In 1860, a cub reporter named Samuel R. Weed scored the assignment of a lifetime when his St. Louis newspaper sent him to spend Election Day with the man who might become America’s president. Surprisingly, no one else had thought of it, and Weed arrived to find a relaxed Abraham Lincoln, greeting him “as calmly and as amiably as if he had started on a picnic.”
He dutifully recorded the ordinary ways Lincoln spent this extraordinary day; sitting on a chair tipping backwards, endlessly dispensing witticisms as if from a secret rivulet inside him, avoiding crowds at times, and perhaps avoiding Samuel R. Weed as well (he checks out for lunch at one point).
The result is a riveting, human portrait. Here is Lincoln getting the news that New York, the swing state, has swung; there he is, smothered with kisses by a bevy of young ladies, curiously unsupervised. The reporting is crisp; we hear shouting, and church bells, and the occasional cannon. That is not the only premonition of war — Lincoln says no fewer than six times that his troubles have just begun. Quite an election night.
But for all this good reporting, the piece was not written until 1882, and not published until 1932, when it appeared in The New York Times on Valentine’s Day (was it the kisses?). It also appeared in a 1945 compilation of Lincoln memories, with no explanation for the long delay in bringing an essential Lincoln story before the public.
Sources: The New York Times, Feb. 14, 1932; Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed., “Intimate Memories of Lincoln.”
Ted Widmer is director and librarian of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University. He was a speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and the editor of the Library of America’s two-volume “American Speeches.”
Note: The 1932 article has not been reproduced (see the blog).