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The Cobbs in the White House In the middle of 1858, Howell Cobb is secretary of the treasury.

Mary Anne and Howell are fundamental figures in the White House. In October 1860, the Prince of Whales, Edward the VII, tours the east coast. The most important cultural event in the mid 19 century is the arrival of the first member of the British royal family on American soil ever. Buchanan hosts him for a formal state dinner at the White House. Because Buchanan is not married, Mary Anne serves a hostess. Thus we have the term, First Lady, because shes not the presidents wife but is the hostess of formal dinners. Mary Anne Cobb wears the dress currently located in the Cobb House. Whats in Mary Annes mind during that night we can only speculate, but whats probably on her mind probably connects with her brother-in-laws books, connects with her husbands aspirations, and his political career, none of which she probably says to the Prince of Whales. Shes in her beautiful ball gown, made of French silk, sent by her brother, John B. Lamar. Probably as she is dressing that night, she is helped in her dress by her servant, Aggie, who she has brought with her to Washington D.C. She may have been thinking of recent events such as John Browns raid in 1859, that had set major slave holders on edge. They are afraid of the power of the violence and animosity of abolitionists, John Brown having taken it to its most extreme form in his raid on Harpers Ferry. Back home in Athens, one of the shops on Broad Street facing the University downtown advertises they have a pike from John Browns raid on display as a warning of the abolitionist threat. She is probably thinking about that. She is also in October of 1860, thinking about the fact that her husband had sought the democratic nomination for president but had not received it. Howell Cobb certainly believed he would be Buchanans successor in the White House. Howell Cobb certainly saw himself as a figure that could have kept slave holders happy but protected the federal union. But he does not get it. We wind up with two Democratic splits resulting in two Democratic candidates. Theres four candidates in total. One of those four is a republican who does not appear on any ballots in the south and that is Abraham Lincoln.
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All of this is going on in Oct. of 1860. She is demonstrating in her sort of grandest moment the power of her enormous wealth, her education, her manners and skills of civility. She is showing herself to this man who will be the next king of England to be the most civilized of all American women. And in no way is she displaying anything about sectional loyalty or about the possibility of the fracturing of the Union, which is remarkable because roughly two weeks after hosting the prince of Whales the election takes place. Lincoln is elected president and Howell Cobb, one of the two most powerful southerners at that moment, has a sort of crisis moment, and decides he cannot remain in his position as Secretary of the Treasury, resigns, and comes back to Athens in protest.