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"The Honor of Your Company is Requested": Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Ball at the Patent Office (Teaching with Historic Places)

Collage of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln photographs and Patent Office. (National Portrait Gallery)

This lesson is part of the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) program.


On the evening of March 6, 1865, the Patent Office building was the site of President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural ball. This was the first time that a government building was used for such an occasion. The poet Walt Whitman called it “the noblest of Washington buildings.”1 With the Civil War nearing its conclusion, the ball was a moment of euphoria amidst the tribulations of a horrible and exhausting war. Lincoln’s triumphant re-election was celebrated in style and no expense was spared.

Begun in 1836 and completed in 1868, the Old Patent Office building served many purposes throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, mostly as offices for various federal agencies. In the 1950s, the building was scheduled for demolition, but the Patent Office was saved from the wrecking ball in 1955, and Congress gave it to the Smithsonian Institution three years later. Considered one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the United States, it became a National Historic Landmark in 1965. After an extensive renovation (1964-1968), the building opened to the public as Smithsonian museums in January 1968. It is now home to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery.

1 Walt Whitman, "The Great Army of the Sick," The New York Times, February 23, 1863.

About This Lesson

The lesson is based on the National Register of Historic Places registration files for the Patent Office Building/National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum. The lesson includes photographs, exhibition, collection, and publication materials from the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum as well as period resources made available through the collections of other educational institutions, a private collector, and newspaper articles from 1865. Molly Sinclair, former Education Specialist and Elizabeth K. Eder, Assistant Chair, National Education Partnerships at the Smithsonian American Art Museum developed this lesson, it was edited by Jim Percoco and the Teaching with Historic Places staff. This lesson is one in a series that brings the important stories of historic places into classrooms across the United States.

Where it fits into the curriculum

Topics: This lesson could be used in American history, social studies, or U.S. Government courses in units on the history of the presidency and inaugurations, mid-19th century party politics, the Civil War, Washington, DC, or on Abraham Lincoln's presidency.

Time period: Mid-19th century, 1865

Relevant United States History
Standards for Grades 5-12

"The Honor of Your Company is Requested": Lincoln's Second Inaugural Ball at the Patent Office relates to the following National Standards for History:


Era 5: Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)

  • Standard 2-The cause and character of the Civil War and its effects on the American People

  • 2B-The student understands the social experience of the war on the battlefield and the homefront

Curriculum Standards for Social Studies

(National Council for the Social Studies)


"The Honor of Your Company is Requested": Lincoln's Second Inaugural Ball at the Patent Office relates to the following Social Studies Standards:


Theme I: Culture

  • Standard B-The student explains how information and experiences may be interpreted by people from diverse cultural perspectives and frames of reference.

  • Standard C-The student explains and gives examples of how language, literature, the arts, architecture, other artifacts, traditions, beliefs, values, and behaviors contribute to the development and transmission of culture.

Theme III: People, Places, and Environments

  • Standard H-The student examines, interprets, and analyzes physical and cultural patterns and their interactions, such as land use, settlement patterns, cultural transmission of customs and ideas, and ecosystem changes.

Theme IV: Individual Development and Identity

  • Standard C-The student describes the ways family, gender ethnicity, nationality, and institutional affiliations contribute to personal identity.

  • Standard E-The student identifies and describes ways regional, ethnic, and national cultures influence individuals' daily lives.

  • Standard H-The student works independently and cooperatively to accomplish goals.

Theme V: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions

  • Standard F-The student describes the role of institutions in furthering both continuity and change.

Theme VI: Power, Authority, and Governance

  • Standard B-The student describes the purpose of government and how its powers are acquired, used, and justified.

Theme X: Civic Ideals and Practices

  • Standard G-The student analyzes the influence of diverse forms of public opinion on the development of public policy and decision-making.

Objectives for students

1) To explain the purpose of a U.S. Presidential inauguration and how American citizens celebrate their new leader taking office.
2) To describe and determine the significance of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural celebration in 1865.
3) To explain how different types of people might have viewed Lincoln’s inaugural ball and why.
4) To demonstrate an understanding of Lincoln’s second inaugural ball by analyzing various primary source objects, materials, and texts.
5) To discuss the role of celebratory events in personal and community life and identify places in the community associated with these events.

Materials for students

The materials listed below can either be used directly on the computer or can be printed out, photocopied, and distributed to students. The maps and images appear twice: in a low-resolution version with associated questions and alone in a larger, high-resolution version.

1) Two maps showing the United States at the period of the Civil War and of the City of Washington, DC in 1862;
2) Four readings: One on American presidential inaugurations and the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, one on the history of the Patent Office building, one on the March 6, 1865 inaugural ball, and one on high society and the ball;
3) Two images of primary source documents that relate to Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural ball in 1865;
4) One illustration of the inaugural ball and one drawing of the Patent Office building schematic plan.

Visiting the site

The Old Patent Office Building is located at 8th and F Streets, NW, in Washington DC. The building houses two Smithsonian Institution museums: the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. It is located above the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro station (Red, Yellow, and Green lines). Barrier-free access to the Museums is available at the 8th and G Street entrance. Limited on-street parking at meters and several public garages are available in the neighborhood. Admission to both museums is free. The Museums are open from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Both Museums are closed December 25. For more information, call (202) 633-7970.

Getting Started

Inquiry Question

Depiction of Lincoln's Inaugural Ball, (From The Illustrated London News)

(From The Illustrated London News)

What type of occasion or event do you think is being shown in this illustration? Why?

Setting the Stage

Today, U.S. presidential inaugurations are almost routine. They are regularly scheduled every four years and take place on the same date.1 Every president takes a thirty-five-word oath required by the Constitution.2 No two presidential inaugurations have been exactly alike. Typically, inaugurations include parades, speeches, fireworks, and parties. Installing the President into office is a demonstration of the peaceful transfer of power from one democratically-elected president to another. Despite political views and party affiliations, the inauguration is viewed as an important public occasion celebrating the basic values that unite the American people.

President Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration, on March 4, 1865, began wet and windy. After several days of rain, mud was as deep as ten inches in the streets of Washington, DC. Delegates and visitors from all parts of the country traveled to the capital city, all accommodations were full to overflowing. A huge crowd gathered at the east front of the Capitol for the inaugural ceremony. At noon, the presidential party stepped onto a specially erected platform as loud applause arose and bands began to play.

Lincoln’s second inaugural address at 703 words was the shortest and perhaps best-remembered inaugural address in U.S. history. Employing soaring eloquence, Lincoln concluded, “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” Lincoln then took the oath of office and kissed the Bible, as the crowd cheered, a barrage of artillery boomed. Teachers may want to incorporate Lincoln’s second inaugural address into this lesson.

This Inauguration Day was vastly different from that of Lincoln’s first term when, on March 4, 1861, people waited for comforting words from the president as tensions escalated between North and South and the nation prepared for civil war. Four years later, with Lincoln’s decisive defeat of Democrat George McClellan for a second term, the Civil War neared its conclusion; victory clearly in sight for the North. That evening, the Lincolns hosted a grand reception in the East Room of the White House. Over 2,000 people, including invited guests and members of the public, managed to get inside, but many others were turned away. The inaugural ball was held two evenings later, on March 6, 1865. The ball provided a moment of euphoria amidst the tribulations of a gruesome and exhausting war of nearly four years.

1 The first presidential inauguration, for George Washington, was held on April 30, 1789 in New York City, the country’s first capital. In 1792, Congress passed legislation making March 4 the official inauguration day. This was ratified in 1804 in the 12th Amendment to the Constitution. The date remained March 4 until 1933, when the 20th Amendment changed the official beginning of a newly elected president’s term to January 20. This is done to shorten the length of time that an outgoing president would serve between the election and the inauguration of his successor.
2 The Presidential oath of office is Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution. It reads: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Locating the Site

Map 1: Civil War America: A Divided Nation.

Civil War Map of the United States, (Courtesy of Cultural Resources, Inc.)

Delegates from South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana met in Montgomery, Alabama on February 4, 1861 to establish the Confederate States of America. Texas joined the other states in March. Following the battle for Fort Sumter in April, four additional states – Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee – joined the Confederacy. With Virginia’s seccession, Richmond replaced Montgomery as the capital of the Confederacy until Danville, Virginia became the third and final Confederate capital from April 3-10, 1865.


Questions for Map 1

1. Which States and Territories of the United States made up the Union during the Civil War? Which States made up the Confederate States?

2. Where was the U.S. capital during the Civil War? How might the location of the U.S. capital in 1861-1865 been a problem?

3. Which city served as the Confederate capital for the longest period? Find that city on the map. What might be some advantages and disadvantages of that location during the war?

Locating the Site

Map 2: Civil War Washington, DC.

Map of Washington,  DC. (Map by E.G. Arnold, “Topographical map of the original District of Columbia and environs showing the fortifications around the city of Washington,” 1862, Library of Congress.)

(Map by E.G. Arnold, “Topographical map of the original District of Columbia and environs showing the fortifications around the city of Washington,” 1862, Library of Congress.)

At least three federal buildings shown on this map were used for different activities during the second inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. On March 4, the inaugural address and swearing in ceremony took place outside the U.S. Capitol. The same evening, a public reception was held at the “President’s House” (known today as the White House). Two evenings later, on March 6, the inaugural ball was held at the Patent Office, the first time a federal building served as the location for such an event.


Questions for Map 2

1. Locate the following buildings on this map: the U.S. Capitol, the President’s House and the Patent Office. Approximately how many blocks is the President’s House from the Patent Office?

2. The Capitol, President’s House, and Patent Office each played a role in the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. What took place at each? Why do you think each of these functions occurred at a different place? If you were planning an inauguration, what events would you include and how would you decide where to hold each?

Determining the Facts

Reading 1: A Short History of Presidential Inaugural Balls

On May 7, 1789, George Washington held the first inaugural ball. Although inaugural balls date back to the first president, they did not become a tradition until 1809. First Lady Dolley Madison sold four hundred tickets to her husband’s celebration that year for $4 each. In 1833, Andrew Jackson had two inaugural balls. In 1841, William Henry Harrison attended all three of the inaugural balls held in his honor.

Inaugural balls became an exciting event in the city of Washington, DC. The location of the event took on great importance. Organizers needed buildings that could hold large numbers of guests. In 1849, a temporary wooden building was constructed to host one of Zachary Taylor’s inaugural balls. By the time James Buchanan’s inauguration arrived in 1857, multiple inaugural balls were no more; the Inaugural ball took place as one grand event. This new approach required larger spaces to hold the event. To give an idea of how large these events were, here are some measurements of the amount of food provided at Buchanan’s inaugural ball: $3000 worth of wine, 400 gallons of oysters, 500 quarts of chicken salad, 1200 quarts of ice cream, 60 saddles of mutton, 8 rounds of beef, 75 hams, and 125 beef tongues.

On March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as 16th President of the United States. The inaugural ball for his first term took place in a temporary building behind Washington’s City Hall. On March 6, 1865, the ball following Lincoln's second Inauguration took place in the model room of the Patent Office; this marked the first time a government building had ever held such a celebration. The north wing of the Treasury Building held the Inaugural ball for Grant's inauguration in 1869. Unfortunately, the space was too small for dancing and holding their coats. Many guests had to leave without their coats and hats. In 1873, Grant’s inauguration took place in a temporary building. This inauguration had the same bad luck as the first. The temperature was freezing and there was no heat or insulation in the building. Guests had to wear their coats and hats inside. The food and drinks quickly grew cold. It was so freezing that even the caged canaries froze. The National Museum building (now the Smithsonian Arts and Industries building) and the Pension Building became popular spots for hosting inaugural balls. The Pension Building hosted many inaugural balls from 1885 through 1909.

In 1913, Woodrow Wilson cancelled the inaugural ball for the first time since 1853. His wife passed away before his inauguration and Wilson did not want an elaborate celebration. His decision disappointed some residents of Washington, DC but not all. Preparations for inaugural balls usually shut down business in the building that hosted the event. For 1913, the ball would have been held at the Pension Building. However, with no ball, people could remain at their work.

In 1921, President-elect Warren G. Harding also requested that the inaugural committee do away with the elaborate ball (and the parade as well). Harding hoped to set an example of thrift and simplicity. Instead of a ball, the chairman of the Inaugural planning committee hosted a huge private party at his home. Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin D. Roosevelt all followed this example. They hosted charity balls instead of inaugural balls.

Harry Truman revived the official Inaugural ball in 1949. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inaugural celebration had to host two events to accommodate eager guests. President Carter created a more relaxed feeling for the Inaugural balls in the late 1970s. He called them parties and tickets cost no more than $25. By the time of President William Clinton’s re-election in 1996, the number of balls reached an all-time high of fourteen. The number of inaugural balls has varied in recent years. Today’s official inaugural balls are planned by the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Questions for Reading 1
1. When was the first inaugural ball? When did inaugural balls become a tradition?

2. Which inaugural ball was the first ball to take place in a federal building? Which building was it? Why have some inaugural balls been held in temporary spaces built especially for the occasion? What were some advantages and disadvantages of each?

3. Which presidents requested not to have an inaugural ball? What were their reasons?

4. What are some of the things planners had to consider in organizing an inaugural ball?

Reading 1 was adapted from “I Do Solemnly Swear”: A Half Century of Inaugural Images, United States Senate Art & History website, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies website, and the Library of Congress American Memory website.

Determining the Facts

Reading 2: Temple of Invention

On July 4, 1836, Congress approved the construction of a patent office building. The design would celebrate American creativity and scientific advancements. The nation’s respect for invention dates back to the founding of the country. Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution states that “The Congress shall have Power to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” The federal government passed its first patent act on April 10, 1790.

An 1840 letter from Patent Commissioner Henry Ellsworth illustrates how the country valued invention not only as creativity, but also as a symbol of freedom and independence:

It is now proposed to establish, at the seat of Government, a NATIONAL GALLERY, to remain a perpetual exhibition of the progress and improvement of the arts in the United States. Here the most beautiful specimens of the genius and industry of the nation will be found; and what American can visit the Gallery, and not be still prouder of his country, and feel that while we are free, we are also independent.1

The Patent Office building took 30 years and several architects to complete. Upon completion, it was the largest Greek Revival structure built by the United States government. It remained so throughout the 19th century. The Greek Revival style comes from the architecture of Ancient Greece. The Ancient Greeks are the earliest society known to practice democracy. Therefore, the style became popular in the United States for government buildings. Greek Revival was the first “national” style in America. Buildings in this style share many characteristics of a Greek temple. The front sides display prominent porticos (a type of porch) with large columns below a pediment (a triangular section). Greek Revival buildings are usually composed of stone or a material that looks like it. They also carry low-pitched roofs.

The completed building takes up two city blocks. Its four wings form a rectangle enclosing a central courtyard. Virginia freestone and sandstone compose the south wing. Maryland marble composes the east and west wings. Granite composes the north wing. The first part of the building to be completed was the south wing in 1842. Before construction had even been finished, the Patent Office moved in in 1840. At the time of the ball in 1865, the building had interior gas lighting, running water, and lots of room. The large empty hall on the top floor of Patent Office Building’s nearly finished north wing was the largest vacant space available for dancing in the city at the time. Lincoln spared no expense to celebrate his re-election in style. Construction on the building finished in 1868. The purpose of the Patent Office building was to display patent models but it offered more than that. This building also held some of the government’s historical, scientific, and art collections.

Two of the most important items it displayed were the Declaration of Independence and George Washington’s camp tent from the Revolutionary War. In 1858, those items moved to the Smithsonian Institution’s newly completed “Castle” building. This created extra space for more patent models.

From 1849 to 1917, the Patent Office building also held various bureaus of the Department of the Interior. During the Civil War, it became a military hospital and barracks. In 1877, there was a large fire that ruined most of the building. Only the west wing of the building survived. Approximately 87,000 accepted patent models were lost in the fire. One of the most valued models that burned was Robert Fulton’s steamboat design. A design competition for the building’s reconstruction focused on the more ornamental Victorian style. Construction began in 1879.

The Patent Office housed patent workers until 1932. That year, the Civil Service Commission took it over. On March 28, 1958, Congress gave the building to the Smithsonian. In 1965, the building received the privileged status of a National Historic Landmark. This designation means that the U.S. government considers the building to be historically important to the whole country. Today, the Patent Office building is known as the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery.

Questions for Reading 2
1. When did the United States pass its first patent act? What ideals/values did the U.S. want to celebrate by building a patent building?
2. What were some of the reasons that this building was selected for Lincoln’s second inaugural ball? Do you think that the building’s architectural style was a factor? Why or why not?
3. Besides serving as office and exhibit space, what else has the Patent Office been used for?
4. Do you think this building is nationally significant? Why or why not?

Reading 2 was compiled from the National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, Old Patent Office, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1971; National Historic Landmarks “Frequently Asked Questions” website; National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum “Temple of Invention” online exhibition based on the exhibition and publication by Charles J. Robertson, Temple of Invention: History of a National Landmark (London: Scala Publishers, Ltd., 2006) ; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery’s “Architectural History of the Main Museum Building.”

1 “Temple of Invention,” Smithsonian American Art Museum.


Determining the Facts

Reading 3: Lincoln’s Inaugural Ball in 1865

The most dramatic historic event to take place in the Patent Office Building was President Lincoln’s second inaugural ball. Held on March 6, 1865, Lincoln spared no expense to celebrate his re-election. On top of his personal achievement, the Civil War was nearing its conclusion and victory was clearly in sight.

Officials and dignitaries received engraved invitations. Most of the important political, military, diplomatic, and cultural leaders of the day also attended. The families of soldiers at war received the profits from tickets bought by the public. Any white gentleman who could pay the ten dollar entrance fee could bring one or more ladies with him. African Americans were excluded from high society events like the ball during this era.

The north hall of the Patent Office building had American flags draped throughout. A raised platform held blue-and-gold sofas for the presidential party. Overhead pipes suspended from the ceiling provided gas lighting. The great American poet Walt Whitman worked as a clerk in the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Patent Office Building. He was eager to inspect the halls being prepared for the inaugural festivities and recorded the following passage:
I have been up to look at the dance and supper rooms, for the inauguration ball, at the Patent office; and I could not help thinking, what a different scene they presented to my view since, fill’d with a crowded mass of the worst wounded of the war, brought in from second Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburgh. To-night, beautiful women, perfumes, the violins’ sweetness, the polka and the waltz; then the amputation, the blue face, the groan, the glassy eye of the dying, the clotted rag, the odor of wounds and blood, and many a mother’s son amid strangers, passing away untended.1

Upon arrival, guests made their way up the great stairway to the entrance on the south portico (porch). From there, they went to the third floor, which opened onto the other three great halls. A band performed in each hall: promenade music for the east gallery, dance music for the vast empty hall in the newly completed north wing, and dinner music for the west wing. At 10:30 p.m., President and Mrs. Lincoln arrived and proceeded to the raised platform in the north gallery. The New York Times described the president as “trying to throw off care for a while, but with rather ill success…; yet he seemed pleased and gratified, as he was greeted by the people. He wore a plain black suit and white gloves.”2 Mrs. Lincoln wore an elaborate white satin gown with pearls that was sewn by Elizabeth Keckley, an accomplished dressmaker and ex-slave. Mrs. Lincoln also wore a lace shawl and carried a fan trimmed in fur and silver spangles. Her hair was swept back and adorned with jasmine and violet flowers. The promenading and dancing proceeded until midnight, when an elaborate supper was served in the west hall among the patent model cases.

The buffet table stretched 250 feet in length. An enormous confectionary model of the U.S. Capitol made out of sugar served as the centerpiece. Oyster and terrapin stews, beef à l’anglais, veal Malakoff, turkeys, pheasants, quail, venison, ducks, hams, and lobsters, and ornamental pyramids of desserts, cakes, and ice cream lined the menu. By midnight there were more than 4,000 guests. The buffet table, placed in a corridor only twenty feet wide between model cases, could only accommodate 300 people at a time.

Upon the announcement dinner was ready, a mob rushed to the buffet. Chaos ensued. Foraging gentlemen grabbed large platters of food to carry to their guests, spilling much of it on the surging crowd. Glasses were smashed as waiters rushed in fresh supplies of delicacies. The next day, a New York Times newspaper account described the scene, “In less than an hour the table was a wreck. . . . positively frightful to behold.”3 The Washington Evening Star newspaper reported, “The floor of the supper room was soon sticky, pasty and oily with wasted confections, mashed cake, and debris of fowl and meat.”4 Despite this mishap, the ball was a great success. The president and first lady departed at 1:30 a.m., but dancing continued until dawn.

Questions for Reading 3
1. Imagine you are attending Lincoln’s ball. What do you see? What are you experiencing?
2. What does Walt Whitman’s reflection tell us about the history of the Patent Office Building? What had it been used for in the recent past? Do you think others at the ball might have shared this memory about the building?
3. How did guests behave when supper was announced? Do you think that would happen today in such a formal setting, taking into consideration the location of the buffet table? Why or why not?
4. What was done with the money raised by selling tickets? Do you think this was a good way to justify the opulence of the ball during wartime? Explain your answer.


Reading 3 was excerpted from Charles J. Robertson, “Lincoln’s Inaugural Ball," in Temple of Invention: History of a National Landmark, Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution in association with Scala Publishers Ltd, 2006.

1 Charles J. Robertson, Temple of Invention: History of a National Landmark (London: Scala Publishers, 2006), pp. 53-54.
3 “The Inaugural Ball,” The New York Times, 8 March 1865.
3 "The Inaugural Ball,” The New York Times, 8 March 1865.

4 "The Inaugural Ball,” The Washington Evening Star, 2nd edition, 25, no. 3749, 8 March 1865.

Determining the Facts

Reading 4: The Inauguration Ball; New York Times, March 8, 1865

“The Washington ‘season’ is past, and there certainly could not have been a more magnificent nor graceful finale; not alone to the Winter’s gaiety, but to the ceremonies which have made Abraham Lincoln our President again for the next four years, than the time-honored National Inauguration Ball which came off last night; and it is entirely appropriate that not alone with the firing of cannon and waving of banners, in which men alone participate, but with music and dancing should we meet and celebrate this signal occasion, when the gentlemen are expected to be as gallant, and the ladies as lovely as possible.

The marble halls of the Patent-office were selected as the most commodious and best adapted in the city. The hall appropriated to dancing is two hundred and eighty feet long, by about sixty feet in width; and the floor is laid in large blocks of blue and white marble. Its decorations were really beautiful—emblems, banners, and devices being tastefully disposed on the walls, while the elaborately frescoed ceiling imparted an air of decided grandeur. Among the decorations the American flag was most prominent, while the various flags of the different army corps formed an appropriate accompaniment. A gallery at the east end was occupied by a fine brass band, which gave music for the promenade, while in the centre, on the south side, a splendid string band furnished music for the dance.

Beside this spacious hall, a wing, three hundred feet in length, was appropriated for the promenade, and a corresponding one on the opposite side for the supper-room. The music was excellent, and had several halls and the entire building been thoroughly lighted, which they were not, the effect would have been much finer. But gas is certainly not good in Washington, though said to be very abundant. On a dais, at the northern side, were sofas and chairs in blue and gold for the President and family...

As early as 9 o’clock the carriages began to arrive, and soon the ball-room was thronged. The excellent bands of music soon set the lovers Terpsichore into the graceful mazes of the dance. At about 10:30 o’clock an avant courier cleared the way from the main entrance, when his Excellency, accompanied by Speaker Colfax, entered the hall. Following was Mrs. Lincoln upon the arm of Senator Sumner. They walked down the centre of the long hall, and turning at the upper end returned mid-way to the dais, when they became seated. Mr. Lincoln was evidently trying to throw off care for the time; but with rather ill success, and looked very old; yet he seemed pleased and gratified, as he was greeted by the people. He wore a plain black suit and white gloves.

Mrs. Lincoln looked extremely well, and was attired in the most elegant manner; her dress was made of white satin, very ample and rich, but almost entirely covered by a tunic or rather skirt of the finest point applique. Her corsage, which was low, and the short sleeves, were ornamented richly by a berthe made of the same material, and the shawl, also of the same rich lace, were exquisite. Passementerie of narrow fluted satin ribbon and nouds completed the dress. Her jewels were of the rarest pearls, necklace, ear-rings, brooch and bracelets. Her hair, which was put plainly back from her face, was ornamented with trailing Jessamine and clustering violets most gracefully. She looked exceedingly well with her soft, white complexion, and her toilet was faultless. Her manners are very easy and affable.

Mr. Robert Lincoln, a fine-looking young man, wearing the uniform of a Captain in the regular army, was also present.

About 11 o’clock Secretaries Seward, Welles, Attorney-General Speed and a large number of diplomats, accompanied by their wives and daughters, made their appearance. Mrs. Secretary Welles, a lady of rather petite figure, was dressed in a mode-colored silk, with black lace shawl. Mrs. Secretary Usher, of about the same stature, wore a rich dress of garnet satin, very plainly but richly made. Mrs. Postmaster-General Dennison, who is a very fine-looking lady, wore a most becoming dress of heavy black velvet, brilliant jewels and hair plainly dressed. Her daughter was in white muslin, embroidered in black. Mrs. Fred. Seward, wife of the Assistant Secretary of State, was attired in a pretty rose-colored silk handsomely trimmed. Mrs. Senator Harris, who has the appearance of a well-preserved English lady, wore a most elegant dress of corn-colored silk, trimmed with pointe applique. Mrs. Senator McDougall was also richly attired. The wife of our artist Carpenter was dressed in light silk, with a fuchu of tulle. One of the most elaborate and rich dresses in the room was worn by Mrs. George Francis Train; it was very finely plaided blue silk, trimmed with a flounce of thread lace, almost as deep as her skirt, and other laces to match. Her hair was powdered with gold. Mr. Train was also present.”


Questions for Reading 4
1. What aspects of the Inauguration Ball of March 6, 1865 did the New York Times correspondent feel were important to share with readers?

2. Who did the correspondent specifically mention in the article about the National Inauguration Ball (select four people)? What information do you know about these people based on the correspondent’s account? Why was it important to let readers know about these particular people?

3. What atmosphere is conveyed by this article? In your own words, how would you describe this event reported by the New York Times newspaper in 1865?
Reading 4 was adapted from "The Inauguration Ball," New York Times, March 8, 1865.

Reading 4 was adapted from "The Inauguration Ball," New York Times, March 8, 1865.

Visual Evidence


Document 1: The Honor of Your Company is Requested.

Invitation to Inaugural Ball. (Courtesy Clara Barton National Historic Site, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior)

(Courtesy Clara Barton National Historic Site, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior)

Questions for Document 1
1. What type of document is this? What date appears on the document? Why? (Refer back to Reading 3, if necessary.)

2. Who is invited to the ball? Have you heard of this person (if not, look up the name in a history book or encyclopedia)? What was this person's role in the Civil War and why might this individual have received this document?

Visual Evidence

Document 2: Admit One Gentleman and Two Ladies.

Ticket to the Inaugural Ball. (Courtesy of Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana)

(Courtesy of Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana)

Questions for Document 2

1. What type of document is this?

2. What do you know about who may have used it? What evidence in the document helped you to know?

Visual Evidence

Illustration 1: Inaugural Ball, March 6, 1865 woodcut from Illustrated London News, April 8, 1865.

Depiction of Lincoln's Inaugural Ball, (From The Illustrated London News)

(National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)

Questions for Illustration 1

1. List as many details as you can from this picture. How many people are there? What kinds of clothes are they wearing? How big is the space? What is being used for the decorations? What else do you notice? Based on what you have observed, what do you think is going on in this image?

2. Compare this image with the description of this event in the readings. Do you think they give the same impression? What is similar and what is different?

3. Even though the hall is very crowded, what architectural details can be seen? Why might the artist have included these features?

Visual Evidence

Drawing 1: Schematic Plan of the Patent Office Building.

Schematic Plan of the Patent Office Building. (Temple of Invention: History of a National Landmark, Lincoln’s Inaugural Ball, p. 40, figure 24 © 2006 Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)

(Temple of Invention: History of a National Landmark, Lincoln’s Inaugural Ball, p. 40, figure 24 © 2006 Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)

Questions for Drawing 1:

1. What is the sequence of construction for each wing of the Patent Office Building? Referring back to Reading 2, how many of the building’s features mentioned in the reading can you find in this drawing? Label them on the drawing.

2. Based on what you have learned about Lincoln’s inaugural ball in 1865, which wings of the building were used for this event? (Refer back to Reading 3, if necessary).

Putting It All Together


The following activities will help students understand what it would have been like to attend Lincoln’s second inaugural ball and the process of planning community celebrations.

Activity 1: Telling the Story

Resources needed:

This multi-part lesson has students review primary sources and texts in the unit, research in local or state historical newspapers, write a fictional account from the perspective of a particular individual, and discuss Lincoln’s second inaugural ball from different points of view. Assign each student a character who may have attended the ball: a (wounded) soldier, a Washington “lady,” a member of Lincoln’s cabinet, a waiter at the ball, or an individual of your choice. Each student should review the related primary sources and text in this lesson to gather information that will help them to understand more about their assigned character. Each student should then research a local or state newspaper from the period to see how the ball in specific or the inauguration in general was covered by the local/state press and issues that may have been of concern to that community. Next, each student should write a newspaper story, letter, or diary entry about the ball from the viewpoint of their character. Finally, students should share their accounts and discuss the similarities and differences among and between the various individuals who may have attended the ball.

Activity 2: Telling the Story

Resources needed:

This multi-part lesson has students review primary sources and texts in the unit, research in local or state historical newspapers, write a fictional account from the perspective of a particular individual, and discuss Lincoln’s second inaugural ball from different points of view. Assign each student a character who may have attended the ball: a (wounded) soldier, a Washington “lady,” a member of Lincoln’s cabinet, a waiter at the ball, or an individual of your choice. Each student should review the related primary sources and text in this lesson to gather information that will help them to understand more about their assigned character. Each student should then research a local or state newspaper from the period to see how the ball in specific or the inauguration in general was covered by the local/state press and issues that may have been of concern to that community. Next, each student should write a newspaper story, letter, or diary entry about the ball from the viewpoint of their character. Finally, students should share their accounts and discuss the similarities and differences among and between the various individuals who may have attended the ball.

Activity 3: Planning a Community Celebration

Resources needed:

  • Primary sources and text from this lesson

  • Videos of various formal ceremonies available from your school district or www.youtube.com (e.g.: search for “high school graduation ceremony”)

  • Research done in local or state historical newspapers using the “News and Newspaper” feature on ProQuest

Have students investigate one of the recent presidential inaugural balls and its location. Locate a primary source that describes it. Have students compare and contrast a recent ball with Lincoln’s second inaugural ball in 1865 using primary sources from both events. Ask students: If you participated in Lincoln’s second inaugural ball and were transported to a recent one, what would be similar? What would be different?

Next, have students think about the role that formal ceremonies and rituals play in their own lives whether it is part of their family life (e.g. birthdays), wider community (e.g. holiday parade), or school (e.g. graduation). They can reflect on the various components of the ceremony or ritual and how it may impact the different participants and either record or discuss their thoughts individually or as part of a group. You may also want to assign students to either watch a YouTube video or read a local newspaper story about one of these events, paying special attention to the various components involved. Then students can review the primary sources and text in the lesson related to Lincoln’s second inaugural ball such as the illustrations, invitation, admission ticket, dance card, etc. and discuss the various types of materials and resources that were required for the ball in 1865.

After comparing and contrasting the requirements from 1865 to today students can now apply their knowledge to develop a plan for hosting a similar significant celebratory event in their region, perhaps for an elected local or state official. They should identify a community building that is appropriate for hosting their event like the Patent Office building was appropriate for Lincoln's inaugural ball. As part of an extension activity, this could be formalized as a service learning project. Students will prepare by identifying a need related to this theme, investigating and analyzing it, and making a plan for action. Then they can carry out the action which was a direct result of their preparation. The plan may be carried out over the course of an academic year, a semester, two weeks, or a single day. As the students put their plan into action they come to recognize how classroom lessons fit into their daily lives and shape the lives of others as they experience the real results of their actions.

Be sure to build in time throughout the process for reflection. Students will need to consider how the knowledge, experience, and skills they are acquiring relate to their own lives and their communities. Reflection should go beyond simply reporting or describing what they are doing or have done in order to make an impact. Students may want to create poetry, art, or music to express a change in their feelings that may have occurred as a result of participating in the project. Finally, students should be able to demonstrate evidence of their learning through a public presentation that draws on the preparation, action, and reflection stages of their experience. The presentation can take many forms such as a letter to the editor, a school assembly, a class lesson, or a performance to name a few. This final step of the service learning project enables students to take charge of their own learning as they synthesize and integrate the process through demonstration.

Supplementary Resources

By studying "The Honor of Your Company is Requested": Lincoln's Second Inaugural Ball at the Patent Office, students learn about the history of presidential inaugural balls, in particular, Lincoln’s second inaugural ball in 1865. Those interested in learning more will find that the Internet offers a variety of interesting materials.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
The mission of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum is to collect, preserve, interpret, and promote the study of Abraham Lincoln and Illinois history. Education resource materials and Lesson Plans are available for teachers on a variety of topics relating to Lincoln’s life and the Library and Museum’s collections.

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
Founded in 1994, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is a nonprofit organization devoted to the improvement of history education. Their website contains a copy of Lincoln’s second inaugural address from their collection, an interactive site about Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, and several other teaching resources related to Lincoln.

Library of Congress: I Do Solemnly Swear...": Presidential Inaugurations
"I Do Solemnly Swear . . .": Presidential Inaugurations is a collection of approximately 400 items or 2,000 digital files relating to inaugurations from George Washington's in 1789 to Barack Obama's inauguration in 2009. Organized chronologically by presidential inauguration, the site includes diaries and letters of presidents and of those who witnessed inaugurations, handwritten drafts of inaugural addresses, broadsides, inaugural tickets and programs, prints, photographs, and sheet music. The selections are drawn from the Presidential Papers in the Manuscript Division and from the collections of the Prints and Photographs Division, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Music Division, and the General Collections of the Library of Congress. Additional material has been included from the photography collections of the Architect of the Capitol, the White House, and the United States Senate Office of the Sergeant at Arms.

Click here to access the accompanying Teacher Resources and here for a transcript of Lincoln’s second inaugural speech.

National Archives: DocsTeach
This website is designed so that the user can create classroom lessons and activities using documents from the National Archives extensive holdings. A search for “Lincoln 1865” in "Documents" pulled up 26 items including contemporary photographs, letters, and official government documents.

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum
The National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum are both housed in the historic Patent Office Building.


United State Senate: Art & History and the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies
"I Do Solemnly Swear": A Half Century of Inaugural Images, a digital exhibit from the Office of the Senate Curator, contains inauguration images from Franklin Pierce in 1853 to Theodore Roosevelt in 1905; including those from Lincoln’s 1861 and 1865 inaugurations.

The Joint Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies has a “History” section with useful information about presidential inaugurations from George Washington’s in 1789 to the present.

Last updated: June 25, 2021