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Lincoln in Philadelphia

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Lincoln, the League, and Philadelphia 1848

Lincoln first saw Independence Hall during his 1848 visit to Philadelphia as an unofficial observer to the Whig National Convention. He wrote, "In my anxiety for the result [the nomination], I was led to attend the Philadelphia convention." At stake was the party’s choice between Henry Clay and Zachary Taylor, the Conscience Whigs versus the Cotton Whigs. The issues were at the very heart of the party: no extension of slavery; no acquisition of foreign territory by conquest; and protection of American industry. Two years earlier, in 1846, with the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ending the Mexican-American War, President James Polk (D) had asked Congress for $2,000,000 to compensate Mexico for any territory it might loose. Pennsylvania Representative David Wilmot attached a provision to the bill that would ban slavery from any state formed from that territory. The Wilmot Proviso passed in the House, but never in the Senate, and was, therefore, never enacted. Slavery was still on the table.

Lincoln traveled to Philadelphia in the company of other Whig congressmen who were also Zachary Taylor supporters, known as the Young Indians. The convention was held June 7th through 10th at the Philadelphia Museum Building at Ninth and Sansom Streets, also known as the Chinese Museum, built in 1838. It was reputed to have been the second largest hall in the western world, with a capacity of 15,000, exceeded only by Westminster Abbey in London. Lincoln was elected to Congress as a supporter of Henry Clay, the only Whig from his state. He was given the nickname of the Lone Star of Illinois. As the convention drew near, Lincoln realized that it was not possible to elect Clay to the presidency. The Illinoisan gradually became an active supporter of Louisiana plantation owner Zachary Taylor. After the nomination was won by Taylor, Lincoln left Philadelphia in the company of friends on Saturday, June 10, 1848, bound for a campaign rally in Wilmington, Delaware, and then Washington, D.C.

February 18, 1861, while Lincoln travelled across New York state on his way to Albany, Jefferson Davis was sworn in as the first president of the Confederacy.

On Thursday, February 21st, Lincoln arrived in Philadelphia at the Kensington Depot of the Philadelphia & Trenton RR, Front and Berks Streets at 3:45PM. Nearly one hundred thousand people turned out on that cold February day to welcome their newly elected leader as he rode three miles in an open barouche from the rail depot to the Continental Hotel, on the southeast corner of 9th and Chestnut Streets only three blocks west of the State House. In 1861 the Continental Hotel was one of the finest hotels in the United States. Opened one year earlier, done in the Italianate style, and designed by future League member John McArthur, it could house over one thousand guests in its seven hundred rooms. It boasted an elevator, a freestanding stairway from the lobby to the second floor, and a 165–foot second-floor promenade that opened to a second-floor balcony. Lobby, shops, private rooms, and dining rooms occupied the first two floors. It was the obvious place for the President-elect to stay.

Immediately after his arrival at the hotel, Lincoln was met by Alexander Henry, the mayor of Philadelphia, and both appeared on the hotel balcony to address the crowd that filled the street below. The mayor officially welcomed the president-elect to the city. Lincoln spoke of Independence Hall and the Declaration of Independence. "I shall do nothing inconsistent with the teachings of those holy and most sacred walls.... All my political warfare has been in favor of the teachings coming forth from that sacred hall. May my right hand forget its cunning and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if ever I prove false to those teachings."

The next morning on Washington's Birthday, February 22, 1861, Lincoln and his seven-year-old son, Tad, mounted an open carriage and rode three blocks to Independence Hall. Lincoln entered the Assembly Room of the State House for the first time. After welcoming remarks by the president of the select council, Lincoln was expected to address the waiting council members. His speech was extemporaneous. His voice was low and barely audible.

I am filled with deep emotion at finding myself standing here in the place where were collected together the wisdom, the patriotism, the devotion to principle, from which sprang the institutions under which we live.... All the political sentiments I entertain have been drawn ... from the sentiments which originated, and were given to the world from this hall in which we stand. I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence...He would close with these words, If this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle [of liberty]—I was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than to surrender it.... My friends, this is a wholly unprepared speech. I did not expect to be called upon to say a word when I came here—I supposed I was merely to do something towards raising a flag. I may, therefore, have said something indiscreet, but I have said nothing but what I am willing to live by, and, in the pleasure of Almighty God, die by.

The president-elect and his son walked out of Independence Hall through the Chestnut Street door into the overcast day. They ascended a six-foot-high wooden platform and faced the dense crowd. Lincoln stood in his overcoat, bareheaded, holding his top hat in his good, left hand, while Tad Lincoln fidgeted on the edge of the platform to his left. Abraham Lincoln briefly addressed the crowd. According to eyewitness, US Army private Henry J. Snyder, “A great bundle containing the flag was at hand and lifted with ready hands, and on the word “go” the President drew the bundle up the staff. At the proper moment the cord that held the bundle was broken, the flag was blown out by the wind to the joy, happiness, and plaudits of the thousands of people attesting their feelings.” According to Snyder, the flag was made by sailors from the frigate USS Hartford on its homeward journey from China, and presented to the city as the port of payment. Later that day at the state capitol building in Harrisburg, Lincoln told the Pennsylvania General Assembly that the success of the flag-raising ceremony that morning in Philadelphia augured well for the Union. "When, according to the arrangement, the cord was pulled and it flaunted gloriously to the wind without an accident, in the bright flowing sunshine of the morning, I could not help hoping that there was in the entire success of that beautiful ceremony at least something of an omen of what is to come. 1862

Washington, DC. Dec. 30, 1862 My Dear Mr. President -- The bearer, Mr. E. D. Marchant, the eminent Artist; has been empowered by a large body of your personal and political friends to paint your picture for the Hall of American Independence. A generous subscription is made -- and he visits you to ask your acquiescence, and to exhibit his testimonials. He will need little of your time. There is no likeness of you at Independence Hall. It should be there; and as Mr. Marchant is a most distinguished Artist, and is commended by the most powerful influences, I trust you will give him a favorable reception--Your's Truly, J. W. Forney. Lincoln agreed.

Marchant’s studio was in the White House, where he worked on the portrait over several months, and was “…in daily communication with the remarkable man whose features I sought to portray.” Marchant characterized his experience as “more truly a labor of love than I am often permitted to perform.”

Writing some time latter to artist Daniel Huntington, Marchant wrote of Lincoln, “He was seldom twice alike. Hence the endless variety observable in the photographs we have of him.” And furthermore, “Though indelibly impressed upon my mind during a residence of four months at the White House, they are the most difficult to describe that I never knew.” Lincoln was “the most difficult subject who ever taxed the skills of an artist.”

Some time during the late summer of 1863, the painting was hung in the Council Chamber in Independence Hall. It was originally thought to have hung there until 1866, but , in 1864, a caption on an engraving of the portrait by Philadelphian John Sartain indicated that the painting was “in the possession of the Union League of Philadelphia.”


The United States Sanitary Commission was an official agency of the United States government, created by legislation signed by President Abraham Lincoln on June 18, 1861, to coordinate the volunteer efforts of women who wanted to contribute to the war effort of the Union states during the Civil War. Organized and operated by volunteers, they raised money ($25 million), collected donations, worked as nurses, ran kitchens in the Army camps, administered hospital ships, made uniforms, and organized Sanitary Fairs to support the Federal army with funds and supplies. It was by far the most beneficent of the many civilian organizations formed for the help of the soldiers during the Civil War.

In Philadelphia, the local branch of the Sanitary Commission was located at 1307 Chestnut Street. The Executive Committee of this branch was composed of Horace Binney, Jr., Chairman; and 13 others, all but two of whom were members of the League. Horace Binney would become the League’s 3rd president in 1869.

In aid of the Sanitary Commission, fairs were held in the major Union cities. The Great Central Faire in Philadelphia opened June 7th and closed June 28th 1864. It occupied the entire space of Logan Square. The buildings, constructed in 40 working days.

The Main Building of the Fair extended through the center of the square, from 18th to 19th Streets, and was of Gothic Arch design, 549 feet long and 60 feet wide. Single floor buildings extended around the four sides of the square, connected by corridors with the central feature called Union Avenue. The Great Fair succeeded in raising over $1,000,000 for the Sanitary Commission.

The Lincoln’s visited the Philadelphia Fair on June 16th. They arrived by train at the PW&B RR depot at Broad and Prime Streets. Their carriage travelled north on Broad St, turning right onto Chestnut St. passing the League house on its way to the Continental Hotel at 9th St. According to a newspaper report The Union League House was beautifully decorated. The Stars and Stripes were hung gracefully across the building, beneath the windows of every story, while both the state and national colors were displayed from the windows. From the flag staff floated white streamers, each containing the name of a state. The windows of the house were occupied by ladies, who waved their handkerchiefs enthusiastically, and upon the steps were many members of the League, who cheered lustily. The President was kept quite busy in returning the salutations.

Sydney George Fisher was a Philadelphia gentleman, lawyer, farmer, plantation owner, political essayist and occasional poet. A rabid anti-Democrat, Fisher was a de facto Whig. He lent his support to candidates who opposed the Jacksonian Democrats in national elections and remained an ardent anti-Democrat his entire life. Fisher was also a slavery apologist. He agreed with abolitionists that slavery was evil, but argued that it was necessary and served as a form of welfare for a race that would otherwise be a burden on the federal government and the civic institutions of society. He was, however, the greatest diarist in 19th century Philadelphia. Fisher was invited by Morton McMichael to join League members in a visit to Lincoln at the Continental Hotel.

Quote: I had all that I wanted, an opportunity to see and observe the man. Was much pleased by his countenance, voice and manner. He is tall, slender, not awkward and uncouth as has been represented, well dressed in black, self-possessed and easy, frank and cordial. The pictures of him do great injustice to his face. His features are irregular and would be coarse but for their expression, which is genial, animated, and kind. He looked somewhat pale and languid and there is a soft shade of melancholy in his smile and in his eyes. Altogether an honest, intelligent, amiable countenance, calculated to inspire respect, confidence, and regard. His voice, too, is clear and manly. Am very glad I have seen him. His whole bearing and aspect confirm the opinion I had formed of him.

The Lincoln’s arrived at the Fair at approximately 4:30 PM. The President spent about an hour in making the tour of the fair, accompanied by Secretary of State William Seward and his personal Secretary Jonathan Nicolay. They visited the Fair’s publication booth where signed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation were sold for $10 each. After much jostling among the crowd the Lincoln’s were brought to a ‘collection room,’ where a well-prepared luncheon table was arranged. A reporter was not near enough to catch the President’s first words upon entering the banquet hall, but is informed that he whispered to a companion on his left, ‘this is a right smart get-out.’ Ever the down-to-earth man.

The President was afterwards invited to a reception at the League in his honor. According to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer of June 17th, A League delegation had been appointed to escort him from the fair grounds to the League house but, as the President disliked escorts, he came down one street while the delegation went up another. Arriving unexpectedly, Lincoln was greeted by Daniel Dougherty. Mr. Dougherty spoke for a number of minutes in his usual eloquence while Lincoln, standing six feet four inches in height, listening attentively, unmoved, and as calm as a light house, enduring the storm of words. When Dougherty finished, Mr. Lincoln said, “Well, Mr. Dougherty, I presume the gentlemen present will expect me to make some response to the very eloquent address with which you have honored me, but, in the position I hold as President of the United States, and candidate for re-election to that high office, I think it more becoming that I should not address any political assemblage. Dougherty replied, “No, Mr. President! Beg pardon Mr. President! This is not a political assemblage, it is simply a LOYAL one.” President Lincoln told the members: “I thank you, sir, for your kind words of welcome. I am happy at the opportunity of visiting the Union League of Philadelphia, the first, I believe, of the Union Leagues – an organization free from political prejudices, and prompted in its formation by motives of the highest patriotism. I have many a time heard of its doing great good, and no one has charged it with doing any wrong. But it is not my intention to make a speech. My object in visiting Philadelphia was exclusively to witness the Sanitary Fair, and I need scarcely say that I have been more than delighted in witnessing the extraordinary efforts of your patriotic men and lovely ladies in behalf of the suffering soldiers and sailors of our country. It will now afford me pleasure to take each of you by the hand.”


On Good Friday, April 14th, at approximately 10:05PM, Abraham Lincoln was mortally shot at Ford’s Theater. He would die the next morning. The Union and its citizens mourned.

Lincoln was to be buried in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois. The train carrying his body, and that of his son Willie who had died in 1862 and was to be buried with his father in the Springfield cemetery, would traverse across the northern states in a trip of over two weeks. Starting in Washington, DC, it would make stops in Baltimore and Harrisburg OF STATION & TRAIN SCHEDULE before reaching Philadelphia on April 22nd, 1865, where the train arrived at the PW&B RR Depot at Broad and Prime Streets at 4:50PM. The Union League, due to its preeminent position in Philadelphia, was given the honor of receiving the body at Independence Square. The casket was placed on the funeral car built for the occasion by E. A. Earley, Undertakers, 10th and Green Sts. To allow the expected thousands of people who wished to view the funeral procession a chance to see the hearse and its coffin, a relatively long and circuitous route was designed to reach Independence Hall where Lincoln’s body would lie in state for two nights. At 6PM, the procession travelled north on Broad, turning west on Walnut St., north again on 21st St., east on Arch, south on 3rd, and then west on Walnut St, arriving at the south gate to Independence Square. The Square was illuminated with 60 calcium lights, some red, some white, and some blue. Members of the Union League, dressed in black mourning suits, white gloves, and mourning ribbons in their lapels, formed a double line along both sides of the pathway leading from the gate to the south door of Independence Hall. When the hearse arrived at 8PM, the coffin was carried between the lines of the bareheaded League members.

League member Thomas Stewardson, Jr., on the committee to receive the body of the President, wrote in his diary: Sunday, April 23rd, The Union League was appointed to receive the body of our good President last evening at Independence Square. As a member of the League I was in a manner obliged to look upon the face of the honored dead. I say obliged because I should not otherwise have made any effort to do so, my impressions of the Man being so pleasant that I feared to disturb my memory with any possible disappointment. Bit it turned out well – Homely in feature he was, as all the world knows, but a better face and a face which more clearly told of a good man I never looked upon, even as it lay there lifeless. Gentle and tender, honest, open, pure. I feel, as nearly every man, woman and child does feel, a personal and warm love for the man as well as an exalted respect for the ruler…He is now lying in Independence Hall, near the famous old Bell with its motto made to speak again “Proclaim Liberty throughout the land, and to ALL the inhabitants thereof.”



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