Niagara Gazette

Opinion

May 26, 2013

GLYNN: Lincoln escapes wild crowd at Buffalo depot

Niagara Gazette — Abraham Lincoln was lucky to escape with his life that day when he visited Buffalo.

It is a story that has been generally ignored through the decades until the recently published book “The Hour of Peril,” by Daniel Stashower. It’s a riveting account of the secret plot to murder Lincoln before he was inaugurated. 

The author traces the diligent efforts to protect the president-elect as he traveled from his home in Springfield, Ill., to Washington, D.C., to take the oath of office in February 1861.

Lincoln’s arduous trip — made more difficult by rumors that assassins were on his trail — was in sharp contrast to what Jefferson Davis experienced  enroute to Montgomery, Ala., to be sworn in as president of the Confederate States of America. On his five-day rail trip from Mississippi, Davis made some 20 speeches while Lincoln was more comfortable sitting in his Pullman car until the security force assured him it was safe to venture out to the rear platform of the train.

The New York Herald pointed out the differences in style — not all its readers agreed — between the two chief executives. Davis was a dapper graduate of West Point and a hero of the Mexican-American War. Lincoln was a rail splitter, a distiller of whiskey, a story teller and a joke maker. 

At first, Lincoln must have been thoroughly confused when his special train slipped into the siding at Buffalo’s Exchange Street Station (near the old Memorial Auditorium site). An estimated 10,000 people started pushing toward the train. Fortunately, that mass of humanity undoubtedly wiped out any chance for even a potential assassin to get a clear shot at Lincoln. (Ironically, that chance occurred 40 years later when President McKinley was slain at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo).  

Plans for a red-carpet welcome at trackside were quickly changed when the 1861 delegation headed by former President Millard Fillmore had difficulty even making contact with the most important visitor. 

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