April 19, 1861

“Honest Abe” Lincoln, Annoyed About an Unpaid Bill, Orders It Paid – On the Day He Effectively Declares War

Autograph Letter Signed
1 page
SMC 907

On April 19, 1861, President Lincoln, some six weeks in office and a mere five days after Fort Sumter’s fall, acted unequivocally to turn the insurrection into a war. He did this simply, by proclaiming a blockade of the South. This was not a municipal blockade, or a paper blockade, or a closing of ports – but an actual war blockade notified to foreign nations. And, as a declared blockade was (and is) a recognition of War, not only were Secessionists immediately deemed belligerent, but all the war powers of the Commander in Chief fell, immediately, to Lincoln. On April 19th, too, Massachusetts troops traveling through Baltimore were attacked by an angry mob and it looked, even, as if the capitol might be attacked. It was typical of Lincoln, then, with the cataclysms of war all but at his doorstep, to write the letter here. It is about a small matter, a hotel bill from his stay before the Inauguration, and that it has not yet been paid, cannot stand.

I am annoyed to know that my Bill at your house has not yet been paid. Receipt it & hand it to the Mr. Nicolay & he will give a check for the amount.

Secretary Nicolay duly went to Willard’s Hotel, paid the $773.75 bill for the Lincoln’s February 23 to March 4, 1861 stay there, and brought back the receipt.


War or no war, Lincoln’s honesty was absolute – as this letter has come to famously attest.

Autograph Letter Signed (“A. Lincoln”), as President, 1 page, octavo, Executive Mansion, April 19, 1861. To Messrs. Willards.
Accompanied by Washington Post - Times Herald February 18, 1957 clipping re letter.
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