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American History Series: Lincoln Names a Cabinet

The outgoing president, James Buchanan, told him, ''If you are as happy to get into the White House as I am to get out of it, you must be the happiest man alive!'' Transcript of radio broadcast:

Welcome to the MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.

By February first, eighteen sixty-one, seven southern states had withdrawn from the United States of America. They created their own independent nation -- the Confederate States of America. The South seceded because Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, had been elected president. Southerners believed he would support a constitutional ban on slavery. They were afraid their way of life would soon end.

This week in our series, Kay Gallant and Harry Monroe discuss the beginning of Abraham Lincoln's presidency.


President-elect Lincoln traveled by train from his home in Illinois to Washington, D.C. Along the way, he stopped to make speeches. As he got closer to Washington, he was warned that a mob was planning to attack the train. He had to continue his trip in secret.

Lincoln arrived in Washington nine days before his inauguration. It was a busy time. He talked with many people, including delegates to a peace convention. Every state was represented at the convention, except the states that had seceded. The delegates urged Lincoln to support slavery. They urged him not to go to war over the issue.

Lincoln said only that he would faithfully execute the duties of President of all the United States. He said he would protect and defend the American Constitution.


While Lincoln waited for inauguration day, he chose the members of his cabinet. He wanted men representing all opposing groups in the Republican Party. He hoped this would unite the party and give him support in the difficult years ahead.

Lincoln chose William Seward as secretary of state, Salmon Chase as Treasury secretary, Gideon Welles as Navy secretary and Montgomery Blair as postmaster general.

Seward did not like Chase, Welles or Blair. He told Lincoln that he could not serve in the cabinet with them. He said they would never be able to work together. Lincoln answered that he would be happy to make Seward ambassador to Britain, instead of secretary of state. Seward gave up the argument and agreed to join the cabinet.


Inauguration Day was the fourth of March. President-elect Lincoln rode to the ceremony with outgoing President James Buchanan. Buchanan was ready to give up his power. He told Lincoln: "If you are as happy to get into the White House as I am to get out of it, you must be the happiest man alive!"

The inaugural ceremony took place outside the Capitol building. Lincoln was to give his inaugural speech before being sworn-in.

He had worked hard on the speech. He wanted to say clearly what his policy would be on slavery and secession. These were the issues which divided the country. These were the issues which were leading the country to civil war.

This is what Lincoln said:


"There seems to be some fear among the people of the southern states, that because a Republican administration is coming to power, their property and their peace and personal security are threatened. There has never been any reasonable cause for such fears. In fact, much evidence to the contrary has existed, open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all my published speeches.

"In one of those speeches, I declared that I had no purpose -- directly or indirectly -- to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I said I believed I had no legal right to do so, and no wish to do so.

"This statement is still true. I can only say that the property, peace, and security of no part of the country are to be in any way endangered by the incoming administration."


Lincoln noted that seventy-two years had passed since the first president was inaugurated. Since then, he said, fifteen men had led the nation through many dangers, generally with great success. He went on:


"I now begin the same job under great difficulty. The breaking up of the federal Union -- before, only threatened -- now, is attempted. I believe that under universal law and the Constitution, the Union of these states is permanent. This is shown by the history of the Union itself.

"The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in seventeen seventy-four. It was continued by the Declaration of Independence in seventeen seventy-six. It grew further under the Articles of Confederation in seventeen seventy-eight. And finally, in seventeen eighty-seven, one of the declared reasons for establishing the Constitution of the United States was to form 'a more perfect Union'.

"I therefore believe that, in view of the Constitution and the laws, the Union is not broken. I shall make sure, as the Constitution orders me to do, that the laws of the Union are obeyed in all the states. In doing this, there needs to be no bloodshed or violence. And there shall be none, unless it be forced upon the national government.

"The power given to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the government, and to collect the taxes. But beyond what is necessary for these purposes, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere."


Lincoln then repeated some statements he had made during his campaign for president. He used them to explain the differences between North and South.

One part of the country, he said, believes slavery is right and should be extended. The other part believes slavery is wrong and should not be extended. This, he said, was the only important dispute.

Lincoln admitted that, even if the dispute could be settled peacefully, there were those who wanted to see the Union destroyed. He said his words were not meant for them. They were meant only for those people who really loved the Union. He said:


"Physically speaking, we cannot separate. We cannot remove our sections from each other nor build an impassable wall between them. A husband and wife may be divorced and go away from or out of the reach of each other. But the different parts of our country cannot do this. They must remain face to face. And relations -- friendly or hostile -- must continue between them.

"Is it possible to make those relations better after separation than before. Can aliens make treaties easier than friends can make laws. Can treaties be more faithfully enforced between aliens than laws can be enforced among friends.

"My countrymen -- one and all -- think calmly and well upon this subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time.

"In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen -- and not in mine -- is the great issue of civil war. The government will not attack you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors.

"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though emotion may have damaged them, it must not break our ties of love."


Abraham Lincoln then placed his hand on the Christian holy book, the Bible. The Chief Justice of the United States then spoke the presidential oath. Lincoln repeated the words. And the United States had a new president.

Lincoln's first crisis came quickly. It was a problem left unsolved by the out-going president.

Lincoln had to decide immediately what to do about the federal fort in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina: Fort Sumter. The fort was surrounded by southern artillery. Southern gunboats guarded the harbor. The federal troops inside Fort Sumter were getting dangerously low on food. But any attempt to send more men or supplies would be seen as an act of war -- civil war.

That will be our story next week.



Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Kay Gallant and Harry Monroe. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs are online, along with historical images, at You can also follow us at Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an American history series in VOA Special English.


This is program #95 of THE MAKING OF A NATION