Looking back at the One Hundredth Anniversary of Lincoln’s First Inauguration

President Kennedy signing H. J. 155, March 1, 1861

President Kennedy signing H. J. 155, March 1, 1861



President Kennedy receiving commemorative medals of Lincoln's Inaugural Re-enactment

President Kennedy receiving commemorative medals of Lincoln's Inaugural Re-enactment

Carl Sandburg walking to the Inaugural re-enactment platform

Carl Sandburg walking to the Inaugural re-enactment platform

As this country approaches the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, I am not seeing the attention that this noteworthy landmark in history should be receiving. In the media almost nothing is being said. Fifty years ago when the 100th anniversary of the inauguration of Lincoln and the start of the Civil War was being observed, things were different. President Kennedy’s first law (the signing of H.J. Res 155) was for a joint committee to commemorate Lincoln’s first inauguration. A big event was planned in Washington, including a re-enactment of Abraham Lincoln being sworn in as President. There were actors dressed in period costumes. The “Lincolns” rode down Pennsylvania Avenue in the actual carraige used by U.S. Grant and his wife. There were almost 20,000 spectators of the event-more than double, by the way, of the number that were present at the real Lincoln inaugural. Carl Sandburg gave a speech to mark the occasion. Senator Sam Rayburn also made comments. Here are excerpts:
Senator Sam Rayburn:
“Prejudice, hate, agitation brought about the Civil War. I have always thought if it had not been for hotheads in the South and the inane and insane agitators of the North that Abraham Lincoln, by his justice, his fairness, his great statesmanship, would have prevented the Civil War which destroyed the flower of our young manhood in this country that at that time was so sorely needed.
As a son of a Confederate soldier, who did what he thought was right, I say for him and for myself after that was over, he was proud our great Union was preserved…”
Carl Sandburg:
“…There are careless generations who drift, dawdle, decay. Still others leave tall landmarks of liberty, of discovery, invention, and culture, setting targets of achievement at which no succeeding generation can take a horse laugh of derision and belittlement. What the young people want and dream across the next 100 years will shape history more than any other motivation to be named. Youth now living and youth as yet unborn hold the seeds and secrets of the folds to be unfolded in the shapes to come…”  “As the new President, 100 years ago, slept his first night in the White house…it was a great day in American history, of which we might say it was sunset and dawn, moonrise and noon sun, dry leaves in an autumn wind, and springtime blossoms, dying time and birthing hour.”
It seems to me that this hour of the dawn of the 150th observance of the Civil War is calling for the Carl Sandburgs of our land to call attention to it’s meaning for us today. Where are they? Where are the Sam Rayburns? Who shall speak for us? Good questions all…   
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4 Responses to “Looking back at the One Hundredth Anniversary of Lincoln’s First Inauguration”

  1. B. Nash says:

    I was not able to verify if JFK attended much less his wife. It’s a good question-and I hope someone will find out.

  2. Richard Fox says:

    I curious if you know whether Senator JFK was present for the joint session of Congress in 1959 when Sandburg gave an address on Lincoln for the sequicentennial of his birth. If JFK was present, was Jackie there too?

  3. B. Nash says:

    Chris: Astute observations-thank you. I know here is Detroit I will be participating in a parade to mark the observance. But you’re right-on a national level I’m not hearing much. Hope we’re wrong!

  4. There’s been a little bit of attention to the Civil War sesquicentennial (and the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s election) here in Springfield but not a whole lot (certainly nothing like the Lincoln Bicentennial, which was an awesome experience here). I don’t know what it’s like in the rest of the country. I think it needs to be commemorated properly, though (I’d especially like to see some recognition of the Emancipation Sesquicentennial in 2013, but that’s still a ways off).

    The interesting thing is how the sesquicentennial comes at a time when we are very divided. I hope we learn some things from Lincoln during it.

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