- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 15, 2009

During Abraham Lincoln’s first presidential term, his vice president was Hannibal Hamlin of Maine. Yet, Mr. Hamlin almost didn’t make it to Washington for his own inauguration.

On Feb. 11, 1861, the same day Lincoln was giving his farewell address at the train station in Springfield, Ill., the Hamlins left their home in Hampden, Maine. Since there was no train station in town, they and their many friends set off for the Bangor station, five miles away, in a fleet of sleighs. There were lines of people cheering the former senator and his family as they reached Bangor, including a massive crowd at the station.

The number of sleighs had grown along the way, as people came out to say goodbye, and by now the line of sleighs was more than a mile long.

Mr. Hamlin gave a brief speech from his train, just as Lincoln was doing a thousand miles to the west. Although Hamlin’s words lacked the ringing quality of Lincoln’s, Hamlin prayed for God’s help.

“I go to the discharge of the official duties, which have been conferred upon me by a generous people, and relying upon Divine Providence, I trust that confidence shall never be betrayed,” he said.

Toward the end of his speech, he tried to remind the South that the Republican platform had pledged not to interfere with slavery where it already existed, that “the constitutional rights of all the states will be respected and maintained.”

The Hamlins went first to Boston, where they stayed until Feb. 19. Then they began the long trip to Washington. Along the way, Hamlin would occasionally stop to rest and make a speech or two, again as Lincoln was doing.

On Feb. 20, Hamlin was nearly left behind.

His train had stopped at New Haven, Conn. He was busy shaking as many hands as possible from the train, when he lost his balance and fell off. Fortunately, the crowd caught him.

Then the train began to move off, leaving Hamlin behind. The train crew soon found out, however, and stopped the train, leaving Hamlin to hurry along the tracks and catch up.

The Hamlins left New York City on Feb. 22, headed for Baltimore. Throughout their entire trip, they had not met the Lincolns, and this was to continue all the way to Washington.

Lincoln himself changed trains at this point, because of rumors about an assassination plot in Baltimore, which had a strong secessionist element among its people.

Hamlin did not change his train, but he did change the car he was in. During the night of Feb. 22-23, the Hamlins arrived in Baltimore. Hamlin was quietly resting in his berth.

Waiting at the station was a secessionist mob, yelling and cursing. They were looking for Lincoln’s car, but the change of trains had foiled that. They also rushed Hamlin’s train, and searched it from end to end, looking for the vice president-elect.

They even drew back the passengers’ berth curtains. The mob found Hamlin all right — but they failed to recognize him, and moved on.

Hamlin’s own obscurity had saved him. The 1860 presidential campaign had focused on the presidential candidates, and mostly ignored their running mates. The most recent illustration of Hamlin in the illustrated magazines had been in the June 2, 1860, issue of Harper’s Weekly.

Despite the brief interruption, the Hamlins reached Washington on time, early on the morning of Feb. 23. They arrived shortly before the Lincolns did.

Both families finally met later that day, at a meal together at the home of Sen. William H. Seward, who would become Lincoln’s secretary of state.

• John Lockwood is a Washington writer.

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