The world watched the White House more closely after the American Civil War began in April 1861. The White House had become a "dwelling-place but not a habitation." But during the Civil War, the president's family, including young children, turned the old house into a home, despite the uncongenial intimacy with the business of state. The Lincolns were the western-most people who had ever inhabited the Executive Mansion or the "President's," as Lincoln's secretaries sometimes called it.[1] Both President and Mrs. Lincoln had a strong sense of history and were fully aware of the sentiment that the place belonged to the American people. It was their house.

The press and the public were curious to see just how well the Lincolns would adjust. During years of war, Lincoln's office became the power center for both the White House itself and the federal Union struggling to survive at war. It was a community of a limited number of people who lived and worked within the social space of the building and grounds and were held together by a sense of obligation, loyalty to the Union, and loyalty to the president.[2] The relationships were close, often very intimate, and usually face-to-face. A scene of great tragedy for both the nation and the Lincoln family, the place became a prison, "This damned old House," as Lincoln once called it.[3] But in the final weeks of the war, the White House became a tranquil place, as the Lincolns awoke from "this hideous nightmare" of fratricidal strife.Page  [End Page 17]

Exterior of the White House circa 1860.
Exterior of the White House circa 1860.

Moving into the White House

At the close of the inaugural ceremony the new president, Abraham Lincoln, and his wife Mary were driven to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where "Old Edward" McManus, who had served as a doorkeeper since the Andrew Jackson administration, welcomed them in. "The White House itself is a very respectable building of brick and stone, painted white, built in the form of a parallelogram, two stories high fronting north; but, owing to the declivity, three stories fronting south toward the Potomac," wrote William Stoddard, who served as a presidential secretary through four years.[4]

It is reported that when the new president was safely inside the structure, General Winfield Scott declared: "Thank God, we now have a government." James Buchanan stopped in the warm entrance hall and bade the Lincolns a friendly goodbye. He had not left the new president's side.[5] Passing through the glass screen, across the tranverse hall and into the Blue Room, Lincoln took his place beside a marble table, which he would frequently do in the future, and the doors were opened to the assembled well-wishers. Page  [End Page 18] "He received all comers with that cordial welcome that so strongly marks the sincerity of the man." [6]

"It's mine, my very own! At last it's mine!" Mary Lincoln supposedly said as she stood in the doorway of the Blue Room and reviewed its magnificence (later she would decorate it with fresh blossoms). Years before, young Mary Ann Todd had extracted a promise from Henry Clay of Lexington, Kentucky, that he would invite her to the Executive Mansion should it become his home. Supposedly she had declared that the man she was going to marry would become president of the United States. [7]

When she arrived in Washington City, the original program was to go to a private house which had been rented for that purpose. Mary objected, and the presidential party went to Willard's Hotel instead. John Nicolay, Lincoln's new secretary, said it was a "sorry" accommodation, except for the Lincolns. [8] On March 1, Mrs. Lincoln had already visited her future home. Accompanied by Mrs. Sarah B. McLean, wife of John McLean, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, she called at the White House and visited with Miss Harriet Lane, President Buchanan's niece and hostess.[9] "The mansion was in a perfect state of readiness for the incomers—A competent chef, with efficient butler and waiters," wrote a favorite cousin of Mrs. Lincoln, who had accepted an urgent invitation to make a long visit with the Lincolns and stayed a period of six months. At least for a while, most of former President Buchanan's staff remained. [10]

After the ceremonies, the Lincolns entered the White House wanting to rest and dress before the inaugural ball, a gala occasion for that dismal day. But there was the immediate Blue Room reception. And when about seventeen sat down to eat their first meal in the White House, Lincoln interrupted dinner and spoke to about one thousand delegates from New York. [11] Miss Lane made Page  [End Page 19] the gracious gesture of planning an "elegant dinner" for the Lincolns, their visiting relatives, and friends. The presidential party sat down to Miss Lane's wonderful meal and gratefully devoured both food and wine. No menu exists. After dinner, they scattered to their rooms and prepared for the inaugural ball. The presidential party finally arrived at the inaugural ball at 11 P.M. Stephen A. Douglas, Mrs. Lincoln's old beau, danced the quadrille with the new First Lady, a term first used with Mary Lincoln. The president left for the White House at 1 A.M., though Mrs. Lincoln remained at the ball. [12]

As the new president turned his attention to the agonizing responsibility of holding a dividing nation together, Mary Lincoln turned to the task of "making a national monument and public meeting place into a livable home for her family."[13]

The next day, Tuesday, March 5, 1861, the Lincolns and their guests were anxious to inspect their new home from top to bottom. The Lincoln boys, Willie and Tad, were more than eager to interview every staff member—especially "Old Edward," the doorkeeper, "a short, thin, humorous Irishman" who could keep state secrets. But the boys also interviewed every servant, maid, and scullion, as well as Thomas Stackpole—guard, engineer, and steward—whom Mrs. Lincoln declared later to be "a most worthy man & an especial friend of the President."[14]

As the new First Lady and her retinue of relatives made the grand tour, they were increasingly dismayed and disappointed with what they found. Paint, furniture, and almost everything about the Executive Mansion needed renewal. "The family apartments were in a deplorably shabby condition as to furniture (which looked as if it had been brought in by the first President), although succeeding house-keepers had taxed their ingenuity and patience to make it presentable," noted Elizabeth Todd Grimsley. The best room in the family suite, across the hall from the Lincoln bedrooms, contained a mahogany French bedstead, "split from top to bottom." Mrs. Lincoln later replaced it with the now famous "Lincoln bed." The basement had "the air of an old and unsuccessful hotel." According to William O. Stoddard, secretary, "the lower, or basement Page  [End Page 20] story, contains the kitchen, lumber rooms and other domestic offices, and is perennially overrun with rats, mildew and foul smells." [15]

Interior drawing of the East Room from the Lincoln
Interior drawing of the East Room from the Lincoln era.

The only elegance in the mansion could be found in the state parlors, the Green, Blue, and Red Rooms, and the great East Room. The furnishings in the great East Room, which were acquired by Harriet Lane, were still relatively new, and the decorated ceilings restored during President Buchanan's tenure were in good repair. But the splendor of these rooms were still tarnished by daylight. The grand stairway occupied the entire end of the west hall and proceeded up to the second floor, where little had changed structurally since the beginning.

The Lincolns worked out their household arrangements, following an arrangement which served presidential families from 1830 to 1902, when all second-floor offices were moved to Theodore Roosevelt's remodeled West Wing. The eastern half of the White House, roughly speaking, was to be devoted to business and public affairs, while the western half, except for the state dining room, would serve the needs of the family. But the Lincolns had only one Page  [End Page 21] living room, the oval room above the Blue Room. It served as a library and parlor, "really a delightful retreat." Congress set aside funds for regularly purchasing books. "The President of the United States has no private residence, and less space for the transaction of the business of his office than a well-to-do New York lawyer," Stoddard declared.[16]

At the back of the house, downstairs, were those three smaller parlors used for ordinary receptions—the Green, Blue, and Crimson or Red Rooms. Mrs. Lincoln chose the Red Room as her favorite sitting room, where she received private calls every evening during the week when in town and where the president usually met his friends socially after dinner. The Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington hung there and, therefore, it was sometimes also called the Washington Parlor.

The Lincolns soon discovered that the White House was also a public building as much as it was their residence. Their first day in the White House was not half over before "the house was full of office seekers, halls, corridors, offices, and even private apartments were invaded," observed "Cousin Lizzie." "And this throng increased for weeks, intercepting the President on his way to his meals; and strange to say," she noted, "about every tenth man claimed the honor of having raised Mr. Lincoln to the Presidency, until he was fain to exclaim 'Save me from my friends.'" Stoddard agreed: "They said that the office-seekers killed [President William Henry] Harrison and [President Zachary] Taylor—it is no fault of Abraham Lincoln that they did not kill him, for he listened to them with a degree of patience and good temper truly astonishing." The president seldom used the business stair, or the grand stair at the White House, but frequently used the service stair. Doorman Tomas Pendel recalled: "He used it more than any other in the house." He described it: "You would go up a few steps and come to a landing; up a few more steps and another landing, and so on."[17]

On the west side of the dining room in the southwest corner of the house was the state dining room. The conservatory was attached to the house on the west (about where the present West Wing is located). The conservatory was an important feature of the Page  [End Page 22] White House with a fine floral collection. The public was welcome there, at least, as Stoddard declared, "that portion of the public who might be presumed to be above stealing flowers...." Here one could discover the moist, green, and fragrant world of growing plants and flowers. It was a place of seclusion, at times. "It was from the conservatory the flowers came which cut such a figure in newspaper descriptions of the 'lavish profusion and extravagance at the Executive Mansion.'" The White House grounds were parklike and, although pleasant for walking, still had little privacy from the public eye.[18]

Upstairs, over the East Room were the president's office, the waiting room, and the offices and bedroom of his private secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay. The two young men ate their meals at Willard's Hotel. The family occupied the west side of the upstairs on the second floor.

"The President's own office is a very well furnished room, hung around with maps, &c., looking toward the South," Stoddard said. Lincoln himself observed that his office had the "war-maps, the portfolios, the slave-map, and all," along with various books. There was even a map of the North Carolina coast. Lincoln's chair by the window was covered in black haircloth. Behind the chair was a tall second-hand mahogany desk with pigeonholes, which became the president's filing system. A long table was littered by maps, books, and rolls of documents, including long pleading letters. A piece known as "Andrew Jackson's chair" was among the heirlooms. Above the mantel was a portrait of President Andrew Jackson and a portrait of John Bright, the great English reformer and statesman, an ardent admirer of Lincoln and supporter of the Union. An old-fashioned settee and some rickety chairs constituted the furniture. On one occasion, young Tad Lincoln piled two or three chairs upon the settee and hid behind it. When the president entered his office, "Tad pitched the chairs and settee over into the middle of the floor in front of his father," wrote Thomas Pendel, White House guard and doorman, and Lincoln "roared out laughing." The office could also be a place of physical danger. One morning, Lincoln was almost suffocated by a gas leak. Gas-fitters took the better part of a morning to locate it and repair it.[19] Page  [End Page 23]

William O. Stoddard, Lincoln's young assistant secretary, recalled that "Mr. Lincoln was quite fond of fruit, and presents of choice varieties were by no means unfrequent." He remembered "a peculiarly luscious-looking basket of pears, on the strength of which we boys (Nicolay, Hay and Stoddard) formed a sort of procession into the Executive Chamber one afternoon, and managed to get business suspended while a circle of distinguished gentlemen gathered round the fire and discussed the last slice, amid an amount of fun and anecdotes which at that time was becoming only too rare in that sombre apartment." Lincoln's office was a center of official authority, but could also be a place of bonhomie.[20]

The pressure of entertaining began immediately. The new secretary of state, William H. Seward, indicated that he proposed to lead off with the first reception. Mrs. Lincoln immediately objected and declared that the first official entertainment should be given by the president. The matter was settled. The first reception was held on March 8, 1861. "And what a crush and jam it was!" declared Cousin Lizzie. For over two hours, the crowd poured in as rapidly as the door would admit them, and many climbed in through the windows. The two young private secretaries, Nicolay and Hay, made the introductions to the president and the receiving party. They did "wonderfully well." It was a relief, however, when the Marine Band struck up "Yankee Doodle," which was the signal to end the festivity. According to Nicolay, it "was voted by all the 'oldest inhabitants' to have been the most successful one ever known here." [21]

Even with the dazzling preeminence of the office and the residence, there was another side. "The process of disintegration went on rapidly," wrote Elizabeth Todd Grimsley, "and in a few weeks there was a thorough change socially." The first state dinner, on March 28, 1861, was not a very enjoyable affair. Few Cabinet wives were present in Washington. And Cousin Lizzie noted that, by degrees, "we ceased to meet at our informal receptions the Maryland and Virginia families who had always held sway, and dominated Washington society." They were "easy, suave, charming in manner, descended from a long line of aristocratic families, accustomed to wealth and all the amenities of social life, and etiquette, they resented the introduction of these new elements, and withdrew, to go into the Confederacy, where all their sympathies centered," she observed. Old Washington Society did not take to these "Westerners."[22] Page  [End Page 24]

When the Civil War began, crowds continued to besiege the White House. However, there was a change of character as civilians gave way to a greater number of uniformed officers. Tearful women, some with babies in their arms, came to plead their cause to the president. An atmosphere of fear pervaded Washington and the president's house. Until the capital could be made safe from attack, the president's security was placed in the hands of Senator James H. Lane of Kansas, who organized a special White House guard of a force of 50 to 100 men, called the Frontier Guard. They slept on the president's rich Brussels carpet and stacked their arms down the center of the transverse hall. Instructed not to allow anyone into the East Room without giving the password, they refused admission to see the president. "Even the President, when he attempted to enter the hall, accompanied by his lad and some members of the Cabinet, was pricked with the sharp steel of the sentinel, and told—perhaps jocosely—that he could not possibly come in!" Lincoln later thanked them in a brief White House ceremony.[23]

Redecorating the White House

In this depressing environment, the president's wife determined to make of the building's magnificence, along with its standing army of servants, a national showplace and a comfortable dwelling. If Lincoln declared that construction of the dome on the Capitol should continue as a symbol of the "Union," so Mary Lincoln determined that the White House should be refurnished and renovated. And such an overhaul was in order because the Congress had appropriated twenty thousand dollars for that purpose before war commenced. A community of the executive office and the White House staff and servants must have a proper setting in which to live and work.

The First Lady saw the opportunity to create a comfortable environment for her family, and at the same time, a sumptuous and fashionable house for the people who owned it. It would also serve as a brilliant setting for lavish entertainment befitting the presidential office. And besides, it was her responsibility as the wife of the president of the United States. She could forget her worries and fears and take up the task of redoing the White House and spend the congressional appropriation.[24] Page  [End Page 25]

In mid-May 1861 Mrs. Lincoln began her task and traveled to Philadelphia, Boston, and New York with Elizabeth Grimsley and others. On the first trip to New York, she purchased a carriage for $900. By August 1861, her shopping sprees had also included carpets, furniture, and drapes. In September she purchased "one fine Porcelain Dining Service of One Hundred and ninety pieces ... decorated Royal Purple, and double gilt, with the Arms of the United States, on each piece, for the Presidential Mansion." The cost was $3,195. The bill for the glassware was $1,500. Lincoln ordered the incoming bills to be paid.[25]

In November a bill in the amount of $5,198 arrived for "French Satin Brocatelle Curtain, Tassels, Fringes, Cornices, Hall Carpets, Laces Labor Freight & Cartage." She wrote on the back: "This bill is correct in accordance with my purchases from Mr. Carryl—The goods are now here—Mr. Lincoln will please have bill paid." Lincoln approved the bill and referred it to the accounting officers for payment. But the president had already approved a previous bill from Wm. H. Carryl and Brother for the sum of $7,500 for furnishings purchased. Now came the additional bill.[26]

In her love of beautiful things and her desire and sincere wish to perform her task responsibly as First Lady, she had been continually flattered by merchants and victimized. And, thus, she exceeded the budget by $6,858. The congressional law appropriated furnishing the house "under the President." But Mrs. Lincoln had actually made the purchases and spent the appropriation.[27]

In desperation, Mary Lincoln sent for Benjamin Brown French, commissioner of public buildings, and pleaded with him to see the President. "Mr. Lincoln will not approve it," she cried. "I want you to see him and tell him that it is common to overrun appropriations—tell him how much it costs to refurnish, he does not know much about it, he says he will pay it out of his own pocket." French went to the president to persuade him to approve the bills. "I accordingly saw him; but he was inexorable," French declared. "He said it would stink in the land to have it said that an appropriation of $20,000 for furnishing the house had been overrun by the President when the poor freezing soldiers could not have blankets, Page  [End Page 26] & he swore he would never approve the bills for flub dubs for that damned old house!" Lincoln told French that "it was furnished well enough when they came—better than any house they had ever lived in—& rather than put his name to such a bill he would pay it out of his own pocket!" "It was not pleasant to be sure," he declared. The matter was settled by Congress with deficiency appropriations. But as far as purchases Mary Lincoln made for herself, Stoddard declared they came out of the president's salary. "Large expenditures were absolutely necessary," he said. "It is nobody's business how the President spends his salary, or whether he chooses not to spend it," Stoddard said in protest. Meanwhile, a cabinetmaker mounted four maps in the president's executive office for about $2.50, and Nicolay purchased a mahogany sofa for $24 and six chairs for $18. [28]

Through August and into September 1861 few parts of the White House were left undisturbed by workmen. The smell of paint, varnish, and wallpaper permeated the place. The spring-bell system of the presidential offices was expanded, so that Lincoln could signal the secretaries' offices and the reception room from his desk. Furniture began to arrive from Mrs. Lincoln's shopping venture and was stacked still crated in the transverse hall. In time for the opening of the fall season, redecoration was completed in October 1861. The First Lady was pleased, and her first official reception was held on December 8 from 1 to 3 P.M. Mrs. Lincoln had been forced by necessity to modify some of her original goals. The East Room chandeliers, installed during President Jackson's tenure and converted by President Polk to gas, had to remain. She kept other furnishings that she also would like to have replaced. [29]

But within two years the lace curtains, heavy cords, tassels, and damask drapery that she purchased for the house suffered considerably from relic-hunting vandals who actually clipped off small bits of the stuff to carry home as souvenirs or mementoes. Stoddard was appalled at the behavior of "memento-collecting visitors." "All was fish which came to their net," he said sadly. They took buttons from Mrs. Lincoln's dress, or flowers from the vases, to strips rudely severed from the curtains or the carpet. Tassels, fringes and minor ornaments were perpetually disappearing. He noted that "one relic-worshipping vandal, male or female, cut nearly two Page  [End Page 27] feet in length out of a nearly new silk window curtain." If it had not been for the fact that "all the furniture, vases. &c., were of the heaviest description,... they would have doubtless been carried off piecemeal." A kind of hysterical vandalism marked the war years. But perhaps because the White House belongs to the American people, they wished to take their individual share.[30]

Interior drawing of the Green Room from the Lincoln
Interior drawing of the Green Room from the Lincoln era.

The Daily White House Routine

The Office

The world watched the White House after war began. Tourists called in droves. The president's family was hounded by the press. The Lincolns knew privacy only in a few rooms at the west end of the second floor. The central corridor outside their rooms was frequently a back route to the presidential offices, used by politicians, messengers, and even strangers who were seeking a presidential audience. Lincoln never denied the people's right to see him. Page  [End Page 28]

There probably had never been such a great turnover of personnel as at the beginning of Lincoln's presidential term. Departments "fairly swarmed with the family dependents and connections of the Southern political magnates who then, for so long a time, had controlled the dominant party," wrote Stoddard. Still, a large number of the old employees were retained, and the tremendous increase in government business gave employment to a large number of new people, "many of whom had better have been in the army," declared Stoddard.[31]

For weeks and months after Lincoln's inauguration, the anterooms, halls, and staircases of the White House "swarmed with office-seekers." At first all of the president's time was taken up with office-seekers and Lincoln attended to business and interviewed all these people during a twelve-hour day. Lincoln's secretary, Nicolay, wrote:

The intense pressure does not seem to abate as yet but I think it cannot last more than two or three weeks longer. I am looking forward with a good deal of eagerness to when I shall have time to at least read and write my letters in peace and without being haunted continually by some one who "wants to see the President for only five minutes." At present this request meets me from almost every man [,] woman and child I meet—whether it be by day or night—in the house or on the street....[32]
But they still kept coming on and on and on. And the president began his day's work long before the city was astir; he was an early riser.

At first Lincoln refused to limit his office hours in any way, saying "They do not want much, and they get very little ... I know how I would feel in their place." So the visiting hours began even before breakfast and ended late at night. Even the president saw something had to be done. Nicolay got Lincoln to agree "to let me have his business hours limited to from 10 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon." He thought that would be a "very great improvement." "And it will relieve not him alone but all the rest of us, from a burden of labor which it would be impossible to sustain for a great length of time," he averred. [33] Page  [End Page 29]

A few days later, Nicolay commented that "we are somewhat relieved from the 'outside pressure' by the President's having limited his reception hours from 10 to 1 o'clock." The president had reduced the time still more to three hours from the early five. "At least, under this arrangement we do get the bulk of the crowd shut out in the afternoon at least...." Lincoln's having limited his hours for seeing people on business had relieved his secretaries very much and given them time at least to eat and sleep, which is "a considerable gain." However, he noted: "the crowd however hangs on with a wonderful perseverance." Lincoln broke his own rule to oblige importunate visitors. [34]

People pushed and shoved when the north doors were opened in the morning, filling the anteroom, the vestibule, the waiting room, with tight lines trailing down the business stairway to the entrance hall. Callers badgered the doormen and messengers for drinks of water and direction to and use of the water closet on the main floor. During that first month in residence, the president and his staff found the crowd especially unruly. After the first month or so most of the appointments were made and the lines began to thin. And then when the rumors of war came, it all changed again. "For the past week the crowd about the house here has rather increased than abated and I cannot therefore very well calculate how it will continue," Nicolay wrote. Throughout Lincoln's entire time in the White House, anyone who wished to talk to the president could walk up to his office, and after speaking to the doorkeeper go in and meet him. Excepting when engaged with others, "Lincoln seldom if ever declined to receive any man or woman who came to the White House to see him." [35]

The law provided for only one private secretary at that time, and John G. Nicolay served into 1865. "He was the only attache of the President who had any claim to that specific title," wrote Stoddard. "Nevertheless—thanks to a dyspeptic tendency—he had developed an artificial manner the reverse of 'popular,'" Stoddard declared, "and could say 'no' about as disagreeably as any man I ever knew." Stoddard noted:

That, however, for which we all respected him, which was his chief qualification for the very important post he occupied, was Page  [End Page 30] his devotion to the President and his incorruptible honesty Lincoln-ward. He measured all things and all men by their relations to the President, and was of incalculable service in fending off much that would have been unnecessary labor and exhaustion to his overworked patron. For this, and more, he deserves the thanks of all who loved Mr. Lincoln, even if at times they had reason to grumble at "the bulldog in the anteroom." [36]

John Hay was "assistant private secretary," but the law did not recognize such an office. He became secretary by "subterfuge." He was first made a clerk in the Pension Office, and afterward an officer in the army and ordered to the White House for special duty. Stoddard wrote: "He is quite young, and looks younger than he is; of a fresh and almost boyish complexion; quite a favorite among the ladies, and with a gift for epigram and repartee." Both Nicolay and Hay had "very pleasant offices, and a nice large bedroom, though all of them sadly need new furniture and carpets." Nicolay added: "That too we expect to have remedied after a while."[37]

When the mass of correspondence grew too much for two secretaries to handle, Lincoln secured other help. Another young man with secretarial duties was added to the staff—William O. Stoddard. Stoddard was originally a clerk in the Department of the Interior and was assigned "duty at the White House." He and Mrs. Lincoln developed a warm liking and friendship, partly because of his pleasant personality and the fact that he was assigned to open the First Lady's flood of mail. Mary Lincoln liked "Stod" better than the other two secretaries, according to John Nicolay's daughter, Helen, and "they were only too glad to delegate to him."[38]

Early in 1864, Edward D. Neill was appointed to read and dispose of all letters addressed to President Lincoln and commissioned as secretary to sign land patents to succeed Stoddard, who had become ill. Charles H. Philbrick of Illinois, an old friend of Nicolay, was made a second class clerk in the Department of the Interior and assigned to duty at the White House, taking the second class clerkship that Neill had held before. In addition, Nicolay and Hay were Page  [End Page 31] served by both Gustave E. Matile, Swiss-born, and Nathaniel S. Howe, a pension clerk in the Department of the Interior who served from 1863 to 1865. As late as March 8, 1865, at the beginning of the second term, Lincoln needed more help. He wrote the secretary of the treasury ad interim: "Please detail a good clerk from your Department, to report to my Private Secretary for temporary duty in the Executive Office." Nicolay wrote: "The office-seekers will swarm upon us like Egyptian locusts for two or three weeks; but I do not think the President intends to give them much encouragement, and without that the extravagant hotel bills here will exhaust their pockets in a very short time and send them home where they can find cheaper living." It was impossible for the president to show interest in anyone without being solicited for an appointment. [39]

No other president had labored under such an accumulation of duties. The law gave him one secretary, with no assistant, and one secretary, to sign land patents. The deficiency was "partly remedied by drafting clerks and army officers to the White House to perform special duty, and these frequently take full rank, by courtesy, as Secretaries...." The private secretary's salary was $2,500 and that of the other but $1,500. Stoddard observed that the private secretary had "vast power for good or evil which is placed in the hands of a man constantly in the President's confidence, able at any time to 'obtain his ear,' sure to be listened to without suspicion or prejudice, and always in possession of current State secrets." Seldom more than two or three Cabinet members equaled the private secretary in real power. Such a person must be "a man of more than ordinary brains and integrity if he does to at times do mischief." The other secretaries' faith in him was "almost blind." Nicolay was to exercise more or less control over the access of business or of individuals to the president. But this was at times difficult with Lincoln. The measure of a day's labor was "strength and time alone" and it was often that the hours from nine in the morning until three or four in the afternoon were given to the business of receiving all comers. Unusually a careful distinction was made in favor of public rather than private affairs, "but no man went away without an interview if the President was really able to see him." [40] Page  [End Page 32]

The only other people whom Stoddard thought important for Lincoln's office staff were Louis Berger, Lincoln's messenger at the door of the president's room, "German, crusty, pragmatical and pertinacious; proud of his position and authority, and little tolerant of interference; but trustworthy, and, on the whole, capable" and "'Edward [McManus]'—he needs no other name—for four administrations doorkeeper of the White House, and an inexhaustible well of incident and anecdote concerning the old worthies and unworthies," he wrote. He was described as "an undersized, neatly dressed, polite, comical old man, with a world of genuine Irish wit in his white head." [41]

Lincoln's Cabinet met pretty regularly on Tuesdays at 1 P.M., but there were frequent special meetings, and the secretaries of state and War, along with their commander in chief were constantly coming and going between their own homes and offices and the White House. One secretary who served for two and one-half years did not remember that he had ever seen Vice President Hannibal Hamlin at the White House, "although he may have been there a few times for all that." It appeared that some sort of etiquette had been established, "in accordance with which it is not considered good taste for the second officer of the Republic to meddle much with public business, and which, at all event, keeps him away from the Executive Mansion."[42]

"The President's capacity for work was wonderful," wrote Ed-ward Neill, Assistant Secretary. "While other men were taking recreation through the sultry months of summer he remained in his office attending to the wants of the nation. He was never an idler or a lounger. Each hour he was busy." "Mr. Lincoln spent most of his evenings in his office," John Hay wrote, "though occasionally he remained in the drawingroom [The Red Room] after dinner, conversing with visitors or listening to music...." [43]

A vast amount of business came to the president's office through the mail. Stoddard had charge, "with full power," for about two years and half. Sometimes hundreds of packages and envelopes, of all sorts and sizes arrived in a day, and sometimes dwindled to a few dozens. The mail varied widely: "applications for office, for con- Page  [End Page 33] tracts, for pardons, for pecuniary aid, for advice, political disquisitions, religious exhortations, the rant and drivel of insanity, bitter abuse, foul obscenity, slanderous charges against public men, police and war information, military reports—there never was on earth such another omnium gatherum as the President's mail." Autograph requests were innumerable and received very little encouragement because the president had more important things to do. After careful examination, almost all business letters were referred to the appropriate special office or department. But another large class, probably the largest, as a general rule, went into the secretary's willow wastebasket. A few were properly filed for future reference in the office, and a very small percentage—maybe three or four in a hundred—were properly briefed and remarked upon and laid on Lincoln's desk. This was necessary because Lincoln did not have the physical energy and time to personally attend to all his mail.[44]

Correspondence also took much of Lincoln's time, although he personally read few of the hundreds of letters addressed to him. The president rarely dictated, and usually made a verbal or written summary for his secretaries, or carefully wrote out the entire response himself—and frequently copied it carefully. In addition, a huge amount of documents was daily transferred from Lincoln's table to that of his secretary. Stoddard recalled:

Not unfrequently he would lay aside his despatches and papers, and his Presidency, and stroll into one of the secretaries' rooms for a careless chat with "the boys," and I have seen his face cloud up with concealed chagrin when the messenger [Louis Berger], would announce the arrival of some ponderous Senator, important Congressman, or busy Cabinet Minister, as with a sigh of half weariness and whole vexation he would turn to his own room, or we would disperse to other apartments. [45]

The number of people who really had influence with Lincoln, or could obtain favors from him by purely personal application, was not very large, although many later claimed great influence. "I could name them all upon my fingers," Stoddard declared later. "They were, moreover, with two or three exceptions, a class of men who seldom troubled him with personal applications, and when Page  [End Page 34] they did come, or write, we knew very well that what they came for, if reasonable, was pretty sure of accomplishment."[46]

William Slade, White House servant.
William Slade, White House servant.

The Home

A very close relationship developed between the office and the home in this White House community. The president was often summoned as early as five o'clock in the morning to his office, and Mrs. Lincoln repeatedly sent his coffee there. He would not have breakfast until 9 or 10 in the morning. "But this soon began to tell upon even his iron constitution, and only repeated protests brought about any degree of regularity," wrote Cousin Lizzie. "Mrs. Lincoln often invited well-known friends to breakfast, and then sent word to the President we had company, and breakfast was waiting for him." He arrived looking sad and harassed, sat down, and Page  [End Page 35] with barely a nod of recognition, said, "Mother, I do not think I ought to have come." But Lizzie then noted, "he would relax, his eye brighten, and his whole face lighten, as only those who had seen the transformation would believe, and we would be launched into a sea of laughter—he himself falling in with his oft quoted expression 'And this reminds me.'"

About this same time, Mrs. Lincoln instituted the daily carriage drive, wrote Cousin Lizzie, and "insisted upon it, as her right, that he should accompany her, as this was the only way in which she could induce him to take the fresh air, which he so much needed." At about 4 P.M., the President declined to see any more callers. The Lincolns then went for a drive in the countryside, or sometimes he would ride horseback. This was a part of Mrs. Lincoln's campaign to take care of her husband's health and lighten his spirit. [47]

Children turned the old House into a home. Willie, ten, and Thomas (Tad), aged eight, ranged "lawless and lovable" over the entire mansion. "No room was sacred from their intrusion; no conference too weighty to be broken in upon by the rush of their onslaught," wrote Nicolay's daughter. The boys held a minstrel show in the attic, and "inserted dogs, cats, goats and ponies into various crevices of the domestic establishment." The White House roof served in various capacities, as a circus ground, a fort, or the deck of a ship. The boys, especially Tad, interrupted the President's labors with impunity and escaped periodically from domestic authorities in the house. And after Willie's death in February 1862, young Tad, a warm-hearted little boy, became his father's constant companion, even sleeping in his father's bed. Tad visited with those waiting to see his father and, in some of these cases which he heard of, with tears and sobs, made the case known to his father.[48]

The president dined between 5 and 6 P.M. and was usually joined by friends. The Lincolns ate their meals in the small dining room on the north side of the main floor, close to the pantry and the dumbwaiter from the basement. It was informal and cozy because Lincoln was strictly temperate and simple in his habits. William H. Crook, Lincoln's personal bodyguard, wrote: "Mr. Lincoln ate heartily but not to excess; he was particularly fond of certain things, especially apples, and Mrs. Lincoln always had a sufficiency of this fruit chosen carefully and ready at hand." Usually for lunch, he preferred an apple and a glass of milk. But if there was a guest, he Page  [End Page 36] would come to the table. At supper time he would usually eat more, but the president never was particularly interested in food. The Lincoln White House chef is still unknown. A shocking invitation to dine with the President and Mrs. Lincoln came up to the presidential secretaries one evening. Secretary Nicolay wrote: "This is a startling 'change of base' on the part of the lady, and I am at a loss at the moment to explain it. However, as etiquette does not permit any one on any excuse to decline an invitation to dine with the President, I shall have to make the reconnaissance, and thereby more fully learn the tactics of the enemy [Mrs. Lincoln herself who later became 'Her S(atanic) Majesty']."[49]

By 1865 the Lincoln family routine had regularized. At 8 A.M. the president would join his wife and little Tad for breakfast, where a plain but sufficiently hearty meal was served by two waiters who were white men, and who were paid personally by the president, who also paid the wages of the cook and his coachman Ned Burke and footman Charles Forbes. "There was little formality about the meal; the President loved to joke with his wife and son, and for the time being put aside the cares of his great office and his anxiety for the country," Crook noted. As soon as breakfast was over, the president would go to his office and begin his ceaseless toil of his busy day. Meanwhile, Mrs. Lincoln busied herself with the White House, just as any other housekeeper would busy herself about her private home. She walked from room to room, seeing that the work was satisfactorily done. "She looked after those innumerable small details, especially those to do with the comfort of her husband and her little son," wrote Crook. Then she attended to her personal correspondence in her own boudoir, where she had her own desk. Usually, she would then go down to the old conservatory which had become her favorite resort. [50]

During the last months in the White House, President and Mrs. Lincoln usually dined at 7 P.M.—"a leisurely meal, well cooked, well chosen, with special reference to the President's dislike of elaborate dishes and 'frills' in general." After dinner, around 8 P.M., President Lincoln left the table and made his second visit of the day to the War Department to get the latest news from the front, excepting Thursday evening, when he waited until the regular Page  [End Page 37] levee had been held. During his absence of two or three hours, Mrs. Lincoln saw Tad to bed and went into the Red Room, or "living-room," as it was then called. She remained the rest of the evening in reading newspapers until Lincoln's return. The president usually arrived by 11 P.M. and found his wife waiting for him. He then shared the news from the front. They discussed battles, retreats, victories, and defeats calmly and ended their day shortly after midnight, sometimes later, before they retired to their adjoining bedrooms on the second floor. [51]

By 1865 there was a close relationship between both the Executive Office and the presidential apartments. "Every now and then during the day, if Mrs. Lincoln happened to think of something she wished to tell her husband, she did not hesitate to go into his office as she would have gone unhesitatingly into his law office in Spring-field," Crook observed. He wrote:

First of all Abraham Lincoln was her husband; she was his helpmate and comrade, and the fact that he was a world figure, occupied with some of the gravest problems that have ever affected mankind, did not overwhelm and blot out the fact that he was her husband.
She did not intrude while the president was engaged in his office, because "she was very careful never to interrupt any of the countless conferences with officials of the government, or with representatives of foreign governments, or with humble citizens of private life who constantly called upon President Lincoln." But if Lincoln was not occupied with such business, she often came into his office and asked him a question about some matter, perhaps to inquire "if he had an engagement for that afternoon or evening, whether he could go to the theater, or take a drive; or to speak with him about something or other that little Tad wished to do." Crook declared: "Looking at their lives in this aspect, it was all very beautiful and homelike."[52]

Mrs. Lincoln served as her own White House housekeeper. She had a steward who attended to personal duties, but the First Lady oversaw and directed everything herself. William Crook wrote:

She knew just what kinds of foods should be provided, what cuts of various meats were the best, how vegetables should be prepared, how bread should be made. And what is more, her Page  [End Page 38] cook, her waiters, and her other servants, knew what she knew. In consequence, the domestic affairs of the executive Mansion ran along their way smoothly and serenely and most comfortably.
"People have thought Mrs. Lincoln frivolous," Crook declared. "She was not. She knew, for example, what the President liked to eat and what was good for him to eat, and she saw that he had it." [53]

Mary Lincoln's domain was her home—even in the White House. And she was the domestic authority in the House. Servants, stewards, and doormen were her responsibility, even if they had preceded the Lincolns through earlier administrations. She developed the habit of confiding in her servants and entrusted them with her secrets. She sent them on confidential errands and exacted personal favors. Mary Ann Cuthbert, for a time a housekeeper at the White House, Thomas Stackpole, an engineer on the staff, and the chief doorkeeper, Edward McManus, served her in both private and public capacities. But in January 1865, Mrs. Lincoln abruptly dismissed "Old Edward," who had served as the doorkeeper since President Jackson's days. It seemed that Edward could not be trusted with Mrs. Lincoln's secrets. The precise reason for his removal is somewhat mysterious, although it must have been a serious betrayal. She called him a "serpent." B. B. French, Commissioner of Public Buildings, dismissed him in 1865.[54]

White House Security

When Mary Lincoln wrote home to Springfield in 1861: "Thousands of soldiers are guarding us, and if there is a safety in numbers, we have every reason, to feel secure." Washington became an armed camp, and the White House became a house of fear. "But the feeling of danger was lurking in the air, threats of assassination were made, warning letters written to the family," wrote Cousin Lizzie, and by order of General Scott guards were placed around and in the White House, much to the president's dissatisfaction, who "had great faith in the people.'" She reported that one night every family member, except the servants, was taken ill. Physicians were immediately called, and there were whisperings of "Poison," Page  [End Page 39] but Cousin Lizzie reported it was an "over-indulgence in Potomac Shad, a new and tempting dish to western palates." [55]

By the end of 1861, it appeared that White House security had relaxed. But this was deceiving. Many of the guards were dressed as doormen. There were few soldiers because the majority were members of the Metropolitan Police. These "doormen" wore frock coats and baggy trousers, like an average citizen. "We were ordered to report in citizen's clothes, to conceal our revolvers, and to be sure to have them all clean and in good order," one guard wrote.[56]

To improve security for the president, a partition was built across the south end of the reception room, creating a closed passage between his office and the family sitting room, or oval room library. This gave the president and members of his family increased privacy on the second floor between his office and home. They would no longer have to pass through the second-floor hall, through crowds of people, in order to go from one end of the second floor to the other. [57]

As the war progressed, Lincoln's face grew more haggard and careworn. Nicolay wrote: "the president's task here is no child's play." He did not sleep well. Sometimes the president wandered through the White House when he should have been in bed, often going to his office and staying there very late. "The President was frequently alone in his room evening after evening—the whole East Wing unoccupied except by himself and a sleeping messenger in the ante-room, and ingress and egress entirely unobstructed," Stoddard anxiously observed:

We never discussed the subject much, for some reason, but I believe that both Mr. Nicolay and Col. Hay, as well as myself, thought more about it than we ever confessed. At least we spent many an evening in our offices, with a sharp eye and ear open for the footstep in the hall, when we would have been puzzled to give a good reason for our presence, other than that in some vague and unaccountable way we were "on guard."

The president's person was utterly unprotected for a while. One of General Halleck's staff, Colonel Halpine, complained: "Any as- Page  [End Page 40] sassin or maniac, seeking his life, could enter his presence without the interference of a single armed man to hold him back." The entrance doors and all the doors on the Pennsylvania side of the mansion were open at all hours of the day and, often, very late into the evening. There were two attendants—one for the outer door and another for the door of the president's office who were "remiss in their duties." Lincoln's office and bedroom were on the same floor, and only a glass partition separated the official and residential parts.[58]

By 1865 the president was personally guarded during the afternoon or evening receptions and levees. The bodyguard to the president took his position just inside the Blue Room and directly opposite the president. He faced every person who came up to the threshold of that door. It was his responsibility to see that "no suspicious character should come within reach of President Lincoln; and that no person, even though well known, should cross that doorway with hands concealed or covered in any manner whatsoever." Crook noted that "in guarding a president or any other man the first consideration is to watch the hands of those who might do harm. Empty hands can never accomplish assassination." Crook wrote later:

I am quite sure that neither he [the President] nor Mrs. Lincoln worried about the possibility of the President being assassinated. Certainly if Mrs. Lincoln worried about the possibility of such an occurrence she did not show it, and the President exercised the calm philosophy of a stoic in this particular. He believed that if anybody was bad enough to kill him there was nothing on earth to prevent it. [59]

White House Social Affairs

Social occasions at the Lincoln White House were usually elaborate, stately, and overcrowded, even though the Lincolns were "the Western-most people who had inhabited the White House and were new to official ceremony." It was then that the home was trans- Page  [End Page 41] formed into a showplace. Lincoln believed it was important for the people to have access to the White House and their president.

Room reception circa 1862.
Blue Room reception circa 1862.

There was a thorough social change in the first few weeks following the inauguration. At the informal levees and receptions, the Lincolns met fewer of the Maryland and Virginia families who had always held sway and dominated Washington society. But President and Mrs. Lincoln continued the White House social program. During the winter, Mrs. Lincoln's afternoon receptions and the president's public levees were held regularly, usually twice a week, with Tuesday evening dress receptions and less formal occasions on Saturday evenings.[60]

By 1865 mingling among the private citizens dressed in full evening dress—men and women who occupied high positions in finance, commerce, professional life, and in society generally—were men and women from the country districts and backwoods. They were from the farms in New England and the Middle States, and from the Middle West who wore unfashionable attire and anything but expensive material. Sometimes the men wore cowhide boots with their trousers tucked in. Many of these people appeared at President and Mrs. Lincoln's levee of January 5, 1865. The White House receptions had changed greatly during these years of war. [61] Page  [End Page 42]

Mrs. Lincoln brought to her position as White House hostess very fine qualifications, despite the attacks on her Western origin. She was born and reared a gentlewoman with an excellent cultural education. Although she was the First Lady, the president placed his private secretary, John G. Nicolay, in charge of managing the arrangements, which involved much when precedent is so important, especially with foreign dignitaries. The State Department prepared the list of diplomats with their respective ranks. And although there was a book of etiquette to draw upon, Nicolay and his assistant Hay needed cool heads, and quick responses to the embarrassments of protocol. Both Nicolay and Hay were praised for their early success in mastering their task to "an eminent degree." Clashes developed early on between the young private secretaries and the First Lady. She objected to certain people being invited, and Nicolay called this kind of confrontation an "imbroglio." But the president had made arrangements of the White House social affairs Nicolay's business exclusively. At one point, Nicolay wrote, she finally "backed down, requested my presence and assistance—apologizing, and explaining that the affair had worried her so she hadn't slept for a night or two." [62]

On New Year's Day 1864, there was a huge reception. Mrs. Lincoln "left off her mourning garb." It was the first time since Willie Lincoln's death in February 1862 that she had laid aside her somber apparel, and officiated gaily "in a purple velvet dress, decorated with white satin flutings." After the officers, diplomats, and special groups were received in the morning, about noon, the doors were thrown open and a large crowd surged in to meet their president and First Lady.

Noah Brooks, one of Lincoln's favorite companions in the later months of the war, sent a description of the event to California. He dispatched:

Uncle Abraham stands by the door which opens into the Blue Room, flanked by Marshal [Ward Hill] Lamon and his private secretary [John G. Nicolay], who introduce the new arrivals, each giving his name and that of the lady who accompanies him. The President shakes hands, says, "How-do," and the visitor is passed on to where Mrs. Lincoln stands, flanked by another private secretary and B. B. French the Commissioner of Public Buildings, who introduce the party; then all press on Page  [End Page 43] to the next room, where they admire each other's good clothes, criticise Mrs. Lincoln's new gown, gossip a little, flirt a little, yawn, go home and say "What a bore!" Such is our Republican Court, and the most bored man in it is Old Abe, who hates white kid gloves and a crowd.
The social program at the White House accelerated during the first four months of 1864. The last reception in April was described as having surpassed all previous White House receptions, "indeed, the 'oldest inhabitant' would be at a loss to name one in the history of Washington so densely crowded." Thousands were unable to pay their respects to President and Mrs. Lincoln, "the latter of whom was exquisitely attired, and excited general admiration." It was an election year, and Mrs. Lincoln wished to entertain as many people as possible.[63]

Musical entertainment on the White House grounds had been a part of the life of the Executive Mansion. The Marine Band played every Wednesday and Saturday evening, when the grounds were opened to everybody. Usually a large crowd gathered by 5:30 P.M. However, the White House announced in June 1862 that there would be no music on the "President's grounds" during that season because the presidential family was mourning the loss of young Willie Lincoln the previous February. But the following May 1864 it was announced that Saturday concerts by the Marine Band would resume on the White House grounds. [64]

Special events also were held on the grounds around the president's mansion. The President and Mrs. Lincoln were involved in a flag-raising ceremony there on June 29, 1861. From time to time people poured to the White House for speeches from the president after Union victories, and they were allowed to assemble on the lawn in front of the North Portico to see and listen to the president. Sometimes schoolchildren played on the steps of the White House or on the lawn. The president would stop and visit with them. In fact, Edward Neill wrote his daughter in Minnesota on May 31, 1864: "Yesterday four or five thousand Sunday School children, with banners and bands of music[,] marched by the President's House, while he stood at the window and received their hearty cheers with smiles...." Lincoln endorsed a note of Ben- Page  [End Page 44] jamin B. French to allow the grounds between the White House and the War Department to be used by St. Matthew's Colored Sunday School for an anniversary celebration on July 4, in spite of the stables having been destroyed by fire earlier in the year. The President and Mrs. Lincoln were glad to see them one and all. [65]

Closing White House Days

That year, 1864, Lincoln was reelected and spoke to the assembled crowd at the White House. He concluded his address with a more personal statement:

While I am deeply sensible to the high compliment of a reelection, and duly grateful, as I trust, to Almighty God for having directed to a right conclusion, as I think, for their own good, it adds nothing to my satisfaction that any other man may be disappointed or pained by the result.
The president called for healing, a theme Lincoln began to repeat more frequently. "May I ask those who have differed with me, to join with me, in this same spirit towards those who have?" [66]

But there was turmoil in the White House community, and it became apparent around New Year's Day 1865. Nicolay had earlier warned his future wife that "as the matter now stands I am pretty well resolved not to remain here in my present relation" after Lincoln's second inauguration. "And I think my chances are also against my remaining in Washington." Charles H. Philbrick, an assistant secretary noted that "Nicolay is gloomy on account of physical and mental trouble." John Hay was doing the "ornamental" responsibilities, and the rest of the office labor was divided between three other secretaries, including Philbrick, "who get along tolerably well with it."[67]

John Hay and Mrs. Lincoln had been engaged in confrontations over financial matters. By March 31, he too reported that he was "thoroughly sick of certain aspects of life here, which you will understand without my putting them on paper." Just after the second inauguration, Edward Neill told the president that he would Page  [End Page 45] "become an applicant for the Commissionership or Asst. Commissionership of the Freedman's Bureau." By April, Philbrick was aware that both Nicolay and Hay were leaving the White House and going to Europe by the end of May. Philbrick did not know who would be in Nicolay's place, but hoped "some good man for otherwise I won[']t stay." "Mrs[.] L will try to put in her favorite, Mr. Brooks, a newspaper man," he wrote. "What the President may think has not yet transpired." But it had already transpired unknown to Philbrick.[68]

Later, A. K. McClure revealed his understanding of the matter of Nicolay's removal. McClure declared that Nicolay "was a good mechanical routine clerk; he was utterly inefficient as the Secretary of the President; his removal was earnestly pressed upon Lincoln on more than one occasion because of his want of tact and fitness for his trust, and only the proverbial kindness of Lincoln saved him from dismissal." [69]

On New Year's Day 1865, the president asked Noah Brooks "to remain at the Capital as his Private Secretary, in place of Mr. John G. Nicolay." The offer was proferred because of the president's "kindly estimate" of Brooks's character and ability. Mrs. Lincoln had successfully enlisted the aid of Anson G. Henry, Lincoln's Springfield doctor, to have Brooks, a Sacramento Daily Union correspondent, replace Nicolay. Henry reported in March 1865 that "I have been working ... with Mrs. Lincoln to get Nicolay out as private Secretary and Mr. Brooks in his place." Brooks had repeatedly defended Mrs. Lincoln and had become a warm personal friend of both the president and his family. He spent much time at the White House in 1864, eating, visiting, sleeping over, as well as taking excursions with the Lincolns. [70]

Lincoln's health continued to decline. By March 13, 1865, the president was too sick to see any visitors. The following day, he conducted a Cabinet meeting in his bedroom and remained feeble a few days longer. Lincoln needed rest. General Grant extended an invitation to the president to leave the White House responsibilities and visit City Point, Virginia, and be close to the final action Page  [End Page 46] of his army. Mrs. Lincoln encouraged her husband to accept, which he did. Now the president could experience his own personal observation and participation in those final days of victory. The presidential party left aboard the steamer "River Queen" and did not return for two weeks. This was to be a vacation of victory, it was hoped, as well as a time of rest for the weary president.[71]

The presidential party left City Point for the return trip to Washington on April 8. Secretary of War Stanton greeted the Lincolns with a telegram from Grant, which read: "General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia this morning" at a place called Appomattox Court House, Virginia. That same evening Lincoln said to the injured Secretary of State Seward: "We are near the end at last." The president responded "briefly and pleasantly" to a White House crowd. He now appeared well-rested and in excellent health. The two-week vacation from White House pressures and with Grant's victorious army had revived both the president's body and his spirits.[72]

A new presidential term, the end of war, and the beginning of a time of peace and national reconstruction, was reflected in a new White House staff for the president's office by April 1865. There were changes in the social structure of the House. The old White House staff for war became a new White House staff for peace. The resignations of Lincoln's secretaries, Nicolay, Hay, and Philbrick, and the appointment of Noah Brooks as Lincoln's private secretary, and the probable appointment of new assistant secretaries was symbolic of the change from war to peace. Mrs. Lincoln looked forward to working with her friend, Brooks, and a much different relationship than had been her experience for the last four years. The White House could now become a more tranquil place.[73]

President Lincoln had entered the most intensive period of his presidency in those last seven weeks of his life. By April 14, he was "care-ploughed, tempest-tossed, and weather-beaten," but triumphant. Unappreciated and misunderstood in the summer of 1864, Page  [End Page 47] Lincoln had become a hero to the myriad of former slaves now set free and his soldiers in the field. Sometime after 5 P.M., President and Mrs. Lincoln took a carriage drive alone and talked about their future together after his term had been completed. "Dear husband, you almost startle me, by your great cheerfulness," Mrs. Lincoln told him on their afternoon ride. He told her: "I consider this day, the war has come to a close...." Lincoln was now buoyed by hope and happiness he had not known since coming to live at the White House. He was in the "most exuberant mood." The White House community could now return to a time of peace and domestic tranquility. The president's visit to Ford's Theater changed all that![74] Page  [End Page 48]


  1. Helen Nicolay, Personal Traits of Abraham Lincoln (New York: D. Appleton Co., 1939), 206. return to text
  2. Thomas Bender, Community and Social Change in America (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978), 7. return to text
  3. Ruth Painter Randall, Mary Lincoln: Biography of a Marriage (Boston: Little, Brown, 1953), 264; Benjamin Brown French to Pamela French, Washington, Dec. 24, 1861, Benjamin Brown French Papers, Library of Congress. return to text
  4. William O. Stoddard, "White House Sketches, No. I," New York Citizen, Aug. 18, 1866; William O. Stoddard, Inside the White House in War Times (New York: Charles L. Webster, 1890), 24–26. return to text
  5. Julia Taft Bayne, Tad Lincoln's Father (Boston: Little, Brown, 1931), 17; Baltimore Sun, Mar. 5, 1861. return to text
  6. Benjamin Brown French, Mar. 6, 1861, in Donald B. Cole and John J. McDonough, Benjamin Brown French, Witness to the Young Republic: A Yankee's Journal, 1828–1870 (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 1989), 348–49. return to text
  7. Cf. Katherine Helm, The True Story of Mary, Wife of Lincoln (New York: Harper, 1928), and William Henry Townsend, Lincoln and the Bluegrass (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1955); R. P. Randall, Mary Lincoln, 18. return to text
  8. Nicolay to Therena Bates, Feb. 24, 1861, John G. Nicolay Papers, Library of Congress. return to text
  9. Baltimore Sun, Mar. 2, 1861. return to text
  10. Elizabeth Todd Grimsley, "Six Months in the White House," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 19 (Oct.–Jan., 1926–1927): 46. return to text
  11. Baltimore Sun, Mar. 6, 1861. return to text
  12. Washington Star, Mar. 5, 1861; Baltimore Sun, Mar. 6, 1861. return to text
  13. Justin G. Turner and Linda Levitt Turner, eds., Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters (New York: Knopf, 1972), 80. return to text
  14. Helen Nicolay, Lincoln's Secretary: A Biography of John G. Nicolay (New York: Longmans, Green, 1949), 121; Mary Todd Lincoln to Benjamin F. Butler, Washing-ton, Jan. 15, 1864, in Turner and Turner, Mary Todd Lincoln, 167. return to text
  15. Grimsley, "Six Months in the White House," 47, 59; Stoddard, "White House Sketches, No. I." return to text
  16. Lincoln to Benjamin B. French in Roy P. Basler, ed. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953–55), 5:394; Stoddard, "White House Sketches, No. IV," New York Citizen, Sept. 8, 1866. return to text
  17. Grimsley, "Six Months in the White House," 48; Stoddard, "White House Sketches, No. V," New York Citizen, Sept. 15, 1866; Thomas F. Pendel, Thirty-Six Years in the White House (Washington: Neale, 1902), 179. return to text
  18. Cf. William O. Stoddard, Inside the White House in War Times, 106; Stoddard, "White House Sketches, No. IX," New York Citizen, Oct. 13, 1866. return to text
  19. Stoddard, "White House Sketches, No. I"; Turner and Turner, Mary Todd Lincoln, 228; Thomas F. Pendel, Thirty-Six Years in the White House, 29; Cole and McDonough, Witness to the Young Republic, 456. return to text
  20. Stoddard, "White House Sketches, No. XIII," New York Citizen, Nov. 24, 1866. return to text
  21. Grimsley, "Six Months in the White House," 49–50; John Nicolay to Therena Bates, Mar. 10, 1861, Nicolay Papers. return to text
  22. Grimsley, "Six Months in the White House," 50–51. return to text
  23. Kansas State Journal (Lawrence), May 9, 1861, quoted in Edgar Langsdorf, "Jim Lane and the Frontier Guard," Kansas Historical Quarterly 10 (Feb. 1940): 16, 20–21. return to text
  24. Turner and Turner, Mary Todd Lincoln, 84, 87. return to text
  25. Grimsley, "Six Months in the White House," 58; Baltimore Sun, May 9, 20, 1861; New York Times, May 16, 1861. return to text
  26. First Auditor's Records, Miscellaneous Records, Treasury Department, Record Group 217, no. 143610, National Archives; Michael Burlingame, The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 298–99. return to text
  27. Ibid., 339; Cole and McDonough, Witness to the Young Republic, 382. return to text
  28. Ibid.; James G. Randall, Lincoln the President, 4 vols. (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1945–55), 3:21; Stoddard, "White House Sketches, No. IX"; First Auditor's Records. return to text
  29. William Seale, The President's House: A History (Washington, D.C.: White House Historical Association, 1986), 1:387. return to text
  30. Stoddard, "White House Sketches, No. IX." return to text
  31. Stoddard, "White House Sketches, No. V." return to text
  32. Nicolay, Personal Traits of Abraham Lincoln, 182–83; Nicolay to Therena Bates, Washington, Mar. 24, 1861, Nicolay Papers. return to text
  33. Nicolay, Lincoln's Secretary, 83; Nicolay to Therena Bates, Washington, Mar. 31, 1861, Nicolay Papers. return to text
  34. Nicolay to Therena Bates, Washington, Apr. 2, 1861; Apr. 7, 1861, Nicolay Papers. return to text
  35. Nicolay to Therena Bates, Washington, Apr. 11, 1861, Nicolay Papers; William H. Crook, "An Eyewitness Account [Part 2]," Rail Splitter 2 (Jan. 1997): 15. return to text
  36. Nicolay, Lincoln's Secretary, 84; Stoddard, "White House Sketches, No. II," New York Citizen, Aug. 25, 1866. return to text
  37. Nicolay, Lincoln's Secretary, 84; Stoddard, "White House Sketches, No. II"; Nicolay to Therena Bates, Washington, Mar. 5, 1861, Nicolay Papers. return to text
  38. R. P. Randall, Mary Lincoln, 213; Nicolay, Lincoln's Secretary, 87. return to text
  39. Ibid.; Wayne C. Temple, "Charles Henry Philbrick: President Lincoln's Private Secretary from Illinois College," unpublished essay; Nicolay to Therena Bates, Washington, Mar. 5, 1865, Nicolay Papers. return to text
  40. Stoddard, "White House Sketches, No. IV." return to text
  41. Nicolay, Lincoln's Secretary, 87; Stoddard, "White House Sketches, No. II." Stoddard portrays Edward McManus as Edward Moran. return to text
  42. Stoddard, "White House Sketches, No. VII," New York Citizen, Sept. 29, 1866. return to text
  43. Stoddard, "White House Sketches, No. IV"; Edward D. Neill, Reminiscences of the Last Year of President Lincoln's Life (St. Paul: Pioneer Press, 1885); John Hay, "Life in the White House in the Time of Lincoln," Century Magazine 41 (Nov. 1890). return to text
  44. Stoddard, "White House Sketches, No. IV"; Cf. Stoddard, Lincoln's Third Secretary, 107–12. return to text
  45. Nicolay, Personal Traits of Abraham Lincoln, 189; Stoddard, "White House Sketches, No. IV." return to text
  46. Stoddard, "White House Sketches, No. VIII," New York Citizen, Oct. 6, 1866. return to text
  47. Grimsley, "Six Months in the White House," 55. return to text
  48. Nicolay, Personal Traits of Abraham Lincoln, 200–203; Grimsley, "Six Months in the White House," 71; R. P. Randall, Mary Lincoln, 276. return to text
  49. William Seale, The President's House, 1:409; William H. Crook, "An Eyewitness Account [Part 1]," Rail Splitter 2 (Oct. 1996): 18; Nicolay to Therena Bates, Washington, Dec. 7, 1862, Nicolay Papers; Nicolay to John Hay, Washington, Jan. 29, 1864, Nicolay Papers. return to text
  50. Crook, "Eyewitness Account [Part 1]," 18. return to text
  51. Crook, "Eyewitness Account [Part 2]," 16, 17. return to text
  52. Crook, "Eyewitness Account [Part 1]," 18. return to text
  53. Ibid. return to text
  54. Turner and Turner, Mary Todd Lincoln, 99; Cole and McDonough, Witness to the Young Republic, 376. return to text
  55. Mary Todd Lincoln to Mrs. Samuel H. Melvin, Washington, April 27, 1861, in Turner and Turner, Mary Todd Lincoln, 85–86. return to text
  56. Margareta Spalding Gerry, ed., Through Five Administrations: Reminiscences of Colonel William H. Crook (New York: Harper, 1910), 2. return to text
  57. George Alfred Townshend, The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth (New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1865), 58. return to text
  58. Nicolay to Chicago Tribune, Washington, June 19, 1863, Draft, Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress; Stoddard, "White House Sketches, No. VI," Sept. 22, 1866; Frank B. Carpenter, Six Months at the White House (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1868), 65–66. return to text
  59. Crook, "Eyewitness Account [Part 1]," 16. return to text
  60. Nicolay, Personal Traits of Abraham Lincoln, p. 206; Grimsley, "Six Months in the White House," 49–51. return to text
  61. Crook, "Eyewitness Account [Part 1]," 17. return to text
  62. Grimsley, "Six Months in the White House," 62; Nicolay to John Hay, Washington, Jan. 29, 1864, Nicolay Papers. return to text
  63. "Castine," Washington, Jan. 27, 1864, in Sacramento Union, Feb. 27, 1864; R. P. Randall, Mary Lincoln, 337; Washington Daily Morning Chronicle, Apr. 20, 1864. return to text
  64. Nicolay to Therena Bates, Washington, June 2, 1864, Nicolay Papers; National Intelligence, June 7, 1862; Washington Chronicle, May 15, 1863. return to text
  65. Edward D. Neill to his wife Nancy Hall Neill, Washington, [June 29, 1861], Neill Papers, Minnesota Historical Society; Smith Stimmel, Experiences as a Member of President Lincoln's Bodyguard 1863–65. Reprint from North Dakota Historical Quarterly 1 (Jan. 1927). Washington Star, Feb. 11, 1862. Washington Chronicle, Feb 11, 1862. return to text
  66. Collected Works, 9:96. return to text
  67. Nicolay, Lincoln's Secretary, 223. return to text
  68. Charles H. Philbrick to O. M. Hatch, Washington, Dec. 30, 1864, Ozias M. Hatch Papers, Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield, Ill. return to text
  69. A. K. McClure, "Lincoln and Hamlin," Philadelphia Times, July 9, 1891. return to text
  70. "Castine," San Francisco, July 31, 1865, in Sacramento Union, Aug. 2, 1865; Harry E. Pratt, ed., Concerning Mr. Lincoln: In Which Abraham Lincoln Is Pictured As He Appeared to Letter Writers of His Time (Springfield: Abraham Lincoln Association, 1944). return to text
  71. New York Herald, Mar. 14, 1865; Washington Star, Mar. 15, 1865; Collected Works, 8:367, 369. return to text
  72. Charles A. Peneton (Marquis de Chambrun), "Personal Recollection of Mr. Lincoln," Scribner's Magazine 13 (Jan. 1893):82–86; William H. Crook, "Lincoln's Last Day," Harper's Monthly Magazine (Sept. 1907): 523; James G. Randall, Lincoln the President: Last Full Measure (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991), 347–48; Collected Works, 8:393–95. return to text
  73. Ronald D. Rietveld, "Lincoln Triumphant: From Crisis to Victory 1864–1865," in Richard Rollins, ed., A Day with Mr. Lincoln (Redondo Beach, Calif.: Rank and File Publications, 1994); Thomas Bender, Community and Social Changes in America, 12. return to text
  74. W. Emerson Reck, A. Lincoln: His Last 24 Hours (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1987), 9, 19, 31–40; Collected Works, 8:411; R. P. Randall, Mary Lincoln, 380–81; Isaac N. Arnold, The Life of Abraham Lincoln (Chicago: Jansen, McClurg, 1885), 428. return to text