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Presidential Visit to Independence Hall - Abraham Lincoln - February 22, 1861

Posted on Monday, February 15, 2021

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With the United States in crisis, Abraham Lincoln stopped in Philadelphia on the way to his inauguration in Washington D.C.

Following Abraham Lincoln's victory in the 1860 Election, southern states that feared Lincoln would abolish slavery began to secede from the Union. By the time Lincoln had begun traveling for his March 4, 1861 inauguration, seven states had seceded from the United States. As Lincoln traveled from his home in Springfield, Illinois to his inauguration in Washington, D.C. Lincoln toured through the northern United States to encourage his supporters and promote the idea that it could be possible to avoid the Civil War. After Lincoln arrived in Philadelphia on February 21, 1861, he spent the night in Philadelphia so that he could visit Independence Hall the following day and honor George Washington on the anniversary of his Birthday.

Train Engine believed to have pulled Lincoln's Inaugural Procession into Philadelphia

While Lincoln had made stops at dozens of cities on his way to Washington, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer the reception that Lincoln received upon his arrival in Philadelphia "surpassed everything which [Lincoln] had yet experienced in the way of popular demonstration." Lincoln arrived in the afternoon of February 21, 1861 at the Kensington Train Station where he was enthusiastically greeted by a very large crowd. Lincoln departed his train and traveled to the Continental Hotel by horse drawn carriage. Along the way, Lincoln waved to crowds which had packed the route in order to catch a glimpse of Lincoln. Upon his arrival to the Continental Hotel (at 9th and Chestnut Streets), a fireworks display was set off and Lincoln spoke to the crowd. 

According to the Chicago Tribune, Lincoln's speech focused on reassuring citizens regarding the chaos facing America, telling those assembled that he hoped to "restore peace and harmony and prosperity to the country." Lincoln also made reference to Philadelphia itself and its importance in the history of the nation. Lincoln noted that he accepted an offer from Philadelphia Mayor Alexander Henry to visit Independence Hall and take part in a celebration of George Washington. Lincoln noted the importance of Independence Hall and expressed excitement at the prospect of being within the "consecrated walls wherein the Constitution of the United States and The Declaration of Independence were originally formed and adopted."

The Continental Hotel - Lincoln spent the night of February 21, 1861 at this location (credit: Library Company of Philadelphia)

On February 22, 1861, President-Elect Lincoln traveled to Independence Hall where he was once again greeted by a large crowd of supporters. Lincoln toured Independence Hall, including the Assembly Room, where both The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were signed. After his tour, Lincoln exited Independence Hall to take part in a ceremony dedicated to George Washington. It was the 129th anniversary of George Washington's birthday, and in order to pay tribute to Washington, Lincoln helped raise a giant American Flag above Independence Hall. 

Abraham Lincoln in front of Independence Hall - February 22, 1861

Lincoln's Speech at Independence Hall

After paying tribute to Washington, Lincoln gave a speech in front of Independence Hall. According to the Lancaster Examiner, Lincoln's speech was as follows:

"I am filled with deep emotion at finding myself standing here, in this place, where were collected together the wisdom, the patriotism, the devotion to principle, from which sprang the institutions under which we live. You have kindly suggested to me that in my hands is the task of restoring peace to the present distracted condition of the country. I can say in return, Sir, that all the political sentiments I entertain have been drawn, so far as I have been able to draw them, from the sentiments which originated and were given to the world from this hall. I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. [Great Cheering.]

I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled here, and framed and adopted that Declaration of Independence. I have pondered over the toils that were endured by the officers and soldiers of the army who achieved that Independence. [Applause.] I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy so long together. It was not the mere matter of the separation of the Colonies from the motherland; but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world, for all future time. [Great applause.] It was that which gave promise that in due time the weight would be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance [Cheers.]. This is a sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence.

Now, my friends, can this country be saved upon that basis? If it can, I will consider myself one of the happiest men in the world, if I can help to save it. If it cannot be saved upon that principle, it will be truly awful. But if this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle, I was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it. [Applause.]

Now, in my view of the present aspect of affairs, there need be no bloodshed and war. There is no necessity for it. I am not in favor of such a course, and I may say, in advance, that there will be no bloodshed unless it be forced upon the Government. The Government will not use force unless force is used against it. [Prolonged applause, and cries of "That's the proper sentiment."]

My friends, this is wholly an unprepared speech. I did not expect to be called upon to say a word when I came here - I supposed it was merely to do something toward raising the flag. I may, therefore, have said something indiscreet, [Cries of "No, no"] but I have said nothing but what I am willing to live by and, if it be the pleasure of Almighty God, die by."

Harper's Weekly Cover with an Engraving of Lincoln's Speech in front of Independence Hall

Lincoln's Visit Today

Independence Hall is today one of the primary stops on The Constitutional Walking Tour of Philadelphia! Today, the location from which Lincoln gave his speech in front of Independence Hall is commemorated with a plaque. 

Plaque Commemorating Location of Lincoln's Speech

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