March 4, 1861
The United States Senate attempted to conduct is business routinely on March 4, 1861, but it was a day far from routine.
Maine Senator Hannibal Hamlin was prepared to be sworn in as the nation’s new Vice President and the Presiding Officer of the Senate.
He would succeed Kentuckian John C. Breckinridge, who had just finished second in the Electoral College voting for the presidency. Breckinridge, the 1860 nominee of the Southern Democratic Party, won the popular vote in all the states of the Deep South.
Before administering the oath of office to Hamlin, Breckinridge addressed his Senate colleagues and wished Hamlin well.
"…for my successor, I can express no better wish that that he may enjoy the relations of mutual confidence which so happily have marked our intercourse," he said. ("The New York Times," March 5, 1861)
Citing his Congressional experience, Hannibal Hamlin announced himself ready to serve "…with a stern, inflexible purpose to discharge these duties faithfully, relying upon the courtesy and cooperation of Senators and invoking the aid of Divine Providence, I am now ready to take the oath required by the Constitution…" ("The New York Times," March 5, 1861)
But the Senate that Breckinridge and Hamlin recalled was hardly the Senate that greeted them. By March 4, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Texas, and Louisiana – states that had voted for Breckinridge – had already voted to secede. Their Senators were no longer present in the Capitol.
Earlier, when asked by a friend from Maine what the future would hold, Hamlin replied, "there's going to be a war, and a terrible one, just as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow." ("Vice Presidents of the United States, 1789-1993," U.S. Government Printing Office, page 206)
The new administration did not have to wait long.
On inauguration day, the War Department received a letter from Major Robert Anderson, who was in charge of Fort Sumter. He informed the department and new President that his supplies were nearly gone and that defending the fort would require "a force of not less than 2,000 good and well-disciplined men."
Five weeks later, Fort Sumter was fired upon.
- Was inauguration day a happy event for Hamlin?
- Was Hamlin confident about the future of the country?