ON the first of January, 1864, in accordance with the presidential custom, the Lincolns opened the White House for a great New Year's reception. The old year had gone out to the accompaniment of a severe northeasterly storm, but on Friday morning a bright sun ushered in the infant year. At noon the White House doors were thrown open and for two hours a continuous stream of humanity, rich and poor, great and humble, surged through.
Presidential receptions had been conducted in very much the same outward style since Monroe's days, and their etiquette had become so well regulated that even 1861's onrush from the West had not changed it.1 Social observances were prescribed and followed with the utmost exactness.2 The President stood in one of the smaller parlors, Mrs. Lincoln by his side, the Cabinet Members surrounding him. Visitors entered from the hall and were presented to the President by an usher, who first asked the name, residence and vocation of the guest. Lincoln shook each one cordially by the band, presented him to Mrs. Lincoln, and the visitor then passed on into the East room.
These New Year's affairs were more interesting to the guests than to the presidential hosts, for by custom the President must shake hands with every visitor presented. At his Inaugural reception 1861, "the downright serious hard work of the evening" had been performed by Mr. Lincoln, who for more than two hours had shaken hands "in right good earnest" with all comers, at the rate of twenty-five per minute.3 At the end of such an affair, more often than not the Chief Executive's right hand would be so swollen that for hours afterwards he could not use it.4
This New Year, Mrs. Lincoln was receiving by her husband's side. For the last two years, at his evening receptions, the President had almost invariably selected a lady from among the guests to join the promenade with him, leaving Mrs. Lincoln, to her displeasure, to choose another escort. Finally she issued an ultimatum. "Our guests," she said, "recognize the position of president as first of all. Consequently you take