“Tens of thousands shall inhabit this country where only thousands inhabit it now.”
President-elect Abraham Lincoln arrived at Buffalo’s Exchange Street Station on the evening of Saturday, February 16, 1861, while journeying to Washington for his inauguration. Today the site is occupied by a modern Amtrak station.
Lincoln was met by former President Millard Fillmore and an enormous, enthusiastic crowd. By some estimates, 75,000 citizens swarmed downtown Buffalo to get a glimpse of the new president.
After making his way through the crowds to the American Hotel, Mr. Lincoln appeared on the balcony and was welcomed by the acting chief magistrate. The site of the American Hotel is now occupied by the Main Place Mall.
Readers may be interested to know what he said to Buffalo on that day: “MR. MAYOR AND FELLOW CITIZENS:—I am here to thank you briefly for this grand reception given to me not personally, but as the representative of our great and beloved country. Your worthy Mayor has been pleased to mention in his address to me, the fortunate and agreeable journey which I have had from home—only it is rather a circuitous route to the Federal Capitol. I am very happy that he was enabled, in truth, to congratulate myself and company on that fact.
It is true, we have had nothing thus far to mar the pleasure of the trip. We have not been met alone by those who assisted in giving the election to me; I say not alone, but by the whole population of the country through which we have passed. This is as it should be. Had the election fallen to any other of the distinguished candidates instead of myself, under the peculiar circumstances, to say the least, it would have been proper for all citizens to have greeted him as you now greet me. It is an evidence of the devotion of the whole people to the Constitution, the Union, and the perpetuity of the liberties of this country. I am unwilling, on any occasion, that I should be so meanly thought of as to have it supposed for a moment that these demonstrations are tendered to me personally. They are tendered to the country, to the institutions of the country, and to the perpetuity of the liberties of the country for which these institutions were made and created.
Your worthy mayor has thought fit to express the hope that I may be able to relieve the country from the present, or, I should say, the threatened difficulties. I am sure I bring a heart true to the work. For the ability to perform it, I trust in that Supreme Being who has never forsaken this favored land, through the instrumentality of this great and intelligent people. Without that assistance I should surely fail; with it I cannot fail.
When we speak of the threatened difficulties to the country, it is natural that it should be expected that something should be said by myself with regard to particular measures. Upon more mature reflection, however, I think,—and others will agree with me—that, when it is considered that these difficulties are without precedent, and never have been acted upon by any individual situated as I am, it is most proper that I should wait and see the developments, and get all the light possible, so that, when I do speak authoritatively, I may be as near right as possible. When I shall speak authoritatively, I hope to say nothing inconsistent with the Constitution, the Union, the rights of all the States, of each State, and of each section of the country, and not to disappoint the reasonable expectations of those who have confided to me their votes.
In this connection, allow me to say that you, as a portion of the great American people, need only to maintain your composure, stand up to your sober convictions of right, to your obligations to the Constitution, and act in accordance with those sober convictions, and the clouds which now arise in the horizon will be dispelled, and we shall have a bright and glorious future; and, when this generation shall have passed away, tens of thousands shall inhabit this country where only thousands inhabit it now. I do not propose to address you at length. I have no voice for it. Allow me again to thank you for this magnificent reception, and bid you farewell.”
Life of Abraham Lincoln, Sixteenth President of the United States: Containing His Early History and Political Career; Together with the Speeches, Messages, Proclamations and Other Official Documents Illustrative of His Eventful Administration, pp. 75-77. Philadelphia, PA: J.E. Potter, 1865.
Crosby’s book is online in full text at Google Books. Paragraphs were added for the purpose of this article.
Cynthia Van Ness, MLS
Director of Library & Archives
*This article was featured in The Buffalo History Museum‘s Spring 2015 issue of The Album.
** For more Lincoln love join the Buffalo Civil War Roundtable as they celebrate President Lincoln’s Birthday. There will be a short program and a Lincoln orator. Join uniformed re-enactors as they perform a rifle salute on the Portico. Local authors will be present and there will also be activities for the whole family. Sunday, February 14, 2016 from 12-2pm. FREE. More info at buffalohistory.org.