It was March 4, 1861. After a bitter and contentious election that saw, for the first time, a Republican take the presidency, it was time for that man, former Illinois congressman Abraham Lincoln, to take office. In the intervening months since the election, seven Deep South states had seceded and formed a new breakaway government, the Confederate State of America. It was a hotly debated issue — some in the North thought “good riddance” and wanted to let them go. Some thought that negotiation and yielding on some points might bring them back into the fold. Others wanted the Union preserved, at all costs.
Lincoln was in that camp, even if it meant the possibility of war. The trick was how to restore the Union without aggravating other slave-holding Southern states, where secession was still likely of he made any aggressive moves. In his inaugural speech, he told his audience that he would not interfere with slavery where it existed, but he hammered on the point that he opposed secession and that the government had a right to “hold, possess, and occupy” Federal property. Already, in some states, secessionists had taken over Federal forts, arsenals, and other facilities. He also verified the government’s right to collect taxes.
In the audience that cloudy March day was Arthur Briggs Farquhar, a young businessman from York, Pennsylvania. Years later, he recorded his impressions of the new president in his book, The First Million The Hardest: An Autobiography.