A PEOPLE'S CONTEST
WHILE IMMENSELY GRATIFIED by his victory, Abraham Lincoln couldn't help wishing that he had been elected senator instead. “The Presidency, even to the most experienced politicians, is no bed of roses,” he had accurately observed a decade earlier. “No human being can fill that station and escape censure.” He was especially conscious that his lack of administrative experience was a handicap. The morning after his election, he allegedly joked to reporters in Springfield, “Well, boys, your troubles are over now, but mine have just commenced.” In reality, he had no conception of the magnitude of the crisis he would soon confront as president.
LINCOLN WAS ONLY fifty-one years old when he was elected, one of the youngest presidents up to that time and the first to be born in a western state. Following his election, Lincoln continued to greet visitors in the governor's room at the state capitol (when the legislature convened in January, he rented an office in a nearby building). The number of callers greatly increased, however, as did the volume of mail, which soon overwhelmed his secretary, John Nicolay. Nicolay therefore recruited John Hay, a socially ambitious law student in Springfield, to help. These two young men would serve as Lincoln's secretaries throughout his presidency.
During the recently concluded campaign, Republicans had dismissed southern threats of secession, but as soon as Lincoln's election was certain, the South Carolina legislature summoned a popular convention to consider this move. In the next weeks, a number of other southern states did likewise. Yet Lincoln, convinced that a majority of