Hours after her bid to make history fell stunningly short, Hillary Clinton stepped up to a podium at a hotel in Manhattan and delivered the most difficult speech of her long career in public life.
In a voice sometimes low with emotion, Ms. Clinton urged the country to move forward and tried to ease the sense of devastation felt by many of her supporters. As she spoke, some of the volunteers and staff members watching wept.
"To all the women and especially the young women who put their faith in this campaign and in me, I want you to know that nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion," said Ms. Clinton, 69. "I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but some day, someone will – and hopefully sooner than we might think right now."
Ms. Clinton's public concession speech on Wednesday morning came several hours after she had called Donald Trump to congratulate him on winning the race. While Mr. Trump emerged victorious in the Electoral College, Ms. Clinton appeared to edge past him in the popular vote. With some votes still being counted, Ms. Clinton was leading with 47.7 per cent to Mr. Trump's 47.5 per cent.
She said that she hoped the president-elect would be a leader for all Americans and asked her supporters to look to the future. Mr. Trump "is going to be our president," she said. "We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead."
The Democratic presidential nominee acknowledged the bitter disappointment of those who voted for her and tried to reassure the thousands who participated in her campaign, especially the young people.
"I've had successes and I've had setbacks, sometimes really painful ones," Ms. Clinton said. "You will have successes and setbacks too. This loss hurts, but please – never stop believing that fighting for what's right is worth it."
At her side was her running mate, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, who looked stricken as she spoke. Earlier he had introduced Ms. Clinton, his voice clogging with feeling as he described his pride in what she had achieved. In a country that "has made it uniquely difficult for a woman to be elected to federal office, she became the first major-party nominee," he said. That was "an amazing achievement."
Mr. Kaine also quoted a version of a line from American novelist William Faulkner to indicate that the fight will continue: "They killed us, but they ain't whupped us yet," he said.
The emotion in the room was echoed across the country. Ms. Clinton's supporters struggled not just with the shock of the defeat – after all, nearly every prediction had pointed to a victory – but with the nature of the winner. Some said they were too disconsolate to go to work. Others sought solace in the company of friends and like-minded colleagues.
Roxana Morgenstern, 60, watched the election results Tuesday night in New York with her husband and their 27-year-old daughter. They had put a bottle of champagne in the fridge, anticipating a historic occasion. After midnight, as Ms. Clinton's chances of victory slipped away, Ms. Morgenstern began to feel physically ill. Mr. Trump "is the epitome of everything that is negative," she said. "It's the hate and the violence and the lack of empathy and the lying."
No election in her lifetime has ever made her feel this way, Ms. Morgenstern said. "I'm in pain thinking about what's going to happen," she said. "All we can hope is he proves us wrong."
Anjali da Victoria Lobo, a union strategist in Washington, said the mood was grim in her predominantly African-American neighbourhood on Wednesday morning. Two of her neighbours were crying on the bus to work. One of them described the election as a backlash after eight years of an African-American president and predicted an imminent fight for rights people now take for granted.
"I actually fear the chipping away of democracy," said Ms. da Victoria Lobo, 41. She had hosted a results-watching get-together with a diverse group of friends – gay, straight, Asian-American, Jewish, Muslim. As the night wore on, their hope turned to disbelief. "There was this sense that the 'we' in that room misread everything, that we don't know the country we live in," she said.
Anne Sulzmann, 40, a high-school teacher who lives in North Adams, Mass., cast her vote on Tuesday, then went with her mother and seven-year old daughter to visit the nearby birthplace of Susan B. Anthony, the feminist pioneer and crusader for women's suffrage. She wanted to create a moment her daughter would always remember.
Mr. Trump's victory in the wee hours of the morning left Ms. Sulzmann reeling. On Wednesday, she cried the entire way on her 40-minute drive to work. "This is somebody who was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, somebody who sexually assaulted women, somebody who has mocked disabled people," she said. "The most upsetting thing for me was I had faith that the majority [of Americans] were going to care."