The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Local News

February 17, 2013

No friend was closer to Lincoln than Lamon

The two men who sat down together for dinner had made quite a transition. A few years earlier they had shared a Danville law office where a $10 fee was quite welcome. On March 4, 1861, the former circuit riding attorney and the robust lawyer, who had been his Vermilion County law partner, were seated at a dining table in the White House. Abraham Lincoln was president of the United States and he would soon appoint his dinner guest, Ward Hill Lamon, marshal of Washington City.

Lincoln had delivered his inaugural address earlier in the day and had warned the people of the seceded states, “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war.” He had pointed out he would stand by his oath to “preserve, protect, and defend” the Union. In the evening, he was enjoying his first dinner with family and a few friends in the White House. It had been arranged by Harriet Lane, niece of outgoing bachelor President James Buchanan. Lane served as first lady for her uncle during his four-year term.

There were 17 people present at that first dinner. Among them, in addition to Lamon, was Elmer Ellsworth, the young soldier who had served as a law clerk to Lincoln in Springfield. He would become an early casualty in the Civil War. Lockwood Todd was also there; he was a cousin of Mary Lincoln, and would be one of many Todds who would receive favors from the newly elected president. It was not surprising Ward Hill Lamon was invited to share that first dinner with the president. Historian Willard L. King noted no one was closer to Lincoln than Lamon.

During the dinner a delegation of more than 500 people from New York called at the White House, and Lincoln excused himself and spoke briefly to the New Yorkers. It was something he would have to do numerous times in the coming days as people would gather at the White House. But the one individual he truly enjoyed spending time with was Lamon, the man he referred to as his “particular friend.”

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