801 and 1829, pale when set against the uncertainty that reigned in 1861.


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