Abraham Lincoln Spoke In Jersey City

By Anthony Olszewski
Copyright 2002

On Thursday morning February 21, 1861, Abraham Lincoln spoke in Jersey City.

President-elect Abraham Lincoln was travelling by special train to the inauguration. The journey began at Lincoln's hometown of Springfield, Illinois on the day before his fifty-second birthday and ended at the nation's capital almost two weeks later. Large and jubilant crowds dotted the entire route.

Ironically, even though Abraham Lincoln's family history included some of the earliest settlers of New Jersey, Lincoln lost the state to Stephen Douglas by 4,500 votes just three months before this Jersey City visit. Right after the election, the New York Times headline of Thursday November 8, read, "New Jersey Only Free State To Be Untrue to Freedom." Part of southern New Jersey was below the Mason and Dixon Line; New Jersey public opinion very much favored the Southern states. This remained true through the turmoil of secession. In the next presidential election -- during the Civil War -- New Jersey voters went to the polls favoring the Democrat nominee, General George B. McClellan. General McClellan (removed by Lincoln as Commander of the Union armies) won in New Jersey by 7,600 votes. In 1877, McClellan became governor of New Jersey. In Lincoln's time, as it remains so today, Democrat politics had deep roots in Jersey City and there was no reason for Lincoln to expect a warm welcome.

The local newspapers, the Jersey City Courier and Advertiser and the American Standard -- both pro-slavery -- were opposed to Lincoln. The papers described abolitionists as "dangerous radicals," "separatists," and "Black Republicans." The Evening Journal (now The Jersey Journal,) did not begin operations until May 2, 1867. Then the outspoken editor and founder, Major Z. K. Pangborn, backed by his partners William B. Dunning and Joseph Albert Dear, gave the public the opportunity to consider Republican views. The Evening Journal revered the memory of the martyred President, supported abolition and the preservation of the Union.

Despite many having supported Douglas in the election, the dignitaries of Jersey City took very seriously their obligation to meet and fete President-elect Lincoln. The committee on arrangements, Mayor Cornelius Van Vorst, Samuel A. Hopkins, Abraham Zabriskie, later to become Chancellor of the State, Dudley S. Gregory , Ephraim March, Henry Traphagen and the members of the Board of Alderman consisting of A. A. Hardenbergh, president, Thomas B. ?ecker, John McBride, and James Warner, and John B. Romar, Board Secretary, met to plan an elaborate public reception.

To board a special train bound for Washington, D.C., President-elect Lincoln travelled by ferry from New York to Jersey City. The new ferry, the "John P. Jackson," was decorated from bow to stern. On the boat with Abraham Lincoln and his retinue were the prominent citizens of Jersey City, who had crossed the Hudson to meet the President-elect on the New York side. During the trip across the river, Aldermanic President Hardenbergh gave a welcoming speech, "We are commissioned by the municipal authorities of Jersey City to receive and escort you to the soil of New Jersey. With that high respect so eminently due to a chosen chief of a mighty nation, her people await to welcome you in your progress through their state to assume the chair of Washington. It is a pleasure thus to greet the future President of the republic. Devoted in their attachment to the union of these states, they ever cling to it with fidelity as the ark of their political safety. It is their prayer that the republic may be immortal; and that he who holds in His hands the destinies alike of individuals and of nations may guide and sustain you in all your acts for the conservation of the public weal." Unfortunately, the newspapers only reported that Lincoln said "a few apt words" in reply.

Before the boat docked, Abraham Lincoln recognized an individual standing off to the side: former Congressional colleague, Dudley S. Gregory, Sr. Lincoln walked over to his longtime friend and greeted him by shaking one of Dudley's hands in both of his own. Gregory, a wealthy industrialist, first Mayor of Jersey City and first president of the Provident Savings Bank, was also a political supporter of Lincoln.

Commodore Charles F. Woolsey secured the ferry boat to the landing. As the President-elect disembarked at the foot of Exchange Place, he was exuberantly met by the largest crowd ever seen in Jersey City up to then.

The press reported that Abraham Lincoln picked up and kissed on the cheek the little daughter of a widow, Mrs. Thomas L. Smith. Lincoln said, "We cheerfully welcome the little lambs." The American Standard stated, "She was more fortunate than the rest; she was honored by a kiss from the rail-splitter." The Smith family resided at 46 Grand Street.

Lincoln and his party were brought to the four year old passenger depot of the New Jersey Railroad and Transportation Company, located just north of Montgomery Street at Hudson Street. The two-story brick structure was 500 feet long by 103 feet with towers at each corner. Exchange Place was built on ten acres of land reclaimed from the river at a cost of $140,000. Even though it was early morning, the station was filled to capacity. Lincoln ascended to a platform car converted to a stage. People filled the galleries and the surrounding streets. Everywhere could be seen the waving of American flags and red, white and blue bunting.

Jersey City Mayor Van Vorst introduced state Attorney General William L. Dayton who, four years before, was the vice presidential running mate of General John C. Freemont, the Republican party's first presidential candidate. (Dayton would go on to be appointed by Lincoln to the post of Ambassador to France.) Dayton stood in for Governor Charles S. Olden, also a Republican, who was away. Lincoln was friends with Dayton. The Attorney General spoke with great emotion. The crowd cheered and applauded during his speech. So much so that at times Dayton could not be heard over the joyful noise.

"In the absence of the governor, and by his authority, I give you a cordial welcome to the soil of New Jersey. We may not hope to equal in the demonstrations of our attention those magnificent ovations which have accompanied your journey elsewhere, but in cordiality of greeting, we are second to none. We desire to testify our sincere respect and high appreciation of your character and public position, and to assure you of the loyalty and unwavering fidelity of this people to the laws and constitution. I am sure, sir, I do not tread on forbidden or doubtful ground when I say that our people prefer one union, one flag and one destiny. But, they look to you as possessing the great requirements of integrity and public virtue, and with their sympathy and support will uphold you in all rightful measures you may undertake to perpetuate the union and the cordial feeling which should exist in all parts of our common country. We desire to live in harmony with out brothers as of old, asking from them only what is fair, and giving them the same in return; this, I am sure sir, is the unanimous sentiment of the people of New Jersey. Upon you, sir, rests a great responsibility, but this united people will follow you to the capital, with their best wishes, their brightest hopes and most fervent prayers."

At this point an estimated 25,000 people cheered, unleashing without bound their enthusiasm . Certainly, now Lincoln knew where the citizens of Jersey City stood on the issue of keeping the nation united.

Lincoln was obviously overcome by the applause. Waiting for a pause, quietly and slowly, he began to speak, "Ladies and gentlemen, I shall only thank you for this very kind and cordial reception, given not to me, personally, but to the temporary representative of the chief magistracy of the nation. In the kindness of the people, I shall be frequently met today, as I am here, and time will not permit me to do more than express my thanks for your reception, and briefly to say farewell. You have done me the distinguished honor to extend your welcome through your great man, one whom it would be a pleasure to me to meet anywhere, and no state which possesses such a man can ever be poor."

Thunderous ovations erupted. Lincoln went on to the conclusion, "It would require an hour, in a well-considered address to properly reply to his brief speech, and I can only say that I heartily respond to and endorse all he has said. Allow me most kindly to bid you farewell."

The crowd demanded to hear more. Abraham Lincoln smiled and joked, "There appears to be a desire to see more of me, and I can only say that from my position, especially when I look around the gallery (making a bow to the ladies), I feel that I have decidedly the best of the bargain, in this matter, I am for no compromise here."

The audience broke out in laughter. While Lincoln was talking, a short, plucky Irishman, somehow or other, had climbed up on the platform and now began to heartily shake the hand of the much taller statesman. As if in a vaudeville act, a policeman immediately appeared and saw the little fellow off the stage. But, like a leprechaun he boasted anyhow, "I got a shake of his hand and I am satisfied."

Two gaily decorated Cunard liners were docked at the foot of Grand Street. These ships now sounded their whistles. The Hudson Guard, in the command of Colonel Dudley S. Gregory, Jr., fired a salute. Factory whistles joined the chorus. Dodsworth's Band began to play The Star Spangled Banner.

Lincoln and his party approached their train. A gleaming new locomotive, adorned by the appellation "Governor Pennington," constructed in the nearby Jersey City factories waited to transport Lincoln to our nation's capital. The smokestack of the locomotive was wrapped with broad bands of red, white and blue and carried a banner with the words, "The Union," on one side and, "1776," on the other.

Lincoln's party had the use of two luxurious private train cars for the trip. These cars possessed amazing innovations and comforts: "a hot-air furnace with self-acting regulator, gas fixtures, four sofas, fine carpeting, two marble top tables, many comfortable chairs, and a profusion of bouquets. The New Jersey Railroad and Transportation Company had spared nothing for the comfort of its distinguished passenger, his family, and prominent traveling companions."

Dodsworth's Band struck up "Hail Columbia!" A cannon sounded a salute of thirty-four rounds.

The train departed from Jersey City. Abraham Lincoln soon would be President.

Some years later, a throng again assembled in Jersey City to meet Abraham Lincoln; this time silence replaced the cheers. They then saw his coffin carried through this same terminal on the way to New York to lie in state at City Hall.

Lincoln Spoke In Jersey City, By J. Owen Grundy, 1981