Election Day 1860- page 6 | Smithsonian
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During the campaign, Lincoln confided he would have preferred a full term in the Senate "where there was more chance to make a reputation and less danger of losing it." (Bettmann / Corbis)

Election Day 1860

As soon as the returns were in, the burdens of the presidency weighed upon Abraham Lincoln

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(Continued from page 5)

Amid the euphoria that greeted this news, Lincoln remained the "coolest man in that company." When the report of a probable 50,000-vote victory quickly followed from Massachusetts, Lincoln merely commented in mock triumph that it was "a clear case of the Dutch taking Holland." Meanwhile, with only a few intimates able to fit inside the modest telegraph office, crowds built in the square outside, where, the New York Tribune reported, rumors "of the most gigantic and imposing dimensions" began wildly circulating: Southerners in Washington had set fire to the capital. Jeff Davis had proclaimed rebellion in Mississippi and Stephen Douglas had been seized as a hostage in Alabama. Blood was running in the streets of New York. Anyone emerging from the telegraph station to deny these and kindred rumors was set down as having his own reasons for concealing the dreadful truth.

Shortly after midnight, Lincoln and his party walked to the nearby "ice cream saloon" operated by William W. Watson & Son on the opposite side of Capitol Square. Here a contingent of Republican ladies had set up "a table spread with coffee, sandwiches, cake, oysters and other refreshments for their husbands and friends." At Watson's, the Missouri Democrat reported, Lincoln "came as near to being killed by kindness as a man can conveniently be without serious results."

Mary Lincoln attended the collation, too, as "an honored guest." For a time, she sat near her husband in what was described as "a snug Republican seat in the corner," surrounded by friends and "enjoying her share of the triumph." A fervent political partisan in her own right who had viewed the October state results in both Indiana and Pennsylvania as extremely hopeful signs, Mary had become more anxious than her husband in the final days of the campaign. "I scarcely know, how I would bear up, under defeat," she had confided to her friend Hannah Shearer.

"Instead of toasts and sentiment," eyewitness Newton Bateman remembered, "we had the reading of telegrams from every quarter of the country." Each time the designated reader mounted a chair to announce the latest results, the numbers—depending on which candidate it favored—elicited either "anxious glances" or "shouts that made the very building shake." According to Bateman, the candidate himself read one newly arrived telegram from Philadelphia. "All eyes were fixed upon his tall form and slightly trembling lips, as he read in a clear and distinct voice: 'The city and state for Lincoln by a decisive majority,' and immediately added in slow, emphatic terms, and with a significant gesture of the forefinger: 'I think that settles it.' "

If the matter remained in doubt, the long-awaited dispatch from New York soon arrived with a tally that all but confirmed that Lincoln would indeed win the biggest electoral prize of the evening—and with it, the presidency. The celebrants instantly crowded around him, "overwhelming him with congratulations." Describing the reaction—in which "men fell into each other's arms shouting and crying, yelling like mad, jumping up and down"—one of the celebrants compared the experience to "bedlam let loose." Hats flew into the air, "men danced who had never danced before," and "huzzahs rolled out upon the night."

In the State House, "men pushed each other—threw up their hats—hurrahed—cheered for Lincoln...cheered for New York—cheered for everybody—and some actually laid down on the carpeted floor and rolled over and over." One eyewitness reported a "perfectly wild" scene, with Republicans "singing, yelling! Shouting!! The boys (not children) dancing. Old men, young, middle aged, clergymen, and all...wild with excitement and glory."

As church bells began pealing, Lincoln eased past the dense throng of Watson's well-wishers, "slipped out quietly looking grave and anxious," and headed back toward the telegraph office to receive the final reports.

He appeared to steel himself. One observer saw him pacing up and down the sidewalk before re-entering the Illinois & Mississippi building. Another glimpsed his silhouette, his head bowed to stare at the latest dispatch while "standing under the gas jets" that lit the streets. Back inside, wires from Buffalo sealed the state—and the White House—for the Republicans. The final telegram from New York ended with the words: "We tender you our congratulations upon this magnificent victory."

Though the crowd inside the telegraph office greeted this climactic news with lusty cheering, Lincoln merely stood to read the pivotal telegram "with evident marks of pleasure," then silently sank back into his seat. Jesse K. Dubois tried to break the tension by asking his old friend: "Well, Uncle Abe, are you satisfied now?" All Lincoln allowed himself to say was: "Well, the agony is most over, and you will soon be able to go to bed."

But the revelers had no intention of retiring for the night. Instead they emptied into the streets and massed outside the telegraph office, shouting "New York 50,000 majority for Lincoln—whoop, whoop hurrah!" The entire city "went off like one immense cannon report, with shouting from houses, shouting from stores, shouting from house tops, and shouting everywhere." Others reacted more solemnly. One of the final telegrams Lincoln received that night came from an anonymous admirer who signed himself only as "one of those who am glad today." It read: "God has honored you this day, in the sight of all the people. Will you honor Him in the White House?"

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