As the end of a bitter civil war that would claim more than 600,000 lives was coming into view, President Abraham Lincoln called on Americans to put away malice and reunite in a spirit of charity.

Although not as famous as his Gettysburg Address delivered about 16 months earlier, his 700-word second inaugural address, March 4, 1865, is also regarded as one of the greatest speeches in human history.

Lincoln delivered his address on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington and Lincoln portrayer Larry Elliot will repeat it at the Madison County Courthouse exactly 150 years later. The ceremony also will include Elliot’s portrayal of Lincoln taking the oath of office and a brief reception.

Elliot, in his Lincoln persona, visited Kirksville Elementary School on Feb. 13.

On Saturday night, March 7, a re-enactment of Lincoln’s second inaugural ball will be staged at the Acton Folk Center in Berea.

The commemorations are sponsored by the Madison County Historic Properties Division, the Battle of Richmond Association and the Madison County Civil War Roundtable.

In the mid-19th century, inaugural balls did not take place on the evening of an inauguration, said Phillip Seyfrit, Madison County Historic Properties Director. Lincoln’s ball took place on March 6, so the re-enactment will be one day later than the original event, unlike the inauguration re-enactment.

Guest may begin arriving for the re-enactment of the ball at 6:30 p.m. March 7 at the folk center, 212 Jefferson St., Berea. President and Mrs. Lincoln are expected to arrive around 7:15.

The Berea Festival Dancers will provide the entertainment along with musicians Al and Alice White. Light refreshments will be served. Period attire is suggested but not required for guests.

Lincoln’s second inaugural ball took place in the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, where the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery now stand.

The president wore a black suit with white gloves for his second inaugural ball, and Mary Todd Lincoln wore a white satin, off-the-shoulder gown with jasmine and violets woven into her hair.

Reservations for the ball commemoration, $5 each, are strongly recommended, Seyfrit said. For details or reservations, email

Presidential inaugural balls have a checkered history, according to information Seyfrit provided. While a ball was given after George Washington was inaugurated, another was not staged until James Madison took office in 1809.

In 1853, President Franklin Pierce canceled his inaugural ball because of the accidental death of his son. Woodrow Wilson, who called such affairs “frivolous,” did not have a ball when he took office in 1913. Private parties and “charity balls” were staged during the terms of Calvin College, Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt.

Inaugural balls as they are conducted today did not become a tradition until Harry Truman’s 1949 inauguration. Ten official balls and 121 unofficial events were staged in 2010 to celebrate the second inauguration of President Barack Obama.


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