Lincoln in Buffalo

In 1861, with the country on the brink of the Civil War, a lawyer from Springfield, Illinois arrived in Buffalo as part of his trip to Washington DC to accept the presidency of the United States. Unlike today, back in the mid 19th and early 20th centuries, a dignitary stopping in Buffalo was as common as a stop in New York City or Chicago - Buffalo was that important of a town. Things were no different in February of 1861 when Abraham Lincoln and his entourage stopped in Buffalo to spread his message to the eagerly awaiting citizens of the Queen City.

When Lincoln arrived in Buffalo, the city came unglued. Everyone abandoned their daily tasks and flocked to the Exchange Street Station to catch a glimpse of the President-elect as he arrived at the station. Throngs of people lined Main Street hoping to get close enough to Lincoln to hear his speech. It was truly an unprecedented event in Buffalo's history, but one that would be repeated many times over.

The best way to relay the story is to let Buffalo's Commercial Advertiser take over from here as their coverage was not only very informative but very colorful.

"The train bearing Mr. Lincoln and his suite left Cleveland at 9 o'clock on Saturday morning. The train stopped at all the principle stations on the route down, and was everywhere attended by vast masses of people, full of enthusiasm. At several places, Mr. Lincoln made brief and pleasant addresses. Westfield was the first stopping place within this state, and a banner inscribed "WELCOME TO THE EMPIRE STATE," was displayed. Here a very pretty incident occurred, Mr. Lincoln recalling to mind a letter received soon after his nomination, from a little girl twelve years old, at Westfield, advising him to let his whiskers grow. He had followed the advice and wished to see the little girl. The little lady was forthcoming, and was honored by a kiss from the President-elect, which will form a nice incident of memory for her."

"At Dunkirk, the strong Lincoln county of Chautauqua poured out thousands. Mr. Lincoln stepped upon a platform with an American Flag on each side of him, and taking the staff of one in his hands, he said -- "I hold here in my hand the flag staff of the Union. Will you, my countrymen, stand by me so long as I stand by it?" This sentiment was electric in its effect upon the multitude who responded, "We will!" followed by shouts and cheers the most enthusiastic."

"When the train arrived at Buffalo's Exchange Street Station, every attempt was made to keep the crowds out of the depot until Lincoln's train arrived. The main doors were barred, but since the train entrance was open, people walked in by the dozens. As Lincoln's train approached, the mass of people gathered in the depot became alarming. A huge cheer rang out from everyone in attendance as the train slowly came to a halt and Lincoln stepped off the train and onto the platform. The President-elect was met by ex-president Millard Fillmore and acting Buffalo Mayor Bemis. A few words of greeting were exchanged then the following ensued."

"An artillery brigade began blazing a rapid salute, the people were cheering and the President-elect's cortege took up its line of march for the carriage between the ranks of military personnel assigned to protect the dignitaries. The rush was tremendous. A squad from Company "D" threw themselves around Mr. Lincoln and his immediate party and measurably protected them, but it was impossible to protect anyone else. The soldiers pressed bayonets to the crowd, but the pressure from behind was so frightful that it would have been murder to have used them on the unlucky citizens who "had got the best place," and all the "D" Company men had all they could do to recover arms without bloodshed."

"The lines were broken and Mr. Lincoln was able to enter his carriage. Women fainted, men were crushed under the mass of bodies and many others had their bones broken. Once out of the depot every man uttered a brief "Thank God!" for the preservation of his life. More with personal injuries were carried away and the fainted women were recovering under a free use of hydrant water."

Looking south on Main Street when Lincoln visited on Feb. 16, 1861. Directly across Main St. is the American Hotel (now the Bon-Ton store); on the corner is the Brisbane Bldg. This image appeared in Leslie's Weekly.

"The route that Lincoln's carriage took was very brief, being directly to the American Hotel on Main Street. The street was magnificent. The rush and roar and surge of the crowd was its grandest feature, but all the roofs and windows of buildings were filled with people, the gay winter attire of the ladies and the waving of their handkerchiefs as the cortege passed, added brilliance to the scene. All the principle buildings were decorated with banners, from every flag-staff waved the stars and stripes -- now dearer than ever to the American eye. A fine sight was presented from the lofty unfinished buildings on the corner of Main and South Division streets, the windows of which were filled with laborers, each waving the American flag."

"The scene from the balcony of the American Hotel was unexampled. From Eagle to Court Street, the mass of humanity was the most dense we ever witnessed, and the pressure toward the central-point was tremendous. Men cheered, looked pale and perspired. Yet good order was maintained, and though the speeches were not heard by one in a hundred of the crowd, enough was caught by those within range to draw forth volleys of cheers."

"Mr. Lincoln left his carriage attended by his immediate party and entered the hotel between to files of the escort. He appeared upon the balcony with Mr. Fillmore. Hiss appearance was the signal for the most enthusiastic cheering, helped out by a salute of artillery on Clinton Street. Acting Mayor Bemis then addressed him as follows:"

"Mr. Lincoln - In behalf of the good people of this city, I welcome you to Buffalo and tender to you and to the party accompanying you, the friendship and hospitality of her citizens. I also congratulate you, in that your progress thus far towards the Federal Capital has been without accident or any circumstance to mar the pleasure of your journey. I wish, also, to express the highest respect felt by our citizens for yourself as the Chief Magistrate-elect of these United States, as well as to bear testimony to their attachment and loyalty to the Union and Government over which you are soon to preside."

"Sir, in this hour of our national disquietude, the eyes of all good citizens naturally turn with hope towards yourself, as the arbiter of peace that shall still the turbulent elements that now threaten destruction to our beloved country. With confidence that your administration of the affairs of our national Government will be characterized by a spirit of equal rights and justice to all sections of our Union, we look forward to its inauguration with anxious thought, and shall hail its good results with pleasure."

"Hoping, sir, that your visit - and that of your friends - to us on this occasion, may be as pleasant and agreeable as we desire it to be, I again bid you a hearty welcome to our city - and with your permission, I will introduce you to the citizens of Buffalo."

"Fellow citizens, I have the honor and pleasure of introducing to you the Honorable Abraham Lincoln, President-elect of the United State."

"At this time, Lincoln stepped forward, gave a slight bow to acting-Mayor Bemis and turned to the eagerly awaiting crowd."

"I am here to thank you briefly for this grand reception given to me, not personally, but as a 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 my home on my rather circuitous route to the Federal Capitol. I am very happy that he was enabled in truth to congratulate my companions and myself. It is true that we have had nothing 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. It is evidenced 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 I regard these demonstrations as tendered to me personally. They should be tendered to no individual man. They are tended to the country, to the institutions of this country and to the perpetuity 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 its present - or should I say, its threatened difficulties. I am sure I bring a heart true to work."

(Tremendous applause and cheering)

"For the ability to perform it, I must 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 shall surely fail. With it I can not fail."

"When we speak of threatened difficulties in the country, it is natural that there should be expected from me something with regard to particular measures. Upon more mature reflection, however, others will agree with me that when it is considered that these difficulties are without precedent and have never been acted upon by any individual situated as I am, it is most proper I should wait, see the developments and get all the light I can 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, or each State and of each section of this 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. 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 has passed away, tens of thousands will 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."

The American Hotel. Built in 1836, it was destroyed by fire March 10, 1850. On the same site was later built the second American Hotel.

"Lincoln then bowed to the crowd which was cheering at a tremendous level of excitement. He turned and reentered the American Hotel. After resting in his room for the rest of the afternoon, Lincoln began his evening agenda with a reception in the American Hotel's parlor for both him and his wife. Although extremely tired, Lincoln kept his wits and allowed an enormous line of eagerly awaiting people to greet him. The President-elect, for the most part, simply bowed in greeting to those that addressed him, choosing to shake hands with a few of the ladies in the mass of people. "

"There were quite a number of children present in the melee and Lincoln showed a kind, fatherly smile for each one that approached him. Many of the little girls were lifted up and kissed by Lincoln. A group of blushing belles remarked amongst themselves that they wished that Lincoln would kiss them. Hearing this, he remarked that "he was not averse to such labial inflictions," and performed the "kissing ceremony" on all three of the ladies."

"Lincoln kept up his activities for most of the evening before retiring to his room for a much needed sleep. Buffalo had "Lincoln Fever" and the fact that the great man was in the city kept the atmosphere lively throughout the night. The following morning, Lincoln and his party left the American Hotel in waiting carriages and drove without incident back to the Exchange Street Station. After arriving at the depot, Mr. Lincoln passed unattended through the files of the escort to the train, which left immediately. As the train pulled away, those in attendance saw Lincoln standing on the rear platform, bowing to the cheers of the crowd."

Thus ending the visit of Abraham Lincoln to the City of Buffalo. He would return four years later, however, in a completely different set of circumstances and the mood of the city would be nothing like it was in February of 1861. Four years is a long time for a country on the brink of a Civil War.