Guest Bedrooms: Last Public Address
Mr. Lincoln delivered few formal speeches as President. Besides the occasional "serenade" after a political or military victory or remarks to a visiting group, almost none were actually made at the White House. A notable exception occurred on April 11, 1865. From the hallway window between the two bedrooms, President Lincoln delivered his final speech with his family nearby and a large crowd outside. Noah Brooks, who was scheduled to become his new secretary, held a candle to provide reading light while Tad picked up the pages of the speech as the President dropped them. The next day, Brooks wrote a dispatch for the Sacramento Daily Union:
Most people were sleeping soundly in their beds when, at daylight on the rainy morning of April 9th, a great boom startled the misty air of Washington, shaking the earth and breaking the windows of the houses about Lafayette Square, compelling the inhabitants once more to say that they would be glad when Union victories were done with, or celebrated somewhere else. But boom, boom, boom went the guns, until five hundred of them were fired. Some few people got up and raced around in the mud to see what the news was, and some few got up a procession of flags and things, wet as it was....
What Brooks, a friend of Mary Todd Lincoln, neglected to mention was that Mrs. Lincoln and some friends, were standing at a nearby window, conversing in a manner that distracting the audience and interfering with her husband's speech. Historian Michael Burlingame, quoting from later newspaper accounts of the event: "At first the listeners below showed forbearance, but several eventually hushed the women emphatically. The president thought 'that some word of his own had called forth the unwonted demonstration' but realized instantly that no disrespect to him was intended. With 'an expression of pain and mortification which came over his face as if such strokes were not new, he resumed his reading.'" 2 Elizabeth Keckley, Mrs. Lincoln's seamstress, also recorded the scene of President's Lincoln last public speech, but in a way which reflected more favorably on Mrs. Lincoln:
"Great crowds began to gather in front of the White House, and loud calls were made for the President. The band stopped playing, and as he advanced to the centre window over the door to make his address, I looked out, and never saw such a mass of heads before. It was like a black, gently swelling sea. The swaying motion of the crowd, in the dim uncertain light, was like the rising and falling of billows--like the ebb and flow of the tide upon the tide upon the stranded shore of the ocean. Close to the house the faces were plainly discernible, but they faded into mere ghostly outlines on the outskirts of the assembly; and what added to the weird, spectral beauty of the scene, was the confused hum of the voices that rose above the sea of forms, sounding like the subdued, sullen roar of an ocean storm, or the wind soughing through the dark lonely forest. It was a grand and imposing scene, and when the President, with pale face and his soul flashing through his eyes, advanced to speak, he looked more like a demi-god than a man crowned with the fleeting days of mortality.
LAST PUBLIC ADDRESS