A warm welcome in Lincoln’s White House

“On April 29, 1864, a delegation of six black men from North Carolina—some born free, others enslaved—came to the White House to petition Lincoln for the right to vote. As the men approached the Executive Mansion, they were directed to enter through the front door—an unexpected experience for black men from the South, who would never have been welcomed this way in their home state. One of the visitors, Rev. Isaac K. Felton, later remarked that it would have been considered an ‘insult’ for a person of color to seek to enter the front door ‘of the lowest magistrate of Craven County, and ask for the smallest right.’ Should such a thing occur, Felton said, the black ‘offender’ would have been told to go ‘around to the back door, that was the place for niggers.’”

“In words that alluded to the Sermon on the Mount, Felton likened Lincoln to Christ:

“We knock! and the door is opened unto to us. We seek, the President! and find him to the joy and comfort of our hearts. We ask, and receive his sympathies and promises to do for us all he could. He didn’t tell us to go round to the back door, but, like a true gentleman and noble-hearted chief, with as much courtesy and respect as though we had been the Japanese Embassy he invited us into the White House.”

“Lincoln spoke with the North Carolinians for some time. He shook their hands when they entered his office and again when the meeting ended. Upon returning home, the delegation reported back to their neighbors about how ‘[t]he president received us cordially and spoke with us freely and kindly.’ ”

— From “Black Lives Certainly Mattered to Abraham Lincoln” by Jonathan W. White in Smithsonian magazine (Feb. 10, 2021)

North Carolina at center of Lincoln’s last dream

“While Lincoln was meeting with his cabinet [on April 14, 1865, the day before his assassination], everyone’s mind was on North Carolina, for Confederate forces were there were holding out in Raleigh, and word was awaited imminently from General Sherman, whose job it was to subdue those holdouts and bring the war formally to an end.

“Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles recorded in his diary that Lincoln was optimistic, ‘for he had last night the usual dream which he had preceding nearly every great and important event of the War.’ In the dream, Lincoln recounted, ‘he seemed to be in some singular, indescribable vessel, and that he was moving with great rapidity towards an indefinite shore.’ ‘Generally the news had been favorable which succeeded this dream,’ he declared hopefully, ‘and the dream itself was always the same….We shall, judging from the past, have great news very soon.’

“As Welles noted gloomily when he recorded this remarkable scene, ‘Great events did, indeed, follow.’ ”

— From “Lincoln and the Jews: A History” by Jonathan D. Sarna and Benjamin Shapell (2015)


Raleigh speech costly to Stephen Douglas

“At his next stop, in Raleigh, North Carolina, [Stephen Douglas, presidential candidate of the Northern Democratic Party in 1860] rode in a long train of carriages filled with dignitaries who had to inch their way through a throng of over 15,000. A band led the procession….  Women hung out of windows to wave their handkerchiefs…. After a reception like this, he knew he could carry North Carolina….

“He spoke for an hour and 45 minutes…. He railed against disunionists, North and South…. He told his audience…  that just as he believed slavery belonged in the territories where people wanted it, slavery did not belong where it was not desired….

“That speech [and a similar one in Harrisburg, Pa., soon after] cost Douglas the South. … He was now despised for telling people bent on secession that they not only could not do it, but that Abraham Lincoln should stop them, and that he, Stephen Douglas, would help him.”

— From “Lincoln for President: An Unlikely Candidate, An Audacious Strategy and the Victory No One Saw Coming” by Bruce Chadwick (2009)

In a four-candidate race (except in the South where Republicans didn’t bother to put Lincoln on the ballot), Douglas finished second in popular votes, fourth in electoral votes. In North Carolina he won less than 3 percent of the vote.