Response to Serenade (April 10, 1865)

Posted on Updated on

Fellow Citizens:

I am very greatly rejoiced to find that an occasion has occurred so pleasurable that the people cannot restrain themselves. [Cheers.] I suppose that arrangements are being made for some sort of a formal demonstration, this, or perhaps, to-morrow night. [Cries of `We can’t wait,’ `We want it now,’ &c.] If there should be such a demonstration, I, of course, will be called upon to respond, and I shall have nothing to say if you dribble it all out of me before. [Laughter and applause.] I see you have a band of music with you. [Voices, `We have two or three.’] I propose closing up this interview by the band performing a particular tune which I will name. Before this is done, however, I wish to mention one or two little circumstances connected with it. I have always thought `Dixie’ one of the best tunes I have ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it. [Applause.] I presented the question to the Attorney General, and he gave it as his legal opinion that it is our lawful prize. [Laughter and applause.] I now request the band to favor me with its performance.

By Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 8

Later in the morning a great crowd came marching into the White House grounds. Every man was cheering and a band was playing patriotic airs. The workmen at the Navy- Yard had started the procession, and by the time it had reached us it was over two thousand strong. Of course they called for the President, and he stepped to the window to see his guests. When the cheering had subsided he spoke to them very kindly and good-naturedly, begging that they would not ask him for a serious speech.

“I am going to make a formal address this evening,” he said, ”and if I dribble it out to you now, my speech to-night will be spoiled.” Then, with his humorous smile, he spoke to the band:

”I think it would be a good plan for you to play Dixie. I always thought that it was the most beautiful of our songs. I have submitted the question of its ownership to the Attorney-General, and he has given it as his legal opinion that we have fairly earned the right to have it back.” As the opening bars of Dixie burst out, Mr. Lincoln disappeared from the window. The crowd went off in high good-humor, marching to the infectious rhythm of the hard-won tune.

Quoted in “Through Five Administrations: Reminiscences of Colonel William H. Crook, Body-Guard to President Lincoln”,by William H. Crook, Margarita Spalding Gerry (Editor)(New  York  and  London:  Harper  &  Brothers,  1910),  p. 62.

We were to leave City Point on Saturday, April 8th. A few hours prior to our leaving, the military band came from the headquarters on board the River Queen. We assembled to hear it. After the performance of several pieces, Mr. Lincoln thought of the “ Marseillaise,” and said to us that he had a great liking for that tune. He ordered it to be played. Delighted with it, he had it played a second time.
“ You must, however, come over to America,” said he to me, “ to hear it.” He then asked me if I had ever heard “Dixie,” the rebel patriotic song, to the sound of which all their attacks had been conducted. As I answered in the negative, he added : “ That tune is now Federal property ; it belongs to us, and, at any rate, it is good to show the rebels that with us they will be free to hear it again.” He then ordered the somewhat surprised musicians to play it for us.

Quoted in Marquis de Chambrun, “Personal Recollections of Mr. Lincoln,” Scribner’s (1893), p. 34