Abraham Lincoln Visits Steubenville
In 1860, the Democratic Party had split into two factions. The northern faction nominated Stephen Douglas on a platform of popular sovereignty and the southern faction nominated John Breckenridge with the mandate to protect slavery. The Constitutional Union Party nominated John Bell of Tennessee who advocated conciliation and compromise. The Republicans nominated Lincoln and his feelings, and his party’s feelings, were well known long before the election. As the votes were tallied, Lincoln won the electorial college but only won 40 per cent of the popular vote.
When Congress convened in December 1860, seven southern states passed articles of secession forming the Confederate States of America.
Abraham Lincoln was a very complex man. He suffered from melancholy and depression and I think he was sometimes a little clairvoyant. When he left Springfield, Illinois on the morning of February 11th, 1861, he told the citizens who had come to see him off:
“I now leave, not knowing when, or whether, I ever may return. With a task before me greater than that which rested upon George Washington, and without the assistance of that Divine Being who attended Him, I can not succeed, but with His assistance, I can not fail.”¹
Lincoln and his family were now off to Washington for his inauguration as the 16th President. Stopping at Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Columbus, Lincoln made speeches that enhanced his support of the Union and his stand against slavery.
Seven states had seceded from the Union. The country was in turmoil and several threats had been made to Lincoln’s life. Northern newspapers had teased the Southerners that when Lincoln took office he would free the slaves who would take over the plantations and intermarry with the whites. The war was inevitable.
It was a cold and rainy morning on February 14th,when the train left Columbus, stopping two hours later at Cadiz Junction in Harrison County. Thousands from Harrison County had lined the hillside to see the new President. They were very happy to look upon his kind and sympathetic face, and cheered wildly for the man who they thought would preserve the Union. But these same citizens did not know, that in less than four years, over half of their young men would be dead.²
The train arrived in Steubenville at two-thirty in the afternoon, stopping at the train station at the foot of South Street, where a large crowd, many from across the Ohio River, from Confederate Virginia had gathered to hear the President Elect speak. The Reverend Charles Beatty had about two hundred of the Female Seminary students lined up, and they sang a song, especially composed for the event.
Mrs. Lincoln and their sons, Robert, Willie and Tad remained inside the train watching from the windows and waving to the crowd while Lincoln spoke from a raised platform at the foot of South Street near Water Street, and he told the crowd,
“I fear that the great confidence placed in my ability is unfounded. Indeed I am sure it is. Encompassed by the vast difficulties as I am, nothing shall be wanting on my part if I am sustained by the American people and God. The only dispute on both sides is, what are their rights? If the majority does not rule, who would be the judge? Where is such a judge to be found? We should all be bound by the majority of American people, and if not, then the minority must control. Would that be right? Would it be just or generous? Assuredly not. I reiterate, the majority must rule. If I adopt a wrong policy, the opportunity for condemnation will occur in four years. Then, I can be turned out and a better man with better views put in my place.”³
Lincoln’s speech was short, and his total time in Steubenville was less than twenty minutes. The train’s whistle blew and he boarded and was off to Pittsburgh. Lincoln was a religious man. He believed in the Constitution, usually mentioning it or God in his speeches. He often suffered nightmares, seeing himself being assassinated, and at one time during the Civil War, when he was very depressed, he told his spiritual adviser, Bishop Matthew Simpson of Cadiz, “I shall never live out the four years of my term. When the rebellion is crushed, my work is done.” But he did live out the four years of his first term and was re-elected, only to be assassinated on April 14th, 1865. And the statement Lincoln had made to the citizens of Springfield on February 11th, 1861 saying, “I now leave, not knowing when or whether I ever may return,” came true. Lincoln did return to Springfield, Illinois, but, as a corpse.
- Springfield, IL on 2-12-1865
- Cadiz Ohio Republican newspaper, dated about 2-20-1865
- Steubenville newspaper from about 2-15-1861
Compiled by JCHA Board Member, Charles Green