Back in Time: Lincoln greeted by well wishers and errant cannon blast

America’s new president, Abraham Lincoln, must have been surprised at the greeting he received in a

Abraham Lincoln was no stranger to rousing receptions.

Still, America’s new president must have been surprised at the greeting he received in a flag-decorated Schenectady on Monday, Feb. 18, 1861.

Lincoln was on a national tour, riding a train to Washington for his inauguration into the country’s highest office. He had left his home in Springfield, Ill., on Feb. 11. The 1,900-mile trip over 18 different railroads included stops in Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo, Schenectady, Albany, Peekskill and New York City.

Thousands of people were waiting for the tall man when his train pulled into Schenectady’s downtown train station at about 1:50 p.m. The Schenectady Cornet Band helped stir up the group with patriotic songs. A cannon was part of the welcoming committee, and part of the problem.

“The persons in charge of the cannon . . . discharged it just as the President-elect’s train was passing Union Street and broke several panes of glass in the car which the president was sitting,” reported the Schenectady Daily News, a morning daily of the era. “H.O.A. (one of Lincoln’s nicknames was “Honest Old Abe”) was very much shocked at such a piece of audacity.”

‘Hooted and Hallooed’

One might assume that just a gunpowder charge — and not a cannonball — were in the pyrotechnic plan. The new president didn’t scold Schenectady for the boisterous salute. People were everywhere, on the balcony over the Post Office, on the steps of the nearby Givens Hotel and all around the State Street railroad crossing.

“The crowd was immense, and they hooted and hallooed and rushed and pushed like a flock of sheep passing through a narrow gateway,” the News observed.

Schenectady Lincoln fans had built a large platform they hoped the president would use during his remarks to the faithful. Abe decided to stay on the train, walking to the rear of the last car. His reason was simple: He had not used platforms in other cities, either.

The speech was short, and reporters said Lincoln’s words were lost in all the applause.

“He really had no speech to make, no time to make one and no sufficient strength to make one,” wrote a reporter for the Schenectady Weekly Republican.

“In appearance,” the Republican added, “he is said to look less careworn than during his last week in Springfield, which is doubtless owing to the warm and enthusiastic welcomes that have been so cordially extended to him along the route.”

Not everyone was happy that Abe was on tour. The Daily News, in an editorial published on the day of Lincoln’s visit, offered sour grapes for the “fuss and feathers” attached to the visits.

“A special train, a civic and military suite, heraldic announcements, obsequious puffs and holiday displays, and above all, a flood of flattering speech-making,” the paper railed. “This is an anomalous and distasteful spectacle, under the peculiar, depressing and disastrous aspects of the country.”

By February 1861, seven states had seceded from the union. The beginning of the Civil War was only weeks away.

Representing the nation

After the brief Schenectady appearance, Lincoln’s train left for Albany. He arrived at 2:20 p.m., and stayed longer in the Capital. He addressed both the Legislature and Gov. Edwin D. Morgan.

“If I am not at fault,” he said during his address to Morgan, “the great Empire State at this time contains a greater population than did the United States of America at the time she achieved her national independence. I am proud to be invited to pass through your Capitol and meet them as I have now the honor to do so. I am notified by your governor that this reception is given without distinction of party, and I accept it the more gladly because it is so.”

Lincoln also said: “The reception you gave me this day is not given to me personally — it should not be so — but as the representative, for the time being, of the majesty of the nation.”

Lincoln later dined with Morgan and spent the night at the Delavan House, situated where the federal courthouse now stands on Broadway. Then he continued his trip to Washington.

A marker commemorating the Albany visit was erected on the front lawn of the Capitol in 2007.

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