America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink

By Kenneth M. Stampp | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
A New Year and a Fresh Start

New Year's Day, 1857. "Another year. God prosper the same and make it more abundant in good works!" This was the prayer of the urbane New Yorker George Templeton Strong, who, like most of his countrymen, had been deeply affected by the public calamities of 1856 and, looking ahead, hoped for better times. Strong, a successful Wall Street lawyer, after devoting the morning to "diligent work," amiably observed the custom of the day and spent New Year's afternoon making social calls, and the evening with his family, entertaining at home. Everywhere old friends met to exchange good wishes, announce firm resolutions for self-improvement, and share their thoughts about what the future would bring. Some found the day a good time for resolving old grievances and renewing friendships. "The process is as pleasant as enchantment," observed the Kentucky editor George D. Prentice. "One has merely to call on a ruffled friend in order to blot out the past and make the future blossom like the rose". 1

The new year dawned in Washington beautifully with a mantle of fresh fallen snow that set off its attractive squares and public buildings, while briefly covering its muddy, unpaved streets and softening the contours of its numerous drab shops and ramshackle residential districts. Here, too, the day brought the customary exchange of social visits. Congressmen and members of the Cabinet were "at home" to receive friends and visiting constituents. At the White House, President Franklin Pierce, nearing the close of his administration, was his naturally gracious, genial self, in the morning receiving members of the diplomatic corps and officers of the army and navy, and in the afternoon opening the doors to the public. 2 Though he appeared as cheerful as the occasion demanded, the President must have found it hard to conceal the bitterness that lay within him.

Pierce was a lame duck, denied nomination for a second term at the Dem-

-3-

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