Scholar Reflects on Lincoln's Trip to Newark

The Newark History Society sponsors 'Lincoln & Newark' at the Newark Public Library

With Presidents' Day ahead, we're re-running this popular article about Lincoln's famed visit to Newark in 1861.

When newly elected President Abraham Lincoln came to New Jersey in 1861, it was not the friendliest of places for him at the time, explained Rutgers Professor and South Orange resident Thomas McCabe at a presentation by the Newark History Society Wednesday at the Newark Public Library.

Lincoln had lost in New Jersey and most of Newark. There was even talk of New Jersey seceding from the Union. This was not because of slave ownership but because of the fact that the factories and industries in the state were dependent on the raw materials provided by the South.

Lincoln, like so many presidents before and after him, had to play the centrist, even during his brief visit to New Jersey’s largest city.

"You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time." So said Lincoln.

As told by Harold Holzer, a Lincoln scholar and chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation, truer words could not be said during the period between Lincoln’s election and his inauguration.

The year was 1860 and states were declaring their secession from the Union over fear that was an abolitionist. Being that Lincoln won in a four-party race (which means he only got about 39 percent of the vote) and the electoral votes were still being counted, it was a touchy time to be one of his supporters. It was even tougher for Lincoln himself.

He had already begun to get credible death threats and was obviously in danger of losing the country he’d won. So rather than stir the pot anymore, Lincoln went silent.

"He maintained a rigorous - some said stubborn — silence as the crisis that was precipitated by this election…just got worse and worse and worse," said Holzer.

Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, believed his best option was to stay quiet rather than give his opposition something to feed off of. This silence continued until February 1861, when he began his trek to the Capitol.

He began his journey on Feb. 11, hitting Indianapolis, Ind., Columbus, Ohio; Buffalo and Westfield, N.Y., New York City, and finally, Newark.

Lincoln arrived by train at 9:30 a.m. at a station not far from our current Broad Street Station stop.

There he gave a brief speech greeting the people of Newark — again, making sure not to aggravate those who contested the election — and then boarded a horse-drawn carriage, which would take him down Broad Street and around Military Park to the next train station on his itinerary.

Lincoln was welcomed by cheering crowds, unlike the deafening silence that Walt Whitman wrote about during Lincoln’s New York City visit. The city seemed to have briefly put aside its political differences to receive the next president. Lincoln departed for Trenton that afternoon and, of course, made it to his inauguration on March 4, 1861.


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