A marathon of handshaking became a footnote to a momentous event on January 1, 1863. President Abraham Lincoln intended to sign the Emancipation Proclamation on that day, but first he had to shake thousands of hands.
When he finally sat down in his upstairs study to sign the historic document, he told Secretary of State William Seward that his right hand was swollen.
Lincoln suspected this particular signature might be examined closely in years to come, and he didn’t want it to appear weak. He was later quoted as saying, “The signature looks a little tremulous, as my hand was tired, but my resolution was firm.”
The following year, the New York Times printed the following dispatch, dated January 2, 1864, from the Associated Press:
Years ago had any colored man presented himself at the White House, at the President’s levee, seeking an introduction to the Chief Magistrate of the nation, he would, in all probability, have been roughly handled for his impudence. Yesterday four colored men, of genteel exterior and with the manners of gentlemen, joined in the throng that crowded the Executive mansion, and were presented to the President of the United States.Lincoln’s final New Year’s Day reception was described in the New York Times of January 4, 1865:
The gala event of our New Year’s celebration was the annual reception of Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln. The White House was thrown open at 12 o’clock, and the Cabinet Ministers, the Diplomatic Corps, the Judges of the Supreme Court and the Court of Claims, and the army and navy officers, paid, in the order of precedence, the compliments of the season to the President and his wife. At 1 o’clock the citizens at large were presented. The Marine Band during the hours of reception discoursed excellent music, and the whole affair passed off with brilliancy, no less than five thousand people having gained admittance to the reception. The President was in the best of spirits, and received the greetings of his friends in the most genial manner.The New Year’s Day receptions continued for decades after Lincoln’s time. In the years before White House Christmas trees became the focus of holiday entertaining, the visit to the president's house on the first day of the year was the beginning of the social season in Washington.