SALT LAKE CITY — On Wednesday, President-elect Joe Biden will become the nation’s 46th president at a time of bitter division for the country, not unlike a period 160 years earlier, on the eve of the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln traveled to Washington for his inauguration.
On Tuesday, one of his fiercest defenders in the Senate broke with the President Donald Trump and laid blame for the deadly mob assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6 at his feet.
“The mob was fed lies,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said on the Senate floor as reported by CNN. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.”
Tense times ahead of an inauguration
The Senate is preparing for an impeachment trial on whether to convict the president for “incitement of insurrection.”
McConnell, a senator for 36 years, hasn’t said whether he will vote to convict Mr. Trump after the upcoming trial.
The Senate Majority leader promised a “safe and successful inaugural” for Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
After the attack and ahead of the inauguration, crews installed metal detectors in front of the House floor; all members and staff must pass through it.
Between the deadly insurrection, its aftermath, and the inauguration, much of Washington remains locked down. 25,000 National Guard members stand at the ready in the nation’s capital — the maximum number authorized for security around Mr. Biden’s inauguration.
On Tuesday, 12 Army National Guard members were removed from inauguration duty as part of the security vetting process, CNN reported.
How the Biden Inauguration compares to that of Lincoln
This is not the first inaugural during which the nation finds itself divided.
Like today, the Capitol served as a battleground in 1861. Historians describe the city as filled with treasonous southern politicians. They stayed in Washington while their colleagues launched an effort to begin a new country, founded upon slavery. Their leader? Jefferson Davis, who represented Mississippi in the US Senate and later served as president of the Confederate States.
With the threat of war hanging heavy in the air, Abraham Lincoln became the 16th president of the United States on March 4, 1861. The ceremony, watched over by Army snipers from rooftops and windows, was held on the East Front Portico of the US Capitol, the same area where a mob scaled walls and broke windows to gain access to the building on Jan. 6, 2021, forcing terrorized members of Congress to evacuate.
Historians describe Lincoln’s first inaugural as the most hazardous in the life of the young country.
Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, sat behind Lincoln during the event, “expecting to hear . . . the crack of a rifle” at any moment, according to the Washington Post.
Lincoln “had engendered more hatred than anyone in American history,” historian Ted Widmer wrote.
From inaugural tension to Civil War
Only six weeks later, hatred for Lincoln erupted into the Civil War, which eventually claimed the lives of Lincoln and about 750,000 Americans — about 2.4 percent of the US population of 31 million at the time.
Four years later, an assassin, John Wilkes Booth, killed Lincoln — at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1865.
Gen. Winfield Scott, 74, oversaw security at Mr. Lincoln’s first inauguration.
“If any of the Maryland or Virginia gentlemen who have become so threatening and troublesome show their heads or even venture to raise a finger, I shall blow them to hell,” Scott said, describing the event as “the most critical and hazardous event with which I have ever been connected.”
Lincoln wasn’t on the ballot of 1860 in 10 Southern states.
Seven states had already seceded from the Union.
During his inaugural speech, Mr. Lincoln extended an olive branch to the South — just as experts expect President-elect Biden will plead for unity in a deeply divided nation during his inauguration.
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