The White House
In Springfield, where the Lincolns had lived for the previous two decades, the Lincoln family had trouble keeping a single servant girl to help Mary Todd Lincoln. In the White House, there was an extensive staff to tend to the gardens and the family's well-being. The Lincoln boys not only gained their own bedrooms, they acquired a set of nooks, crannies, stables and attics to fit their childhood fantasies. In reality, however, only seven of the house's 31 rooms were actually "theirs" — the parents' bedrooms, those of their sons, a sitting room on the second floor and a private dining room.
Still, the White House was not Springfield. Congressman Isaac Arnold was a strong Lincoln loyalist and abolitionist. After the Civil War, he served as the longtime president of the Chicago Historical Society and compiled a biography of Lincoln in which he wrote about his friend: "It will interest those who did not see him at the White House, and who have come on the stage since his death, to know something of his life and habits while he lived in the Executive Mansion. At Springfield, his home was a small, modest, comfortable, wooden cottage, such as is found everywhere in the villages of our country. Here he lived in a quiet unostentatious manner, without any pretension, and dispensed to his personal friends and members of the bar and judges, a cordial but very simply hospitality. At the White House, he was compelled by custom and usage to have large receptions, to give dinners, and to adopt a life of conventional form and ceremony, to which it was not easy for him to conform, and which was far less agreeable than the simple and easy life he had led before."1
Ward Hill Lamon, wrote of his friend and sometime legal associate: "Mr. Lincoln was always simple in his habits and tastes. He was economical in everything, and his wants were few. He was a good liver; and his family, though not extravagant, were much given to entertainments, and saw and enjoyed many ways of spending money not observable by him. After all his inexpensive habits, and a long life of successful law practice, he was reduced to the necessity of borrowing money to defray expenses for the first months of his residence at the White House. This money was repaid after receiving his salary as President for the first quarter. Lamon recalled an earlier incident with Mrs. Lincoln: "A few months after meeting Mr. Lincoln, I attended an entertainment given at his residence in Springfield. After introducing me to Mrs. Lincoln, he left us in conversation. I remarked to her that her husband was a great favorite in the eastern part of the State, where I had been stopping. 'Yes,' she replied, 'he is a great favorite everywhere. He is to be President of the United States some day; if I had not thought so I never would have married him, for you can see he is not pretty. But look at him! Doesn't he look as if he would make a magnificent President?'"2
For Mary Lincoln, the White House was a political goal, a social challenge -- and a private hell. Here, funerals for both her beloved son Willie and her revered husband were held. Indeed, the first major Union casualty of the war, Elmer Ellsworth, was a close family friend. His funeral too was held here in May 1861. Another important family friend, Colonel and Senator Edward D. Baker, visited the White House before he died in an early Union defeat in October1861. Willie here penned a precocious poetic remembrance of the family friend. And here his father penned hundreds of pardons and directives of military compassion. The Emancipation Proclamation was conceived here and the 13th Amendment that ended slavery was signed here - the first time a constitutional amendment was signed by a President.
Although the White House address is now 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it was not until a decade after President Lincoln took office that the number was added to the address. President Lincoln himself spoke of his tenure at the presidential mansion in a speech to One Hundred Sixty-sixth Ohio Regiment on August 22, 1864: "I suppose you are going home to see your families and friends. For the service you have done in this great struggle in which we are engaged I present you sincere thanks for myself and the country. I almost always feel inclined, when I happen to say anything to soldiers, to impress upon them in a few brief remarks the importance of success in this contest. It is not merely for to-day, but for all time to come that we should perpetuate for our children's children this great and free government, which we have enjoyed all our lives. I beg you to remember this, not merely for my sake, but for yours. I happen temporarily to occupy this big White House. I am a living witness that any one of your children may look to come here as my father's child has. It is in order that each of you may have through this free government which we have enjoyed, an open field and a fair chance for your industry, enterprise and intelligence; that you may all have equal privileges in the race of life, with all its desirable human aspirations. It is for this the struggle should be maintained, that we may not lose our birthright--not only for one, but for two or three years. The nation is worth fighting for, to secure such an inestimable jewel."3
Historian Allen C. Guelzo wrote: “Lincoln, who had taken such pleasure (and built such a formidable political following) from riding the Eighth Judicial Circuit, as president hardly ever stirred out of Washington. Unlike his Confederate counterpart, Jefferson Davis (who made several extended state trips through the Confederacy to rally Southern morale or consult with distant field commanders), Lincoln stayed close to his White House desk and the War Department telegraph center, and declined all but a handful of requests and invitations to appear at mass political meetings or public demonstrations. He contemplated briefly an invitation in 1863 for a major midwestern Republican political rally, but in the end, he turned even that down.”4
The 1864 Stranger's Guide-book to Washington City reported: “The Presidential mansion, known all over the country as the "White House," is on Pennsylvania avenue, at a distance of over a mile west of the Capitol. The building is of freestone, painted white, and was erected after a plan of the architect Hoban, and its erection was commenced in 1792. In 1814 the British partially destroyed it, and the work of rebuilding was commenced in the following year (1815), under the superintendence of the same architect. It is 170 feet front, and has a depth of 86 feet, and is situated on a plat of ground comprising an area of 20 acres ; and the building itself is on an elevation of 44 feet above the Potomac. The edifice is of lofty dimensions. The north front presents the appearance of a building two stories high, and is ornamented with a lofty portico, which was added to the main building during the presidency of General Jackson. This portico has four columns of the Ionic order in front, supporting the massive covering of the stone platform in frost of the main entrance. Three other columns of the same order form a projection which covers a carriage way; and from this carriage way the visitor steps upon the platform above referred to. In front of this portico is a neatly ornamented yard, of semicircular form, with carriage ways and foot pavements leading to gates at either corner, which afford ingress from Pennsylvania avenue. In this yard stands a bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson, which was presented to the Government by Capt. Levy, U. S. N". Also in front of the Executive Mansion, but on the opposite side of Pennsylvania avenue, is Lafayette Square, which is beautifully ornamented with trees, shrubbery, and flowers, and which has become a fashionable promenade and resort, its walks being, every fine day and evening, thronged by the beauty and fashion of the National Capital. This square contains the celebrated equestrian bronze statue of Jackson, the work of Clark Mills, who has the honor of being the first artist to succeed in erecting a statue representing a steed poised upon the hind feet. Cannon, captured by Jackson in his conflicts with the British, constituted the material of which the statue was made. It cost $50,000. The south part of the Executive Mansion looks toward the Potomac. Upon this side the building presents a rusticated base, and gives a facade of three stories. This front is ornamented with a colonnade of six columns of the Ionic order, and has two flights of steps, which lead from the garden to the principal story. The garden upon this side of the Mansion is a lovely spot, and a favorite resort. The grounds are laid out in a tasteful and romantic style, adorned with artificial mounds, trees, shrubbery, flowers, and a fountain. From these grounds a splendid view is obtained of the surrounding country, the Potomac, and the City of Alexandria."
Appended to the main building of the Mansion are projections at either end, with rooms and apartments fitted up for various household purposes ; and the western projection is surmounted by a magnificent greenhouse, containing the rarest and most beautiful exotics.