Sunday, January 18, 2009

Presidential Inauguration Precedent

Our personal political memory reaches back as far as 1957 and Eisenhower's second inaugural, an easily forgettable (and forgotten) event. In all the many years since, we cannot recall a single presidential inauguration that has attracted as much attention or generated so much excitement as we're seeing now for president-elect Barack Obama.

Not even John Kennedy's inauguration, now almost half a century in the past, rivals it. That event attracted the most attention of any inauguration over the ensuing decades, although the way we remember it most of the excitement came afterward, ignited by his call to"ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country."

Enthusiasm for Obama and "the powerful wave of optimisim" he has generated across the country is a good thing. But it's also good to remember that Barack Obama is just as human as was Abraham Lincoln. He's a dad, like Lincoln was. He makes mistakes, as Lincoln did. He has kids who make them, too.

And his luggage can be lost, just like ours:
When they left Spingfield Lincoln had put his inaugural address and other papers in a small, old fashioned black oilcloth carpetbag, which he had entrusted to his oldest son Robert for safekeeping. However, he failed to tell the eighteen-year-old that it contained the precious speech. The press was calling him "The Prince of the Rails," and at almost every stop boys his own age were ready to pounce on him to "do him the honors after their own capricious whims." And here they were at the first pouncable stop, Indianapolis.

When Lincoln reached his room at the Bates House he remembered the carpetbag and its top-secret contents. He called urgently for Robert only to learn that he had been snatched away by "The Boys" for a tour of Indianapolis.When finally found and brought in, he blandly told his father he had handed the carpetbag to the clerk at the hotel.

"And what did the clerk do with it?" demanded his father.

"Set it on the floor nehind the counter," Robert answered.

John Nicolay, a witness to all of this, saw a "look of stupefaction" pass over Lincoln's face, with "visions of that Inaugural in all the next morning's papers" floating "through his imagination." Without a word, Nicolay recounted, "he opened the door, forced his way through the crowded corridor down to the office, where, with a single stride of his long legs, he sung himself across the counter, behind which a small mountain of all colors had accumulated. Then drawing a little key out of his pockeyt he began delving for the black ones, and opened one by one of those that the key would unlock, to the great surprise and amusement of the clerkand bystanders, as their miscellaneous conents came to light. Fortune favored the president-elect, for after the first half dozen trials he found his treasures."

Robert was somewhat sternly admonished, but there was an upside. For the rest of the trip he no longer had to watch over the carpetbag.

John C. Waugh, One Man Great Enough:
Abraham Lincoln's Road to Civil War
Harcourt Press (2007) at 383-34

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great story. I agree there has never been an outpouring like this for a new president except maybe Lincoln and back then only in the northern states, not the southern ones. Yhey were making war against the U.S. and some of them were trying to kill Lincoln even before he was sworn in. The attention and hype for Obama is amazing but how much of it is due to the media and how long can THAT last?