Lincoln invents the whistle-stop tour, sporting new hat and beard in Dutchess County in 1861

Abraham Lincoln was very deliberate in choosing how to get from his home in Springfield, Illinois, to Washington, to take his first oath of office as US President on March 4, 1861. He invented what would come to be known as a “whistle-stop” tour, feeling the 12-day journey could help unify a greatly divided country.

As the Republican candidate, Lincoln won the 1860 Presidential election without winning any southern state. And while he won all northern states, except New Jersey, you need only look at Dutchess County election results to see the choice was not unanimous in the North. While Lincoln carried the county overall, he did not carry East Fishkill, Fishkill (Beacon), Hyde Park, LaGrange, Red Hook, or the Town of Poughkeepsie. Lincoln won the electoral college with only 39% of the popular vote. In the 1864 election, those towns again failed to support him, with the addition of the Town of Dover.

This was the divisive backdrop to the inaugural train journey that included Lincoln, Mrs. Lincoln, their three sons, and Lincoln’s African American servant William Johnson. The few words the President-elect spoke were about going beyond partisanship to save our government institutions, and the need to support the office of Chief Executive, regardless of the popularity of the individual person occupying it at any given moment. 



ABOVE: “Oh! I grieve so that Lincoln is elected, but what am I, that I should say this, when the Lord has permitted it!” The LaGrange artist Caroline Morgan Clowes received this letter from her sister who was living in Virginia, just days after the November 1860 presidential election. Many saw Lincoln as the face of disunion and war.

The hat, the beard!

Before arriving in Albany, newspapers reported that Mrs. Lincoln was increasinly conscious of her husband’s image, “The hat worn by Mr. Lincoln during his voyage was an infamously bad one, also his overcoat. Shortly after leaving Utica, Mrs. Lincoln gave an order to the colored servant William, and Mr. Lincoln is now owner of a fine overcoat and a new hat.” There were other comments about William, referring to him as “a very useful member of the party who took care of the Presidential party with untiring attention, [he] is entitled to high credit.” William went on to Washington and became successful a clerk at the Treasury Department at Lincoln’s recommendation.

To the horror of his detractors, Lincoln’s emerging “whiskers” became topical. At his first stop into New York State east of Pennsylvania, Lincoln called out for the little girl of 13 years, Grace Bedell, who had written him the prior year suggesting he grow a beard. She emerged from the crowd with her father, was given a kiss, and so recognized. So even before arriving in Albany for an overnight stay, the fixture of the hat and the beard were firmly emerging as part of Lincoln’s story!

Their departure from Albany the morning of Tuesday, February 19, 1861 with the next overnight stay being New York City, set up the Dutchess “whistle stops” for the day. Although crowds gathered at Tivoli, Barrytown, Hyde Park, and Staatsburgh, and the President could be seen at the end of the train car platform, the train did not stop there.

They would only fully stop in Rhinecliff and Fishkill (Beacon), for 2 or 3 minutes. They stopped at Poughkeepsie for about 15 minutes. 

Lincoln’s comments at Poughkeepsie:

I cannot expect to make myself heard by any considerable number of you, my friends, but I appear here rather for the purpose of seeing you and being seen by you. (laughter).   I do not believe that you extended this welcome, one of the finest I have ever received, to the individual man who now addresses you but rather to the person who represents for the time being the Majesty of the Constitution and the government. (Cheers.)  I suppose that here as everywhere you meet me without distinction of party but as the people. (Cries of yes, yes.) it is with your aid, as the people, that I think we shall be able to preserve not the country–for the country will preserve itself–but the institutions of the country–(great cheering);  those institutions which have made us free, intelligent, and happy–the most free, the most intelligent and the happiest people on the globe. (Tremendous applause.)

I see that some, at least, of you are of those who believe that an election being a decided against them is no reason why they should sink the ship. (“Hurrah.”)  I believe with you, I believe in sticking to it; and carrying it through; and if defeated at one election, I believe in taking the chances next time. (Great laughter and applause.)  I do not think that they have chosen the best man to conduct our affairs, now–I am sure they did not (here the speaker was interrupted by noise and confusion in another part of the crowd)–but acting honestly and sincerely, and with your aid. I think we shall be able to get through the storm (here Mr. Sloane caught hold of mr. Lincoln’s arm and pulled him around to see the locomotives, the Union and the Constitution, which passed gaily dressed with flags. Turning hastily Mr. Lincoln continued)–In addition to what I have said I have only to bid you farewell. (Cheers and a salute, amid which the train moved on).

In Poughkeepsie, the crowd called on Mrs. Lincoln, who was visible at a window she had just opened, to show the children, and Mrs. Lincoln obliged. Oldest son Robert came to the window, youngest son Tad, playfully refused, and there is no mention of middle son Willie.

RHINEBECK — team of rival – like embrace of opponent?

The description of the Rhinebeck stop includes the addition of the William Kelly. Kelly, just a few months prior, had been the Douglass-Democrat candidate for Governor. Kelly was defeated by incumbent Republican Governor (the party of Lincoln) Edwin Morgan. Lincoln would have just said farewell to Morgan in Albany a few hours earlier before welcoming hisa most recent political opponent. We do not know how much of the journey Kelly stayed with the traveling party.

The newspapers reported on a “handsome demonstration” and the salute of a cannon on arrival and departure was heard. In each instance by the canon was lit by a Lieutenant using his cigar.

From the newspapers. “At Rhinebeck quite a handsome demonstration was made, and Mr. Lincoln appeared on the platform.The salute here was fired by half-a-dozen fellows in uniform and the lieutenant of the party gravely lighted the cannon with his cigar. Boom went the cannon as the train stopped. Out came Mr. Lincoln. Gunners and artillery men deserted their guns and made for Mr. Lincoln among shouts of laughter in which the president heartily joined. He had excused himself from speaking [when] the gunman made a rush for their cannon, the lieutenant pulled at his cigar till his face was so red as the cartridge flannel. Boom went the old gun again and off went the train through Strasburg and Hyde Park until it stopped at Poughkeepsie.”


According to local newspapers, “On arriving at Fishkill, the people were found gathered in force. Canon, music and shouting gave voice to the enthusiasm. Ladies waved handkerchiefs, the men cheered. Mr. Lincoln showed himself to the crowd and thanked them for the reception but as the train only stopped 3 minutes,  Lincoln declined to speak saying only that a speech would delay his on time arrival in Washington….”


For Lincoln, it must have felt like stepping onto a roaring treadmill. The Civil War started one month after he took the oath of office as President, and ended six days before he was killed, on April 15, 1865.

With the Tuesday, February 19, 1861 Poughkeepsie stop as a kind of beginning marker, it would only be four years, two months and several days later, that the same locomotives would take the remains of the assisanated President into a stop at Poughkeepsie station, this time heading north, Tuesday, April 25, 1865. On the train were the remains of son, Willie, who died age 12 in 1862.

Two months after the President-elect’s visit to Poughkeepsie, and six days after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina that launched the Civil War, Poughkeepsie volunteers assembled near the Village Hall on April 18, 1861. DCHS Collections.

Broadside for recruitment of soldiers into the Civil War. Notice the banner that  reads, “The Union,” and “The Constitution.” These were the two names used for the locomotives that were used in the Hudson Valley section of Lincoln’s train routes of 1861 and 1865. An example of an early coordinated message campaign.