First Lincoln Inauguration

On the morning of inauguration day, March 4, 1861, an anonymous writer, quoted by Herndon, Lincoln’s biographer, stood in the crowd at Willard’s Hotel, where Lincoln was stopping. He describes how an open barouche drove up and the only occupant stepped out—

“A large, heavy, awkward-moving man, far advanced in years, short and thin gray hair, full faced, plentifully seamed and wrinkled, head curiously inclined to the left shoulder, a low-crowned, broad-brimmed silk hat, an immense white cravat like a poultice thrusting the old-fashioned standing-collar up to the ears, dressed in black throughout, with swallow-tail coat not of the newest style: it was President Buchanan, calling to take his successor to the Capitol.”

The anonymous writer then describes Lincoln’s appearance and manner when he arrived at the eastern portico of the Capitol:

“He wore brand-new clothes; black dress-coat instead of the usual frock; black cloth or satin vest, black pantaloons, and a glossy hat, evidently just out of the box. To cap the climax of novelty, he carried a huge ebony cane with a gold head the size of an egg. In these, to him strange habiliments, he looked so miserably uncomfortable, that I could not help pitying him. Reaching the platform, his discontent was visibly increased by not knowing what to do with the hat and cane; and so he stood there the target for ten thousand eyes, holding cane in one hand and hat in the other, the very picture of helpless embarrassment. After some hesitation he pushed the cane into a corner of the railing, but could not find a place for the hat, except on the floor where I could see that he did not like to risk it. Douglas, who fully took in the situation, came to the rescue of his old friend and rival, and held the precious hat until the owner needed it again—a service which, if predicted two years before, would probably have astonished him.”

More on the same:
The most famous of his many walking sticks, however, was one presented to him by John A. McClernand in 1857.

The McClernand stick is undoubtedly the one which he carried with him to Washington, and it finds a place in the First Inaugural picture. A contemporary account of Lincoln’s appearance as he approached the platform on this eventful day is found in a press correspondent’s description of him:

“He was arrayed in a full suit of regulation black including a dress coat, a brand new silk hat, and a ponderous gold-headed cane. After standing hesitatingly a moment his cane in one hand and his hat in the other he got rid of the former by thrusting it up in the angle of the railing ”

“After Lincoln’s death this same gold-headed cane was presented to Dr. James Smith who was for seven years the spiritual adviser of the Lincoln family at Springfield, Illinois, and who was appointed by President Lincoln as United States Consul at Edinburgh, Scotland.

Harper’s Bazaar for August 27, 1871 published a codicil from Dr. Smith’s will which reads as follows:

“I give, devise and bequeath unto John Bright, Esq., member of the British House of Commons, and to his heirs the gold-mounted staff or cane which belonged to the deceased President Lincoln of the United States, and presented to me by the deceased’s widow and family as a mark of the President’s respect, which staff is to be kept and used as an heirloom in the family of the said John Bright, as a token of the esteem which the late President felt for him because of his unwearied zeal and defense of the United States in suppressing the civil rebellion of the Southern States.”

Through the courtesy of Harlan F. Burket, an attorney in Findlay, Ohio, the attention of the editor of Lincoln Lore was called to an excerpt from “The Life and Speeches of John Bright” which was published in 1881. It confirms the fact that the famous cane reached its proper destination, as we see by the following notation:

“But perhaps the most interesting reminiscence relating to Mr. Bright and the United States is one respecting which we are able to give the following particulars. The staff used by President Lincoln was bequeathed to Mr. Bright by the Rev. Dr. J. Smith of Springfield, Illinois, the latter having first received it from Mr. Lincoln’s family. The President’s gold-headed staff, or cane, bears the following inscription on the gold head: ‘J. A. McClernand to the Hon. A. Lincoln, June 1857;’ and on a gold ferule below are the words, ‘Presented to Rev. Jas. Smith, D. D. late pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Springfield, Ills, by the family of the late President Lincoln, in memoriam of the high esteem in which he was held by him and them as their pastor and dear friend, 27th April, 1868’. On another gold ferule, lower down, is the following: ‘Bequeathed by the Rev. Dr. Smith, U. S. Consul, Dundee, to the Right Hon. John Bright, M. P. in recognition of his tried friendship to the United States'”.

It is interesting to know that on the mantle of the study in the White House at the time Lincoln was assassinated, there was displayed a portrait of John Bright. Certainly this famous cane found an appropriate home when it reached the hands of the distinguished English statesman who was ever in sympathy with the Union cause.1

The Lincoln gold-headed presentation cane described above appeared in an October 20, 2007 auction through Ira & Larry Goldberg Auctioneers. Lot #265 description below, estimated value $10,000-$15,000, price realized on auction $33,350.2

Lot 265 – Description:
(Lincoln, Abraham) Gold-headed Presentation Cane. A 36″ walking stick with a 2½” gold head and a wooden, black-lacquered body with a brass tip. The cane bears three separate engravings. The original one, one on the head, says: “J.A. McClernand To Hon. A. Lincoln June 1857”. A 3/4″gold band just below the original 2½”gold head is engraved “Presented to the Revd. Jas. Smith, D.D.BY THE FAMILY OF THE LATE PRESIDENT LINCOLN in memoriam of the high esteem in which he was held by him and them as their pastor and dear friend. 27th April 1868″; and a 1″ gold band, 5” below the first one, is engraved: “Bequeathed by the Rev. Dr. Smith, U.S. Counsul, Dundee, to the Right Hon. John Bright Hill, in recognition of his tried friendship to the United States.” Housed in a custom-made wooden box, 41″ x 4¼” x 4¼.”

John A. McClernand (1812-1900), the future Union general, was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1832 and worked on many of the same cases that Lincoln did, sometimes on the same side and sometimes on opposing sides. In Lincoln Day By Day (Vol. II: 1849-1860), McClernand’s name appears twice during the chronology for June, once on June 8th, as lawyer for the defendant in Tallman v. Harvey, while Lincoln represented the plaintiff; and on June 11, Lincoln and McClernand were appointed by the court as defense attorneys in U.S. v. Andrew J. Sloan. The outstanding event of June for Lincoln was his speech in the House of Representatives against the Dred Scott decision. We don’t know the motivation for this gift, whether for a particular reason, or just out of respect for a colleague.

The Reverend Dr. James A. Smith (1801-1871), a native of Glasgow, Scotland, was pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Illinois, beginning in 1849. At the time of the death of Lincoln’s second son, Edward Baker Lincoln (February 1, 1850), Mary Todd Lincoln attended the Protestant Episcopal Church, where the Reverend Charles Dresser, who had married the Lincolns, was minister. Since Dresser was out of town at the time, Smith was asked to officiate at the services, which were held at the Lincoln’s home. Mrs. Lincoln began attending the Presbyterian Church and became a member on October 13, 1852; Tad Lincoln was baptized there on April 4, 1856. Lincoln sometimes attended services with his family but never formally joined. Lincoln was often away riding circuit, but he paid $50 annually for the rent of Pew No. 20. Lincoln read a book written by Smith called The Christian’s Defense I in 1843, and Smith was often a guest in the Lincoln home.

Although Dr. Smith left Springfield in 1856 for employment with the American Sunday School Union, he remained in contact with the Lincoln family and is known to have visited the Lincolns in the Executive Mansion in June 1861. When Smith’s son, Hugh, was appointed Consul at Dundee, Scotland, Dr. Smith went with him; when his son resigned shortly thereafter because of ill health, Dr. Smith took over his duties and, after appealing to Mrs. Lincoln, was appointed Consul at Dundee on February 18, 1863. After Lincoln’s death, Mrs. Lincoln remained in contact with Smith. During the three years that she and Tad spent in Europe (1868-1870), they visited Smith in Scotland for several weeks during 1869.

John Bright (1811-1889), the third recipient of the cane, was a member of Parliament, a Quaker, and a great orator. He was instrumental in the repeal of the repressive corn laws and in the passage of the 1867 Reform Act, which enfranchised two million additional men. He admired the style of government in the United States, so much so that he was sometimes referred to in the House of Commons as the Honorable Member for the United States. During the American Civil War, he took the side of the North because of the issue of slavery, which was abhorent to him. It was surely Bright’s known admiration and friendship for the United States that motivated Dr. Smith to bequeath to Bright his precious relic from the venerated and martyred President Lincoln.


1. Curios and relics. Clothing accessories:
2. Ira & Larry Goldberg Auctioneers, Sale 43.

For antique cane and walking stick enthusiasts