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

Lincoln’s Journey, Davis’ Speech

What did Lincoln find upon arriving in Washington, D.C.?

Lincoln went straight to Willard’s, the most famous hotel in the nation’s capital, and he largely remained there for the next week. There were unofficial meetings with the members of his Cabinet, and there were social courtesies, but there was also an underlying feeling of tension. Washington, D.C., was sandwiched between the South and the North, and if Maryland—Baltimore especially—continued to be hostile, the nation’s capital would be in a very tight spot.

Lincoln paid court to many of the longstanding members of Washington society. First Lady Dolley Payne Madison was no longer the doyen of the group: she had died fifteen years earlier. The longest-serving person in Washington was Winfield Scott (1786–1866), general of the U.S. Regular Army. Nearly seventy-five, the overweight Scott was the butt of jokes while still retaining an immense reputation. He had been a brigadier-general in the War of 1812, and he was still around in 1861. Lincoln sounded Scott out as to the situation of the federal forts in the Southern states, but he received little satisfaction. Scott was an ardent Union man, but he was a Southerner by birth, from Virginia, and he believed it would be better to let the secession forces seize all the Southern forts, rather than initiate the conflict.


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