Near dawn on February 23, 1861, Lincoln arrived secretly in Washington, D.C., because of a rumored plot to assassinate him as he passed through Baltimore. Lincoln was criticized for and later regretted the furtive manner of his arrival, but his advisors believed the danger was genuine. Lincoln’s train was met by an Illinois congressman, who escorted him to the Willard Hotel, the finest in Washington.
An Impression of the Future President
The impromptu appearance of U.S. Patent Office examiner Horatio Taft and his wife Mary at a reception held by the Lincolns at the Willard Hotel produced some surprising results. Mrs. Taft and the future first lady had sons about the same age, and because both women were relative newcomers to Washington, they were anxious to find suitable playmates for their children. Horatio Taft's initial impression of the future president, recorded here, was not favorable.
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President Buchanan's Lament
Abandoned by friend and foe alike for inaction during a time of crisis, President James Buchanan was the most miserable of men. Bound by oath to uphold the law, his sympathies toward the South and the conflicting demands of conscience and duty resulted in almost complete political paralysis. Writing to Lincoln from his estate near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the former president made no attempt to hide the suffering he had endured during his tenure of office.
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Whether the so-called Baltimore Plot was a product of the overzealous imagination of Allan Pinkerton, alias E. J. Allen, or a full-blown plan by Southern sympathizers to assassinate the president-elect as he traveled through Baltimore, may never be known. However, a majority of the citizens of Baltimore, including the mayor, were indisputably pro-South, and the city had a well-earned reputation for political violence. Lincoln was persuaded to cut short his train journey to Washington. He was shuttled across Baltimore incognito in the middle of the night. The incident was captured here by a satirical printmaker and Southern sympathizer.
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Willard Hotel Registry
Abraham Lincoln arrived in Washington about six oclock on the morning of February 23, 1861. By some accounts, the only person to greet him at the train station was Illinois Representative Elihu Washburne. The congressman drove the president-elect in his carriage to the Willard Hotel, where he breakfasted with Senator William H. Seward before calling on President Buchanan at the White House. Later that afternoon Washburne and Seward met Mary Lincoln and her three children at the train station and conducted them to the Willard. The family occupied room number six.
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Political cartoonist Thomas Nast reportedly made this sketch of Abraham Lincoln reading a newspaper in the Gentleman's Parlor of the Willard Hotel in one of the few relaxed moments the president-elect enjoyed during the week leading up to his inauguration.
Thomas Nast. Gentlemen's Parlor, Reading and Sitting Room at Willard Hotel, Washington, during the Inauguration Week. Ink and opaque white drawing, February 28, 1861. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (096) Digital ID # ppmsca-19387
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