Every February 12th since 1867, the Lincoln Association of Jersey City commemorates the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president, assassinated on April 15, 1865. The members hold a ceremony and place a wreath at the foot of Lincoln the Mystic, the Lincoln monument at the entrance of Lincoln Park. In the evening, the association holds its traditional celebratory dinner honoring Lincoln and his legacy.
The Lincoln Association was founded in response to lingering controversy among some residents regarding Lincoln’s Civil War policies. Local newspapers reflected the differing views on Lincoln’s war leadership. For example, The American Standard (1859-1875) opposed Lincoln’s presidency. Published by John H. Lyons, the Standard reflected the views of the “Copperhead” faction of the Democratic Party. It faulted the abolitionist movement for the Civil War and opposed Lincoln’s candidacy in 1860. The Demoncrats dominated Hudson County, and the newspaper was regarded as “Democratic.” During the war, the Copperhead dissenters also opposed the draft and sought immediate termination of the war.
The Evening Journal (1867-1909), now Jersey Journal, was founded by Major Z.K. Pangborn and his partners William B. Dunning and Joseph A. Dear, were pro-Lincoln. They called themselves “patriots” and referred to Lincoln as the “Great Emancipator,” who struggled to save the Union and reunite the South into the nation. They held public meetings to demonstrate their loyalty to Lincoln against his detractors.
Jersey City had a special connection to President Lincoln. Although Lincoln lost New Jersey in the elections of 1860 and 1864, the city celebrated Lincoln on two occasions–one on route to his first inauguration in 1861 and the other on the president’s memorial services in 1865.
On February 21, 1861, the president-elect stopped in Jersey City. He was traveling by train from his home in Springfield, IL, to his inauguration (March 4, 1861) in Washington, DC. He arrived in Jersey City from New York City on the ferry John P. Jackson at the depot of the New Jersey Railroad and Transportation Company at Hudson Street and Exchange Place. The President of the Jersey City Board of Aldermen A.A. Hardenbergh; and Governor Charles S. Olden’s representative New Jersey Attorney General William L. Dayton, and the former Republican 1856 vice-presidential candidate were aboard the ferry. A reported crowd of 25,000 gave Lincoln an enthusiastic reception along with Jersey City’s Mayor Cornelius Van Vorst, former Mayor Dudley S. Gregory, and other dignitaries. Lincoln extended a special handshake to Gregory with whom he previously served in the US Congress. From Jersey City, Lincoln continued to Washington, DC aboard the special train former Governor (William) Pennington constructed in New Jersey
On April 24, 1865, Lincoln’s funeral train, traveling from Washington, DC, westward to Springfield, IL, stopped at Exchange Place for citizens to pay their respects to the slain leader. The funeral railway car was placed on a barge and towed by the ferryboat from Jersey City to New York City, where it lay in state at City Hall.
Two years later, on February 12, 1867, eight Jersey City leaders began meeting in Lincoln’s memory at the Zachau’s Union House, then located at 146 Newark Avenue (currently the site of “Skinner’s Loft” a popular bar and restaurant).
On May 3, 1867, they formalized their gatherings into the “Lincoln Association of Jersey City” with the election of officers. Later that year, the association held a banquet called “The Lincoln Ball” on Christmas Eve, December 24. It took place at Library Hall on the corner of (704) Grand Street and Ivy Place. The Bergen Library Associates built the hall for Bergen’s lending library and an auditorium.
The success of the Lincoln Association’s first dinner started the tradition of the annual Lincoln day event. Over the years, it has been held at various places: Taylor’s Hall, now the site for the Commercial Trust Company at Exchange Place; the Washington Hotel, now St. Mary’s Residence at 240 Washington Street; Jersey City Club, now the Masonic Club at Crescent and Clinton avenues; the Carteret Club, now Saint Dominic Academy at Kennedy Boulevard and Duncan Avenue; and Casino-in-the Park in Lincoln Park. One year the decorations for the event included a scroll “Abraham Lincoln, The Nation’s Choice – 1865, The Nation’s Loss.”
The 2022 Dinner will be held at the Liberty House Restaurant in Liberty State Park. Here’s information on reservations.
According to local historian W.H. Richardson, Capt. Dunning was responsible for the tradition of the association’s annual dinners. In his obituary, the Evening Journal (June 18, 1877) writes that he “…took great interest and pride in its patriotic cherishing of the memory and virtues of the lamented good President.” He was known to be a Whig and then a Republican. Dunning served with the Second NJ Militia during the Civil War and rejoined the war with Company K, 11th NJ Volunteers. He helped found the Evening Journal (later Jersey Journal) with Pangborn and Dear, working as a printer and journalist.
Among the association’s distinguished dinner speakers invited to offer their perspective on Lincoln’s legacy have been Ambassador Ralph J. Bunche of the United Nations, NJ Governor Edward Casper Stokes, Chief Justice Clarence E. Case, and Charles Osgood of CBS television.
In the 1920s, the Lincoln Association, with the assistance of school children, raised funds for the bronze statue of Lincoln at the Hudson (now Kennedy) Boulevard entrance of West Side Park, now Lincoln Park. From their collection of pennies and nickels, the children contributed $3,500 towards the $75,000 total cost for the memorial. The association chose sculptor James Earle Fraser (1876-1953) to design and build the monument. Fraser was noted for his design of the buffalo nickel and End of the Trail sculpture of an American Indian on horseback for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. The statue is now in the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City.
On June 14, 1930, Fraser’s statue of the pensive, crisis-burdened Lincoln was dedicated at a morning ceremony with recitations from Lincoln’s best-known and significant speeches. The low wall surrounding the statue has excerpts from three of his addresses: Fraser was among a crowd of over 3,000 people attending the ceremony.
WITH MALICE TOWARD NONE AND CHARITY TOWARD ALL
[Second Inaugural Address, 1865]
THAT GOVERNMENT OF THE PEOPLE
BY THE PEOPLE FOR THE PEOPLE
SHALL NOT PERISH FROM THE EARTH [Gettysburg Address, 1863]
LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT
AND IN THAT FAITH LET US TO THE END
DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT
[Cooper Union Speech 1860]
After the Lincoln Memorial placement on Hudson (now Kennedy) Boulevard, the Lincoln Association obtained the renaming of the West Side Park for President Lincoln.