Although it’s not well known, Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States, visited Jersey City three times. And on April 24, 1865, after his assassination, Lincoln’s funeral procession paused at Exchange Place, drawing a huge crowd as it did the whole way to his eventual burial in Springfield, Ill.
Lincoln campaigned for president at Exchange Place on Feb. 27, 1860, but New Jersey ultimately voted against him.
New Jersey was considered a northern state in the build up to the American Civil War but it had significant ties to the South. Indeed, geographically, Cape May, the southern most part New Jersey lies below the Mason-Dixon line that demarcated northern states from south, but the line was never extended to include New Jersey. Cape May was a popular vacation spot for southern gentry before the war and it was also rumored to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad that helped escaped slaves.
In 1860, New Jersey voted for Stephen Douglas over Lincoln, who nevertheless won the election. This did not stop Lincoln from returning to Exchange Place on Feb. 21, 1861 on his way to his inauguration in Washington D.C.
Nor did it stop Jersey City from celebrating the arrival of a man who historians considered one of the two greatest American presidents (George Washington was the other, and he also stopped off in Hudson County on his way to his inauguration in New York City in 1789.)
Lincoln had no reason to expect the warm welcome he received in Jersey City since newspapers at the time referred to the emerging Republican Party as “dangerous radicals.”
He was a fierce opponent of expansion of slavery to new U.S. territories, the issue that eventually led the United States into the bloodiest conflict in the nation’s history.
To get the train bound for Washington, President-elect Lincoln crossed the Hudson River from New York to Jersey City by ferry and was greeted by a host of dignitaries, many of whom had supported his opponent in the election.
He disembarked at the foot of Exchange Place to what was the largest crowd seen in Jersey City to date, an estimated 25,000 people, and then went to a platform on Montgomery Street covered with flags and bunting. His speech was about preserving the union even though his election was about to plunge the country into a war between the states.
Lincoln was greeted by some of the city’s most powerful political dignitaries, including then Jersey City Mayor Cornelius Van Vorst.
“You have done me the distinguished honor to extend your welcome through your great man, one whom it would be a pleasure to me to meet anywhere, and no state which possesses such a man can ever be poor,” he said.
Then he boarded a train to Washington, DC. Huge crowds greeted him in Newark and New Brunswick before he reached Trenton, where he gave a speech before both houses of the state legislature.
Slightly more than a year later, President Lincoln again stopped at Exchange Place while on his way back to Washington from West Point.
Although this was the last formal occasion recorded, Lincoln is supposed to have passed through Jersey City a number of times around the area where the Lincoln Tunnel is located. None of this translated at the polls since New Jersey again voted against him in 1864.
Lincoln saved America
“Abraham Lincoln is truly the savior of this country,” said John J. Hallanan III, president of the Lincoln Association of Jersey City. “Had he not served as president at the time he did, I’m not sure that we would have the country that we have today, and it’s for that reason that we feel compelled to gather on his birthday and commemorate his life, legacy and words and his deeds.”
While Lincoln fiercely opposed slavery, calling it “morally wrong,” he also opposed the use of violence to obtain its end. He opposed its spread to new territories, and proposed returning to the gradual elimination of slavery that was envisioned by the founding fathers.
But he eventually came to realize that slavery could not be maintained as it was, and in a series of debates in the 1850s postulated that slavery would either have to be in every state or in none at all. He said he would work to abolish slavery. Eventually in the midst of the civil war he issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared all slaves were free.
Lincoln is particularly relevant in contemporary society because many issues such as immigration and abortion have divided the nation almost as significantly as slavery did in his day, and as he pointed out, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Oldest Lincoln Society in America
Two years after his death, on Feb. 12, 1867, eight Jersey City leaders began meeting in Lincoln’s memory at the Zachau’s Union House, then located at 146 Newark Ave. This resulted in the founding of the “Lincoln Association of Jersey City,” the oldest association in the United States.
Over the years, ceremonies connected with the association changed locations, but have been consistently held on Feb. 12 each year.
The Lincoln Association of Jersey City will celebrate the 152nd anniversary of its founding at the annual tribute to Abraham Lincoln on his birthday, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017.
At noon, Hallanan will host the 88th annual monument ceremony in honor of the Great Emancipator. A wreath will be laid at the statue of Lincoln at the entrance to Lincoln Park at Kennedy Boulevard and Belmont Avenue, Jersey City. Following the presentation of the colors by the Hudson County Sheriff’s Department and the Pledge of Allegiance, Dr. Jules Ladenheim, past president of the association, will deliver Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
At 5 p.m., the association will host its annual dinner at the Casino-in-the-Park, Lincoln Park, Jersey City. The featured speaker will be Ron Soodalter, noted author and member of the Board of Directors of the Abraham Lincoln Institute. Dr. Ladenheim will deliver the address Lincoln made at the Sanitary Fair in Baltimore on April 18, 1864.
The banquet is open to the public and tickets may be purchased for $95 each through the website www.thelincolnassociationofjerseycity.com, by e-mail from firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail to 111 Gifford Ave. Jersey City NJ 07304. Please request tickets by Feb. 1.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.