When we think of President’s Day, former President Abraham Lincoln most certainly comes to mind. But did you know that Lincoln paid a special visit to the Garden State on his way from Illinois to the inauguration in Washington, D.C.?
The State Legislature asked former Governor Charles S. Olden to invite Lincoln to visit Trenton and the State House on his way to the inauguration. In response, Lincoln sent a handwritten acceptance letter – which to this day is one of the prized documents in the New Jersey State Archives. The postscript to the letter read: “Please arrange no ceremonies that will waste time.” As the President-elect, Lincoln had many places to be and people to see.
Lincoln arrived at the Trenton train station on the morning of February 21st, 1861, and traveled by carriage to the New Jersey State House. Official minutes in the Senate Journal reveal that there were committees from other states in attendance and anticipating the arrival of the President-elect.
Senate President Edmund Perry offered Lincoln good wishes as he would soon “preside over the destinies of this vast country at a time of great distraction and imminent peril…”
Lincoln’s own remarks paid tribute to New Jersey’s role in the Revolution, making references to the crossing of the Delaware and the Battle of Trenton. According to a contemporary news report, Lincoln remarks were received by attendees with enthusiasm.
Yet despite this enthusiasm, there were quite a few hostile resolutions proposed prior to Lincoln’s arrival. Many were unhappy at the prospect of his presidency, and proposed resolutions such as “when this House shall have seen Abraham Lincoln they will have seen the ugliest man in the Country.” The last resolution proposed before his arrival was “that we all go for Abe Lincoln.” However, Speaker Teese ruled this proposed physical assault on Lincoln to be out of order.
Though various newspaper articles the next day reflect the anti-Republican sentiments of the editors, the main newspaper account of his appearance before the Assembly was recorded without bias. Lincoln’s visit to New Jersey drew great public attention and was a significant stop on his journey to inauguration.