Washington had been unusually angry in the weeks preceding Inauguration Day. Seven states had already left the Union; a mob had tried to attack the Capitol on the day Congress met to tabulate the electoral college vote. Fights broke out in the galleries during speeches, where spectators jeered, “Abe Lincoln will never come here!”
Over the winter, armed militias paraded through the city, and hooligans smashed Republican printing presses, as if to prevent news from flowing. Rumors swept the District that a militia was going to invade from Virginia to set up a new proslavery government. They wanted to keep all of it — the Capitol, the White House and especially the name: the United States of America. Lincoln would have had to start his presidency elsewhere.
There was far more to the visceral opposition to Lincoln than just his views on slavery. He had won with less than 40 percent of the vote, and entrenched interests feared the loss of easy access to Washington’s gilded corridors. Although they were not as gilded as they might have been — one reason it was taking so long to renovate the Capitol was that the guards hired to protect it from looting were stripping its treasures for themselves, down to the paint.
It seemed as though everyone was on the take. Certainly, the proslavery interests had owned Washington for as long as anyone could remember, capturing an overwhelming preponderance of the nation’s House speakers, committee chairs, sergeants-at-arms and Supreme Court justices. Lobbyists flourished in this climate, buying and selling access from local watering holes.
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