- Clinton conceded to President-elect Donald Trump by phone earlier Wednesday morning
- Much of the seating at Clinton's remarks was for staff and aides
New York (CNN)"I'm sorry."
With those simple words, Hillary Clinton, who thought she would wake up Wednesday as the first woman president-elect but crashed to a stunning election defeat to Donald Trump, ended her White House quest and likely her political career.
The Democratic nominee unequivocally conceded the presidential race, and said that the Constitution requires a peaceful transfer of power.
"Last night, I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country. I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans," Clinton said.
"Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead," said Clinton, who was composed and dignified even as she admitted how painful her defeat was in her first public comments on the result of the election.
"This is not the outcome that we wanted and we worked so hard for, and I am sorry that we did not win this election," Clinton told supporters and campaign workers in New York.
Clinton also addressed the historic achievement for which she twice strived in losing presidential campaigns.
"I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but someday, someone will, and hopefully sooner than we might think right now."
"And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and to achieve your own dreams."
Clinton's speech was devoid of bitterness and seemed at times to be an attempt to inspire her supporters about the virtues of public service and of fighting for what they believe.
But she also put Trump on notice that the core American values which many Democrats believe Trump abhors, citing his proposals for a ban on Muslim immigration and rhetorical assaults on female journalists during his campaign, would not be forgotten.
"Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power and we don't just respect that, we cherish it. It also enshrines other things: the rule of law, the principle that we are equal in rights and dignity, freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values too and we must defend them."
Much of the seating at Clinton's remarks was for staff and aides and the campaign was treating it as a farewell to the people who have spent the better part of two years working on her behalf, an aide said.
Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine also was on hand. The Virginia senator was not with Clinton Tuesday night.
"I'm proud of Hillary, because she loves this country," said Kaine, who had tears in his eyes, as he delivered introductory remarks.
Aides throughout the ballroom were sobbing during Clinton's remarks. Quiet moments in the speech were filled with tears, sniffles and some sobs. Clinton's top aides, seated in the front row, were almost all crying.
Robby Mook, Clinton's campaign manager, was wiping away tears. Nick Merrill, Clinton's traveling press secretary, was weeping.
The most somber moment in Clinton's speech was when she specifically noted her impact to women and girls.
"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," Clinton said, her voice breaking with emotion.
There were audible cries -- and some sobs -- throughout the room.
Bill Clinton, while working the ropeline, wiped away tears.
Huma Abedin cried during the speech but kept a stoic face during much of the ropeline.
Clinton worked the ropeline after the event, moving from tearful conversation to tearful conversation.
She first spoke with Anastasia Somoza, the 32-year old woman diagnosed with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia who interned for Clinton's Senate office.
Bending down to hug Somoza, Clinton told her, "You were so wonderful in every way. I love you."
"Thank you for all your work," Clinton told Somoza's mother.
She hugged Joel Bennenson and John Anzalone, two of her pollsters, who acknowledged to other aides last night that they didn't see the Trump wave coming.
She hugged Jim Margolis and Mandy Grunwald, who created many of the campaign's television ads.
Clinton left somewhat unceremoniously, departing through a blue curtain to the left of the room and later to her motorcade.
End of a campaign
Her speech marked a bitter conclusion to a campaign that will be remembered for failing to fully energize Democratic voters and for squandering the party's traditional heartlands in states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
It also marked what could be the final act on the national stage of the Clinton double act, the political partnership between Bill Clinton and the former first lady and secretary of state that had seemed poised for a remarkable comeback, 16 years after they left the White House.
Campaign staffers had spoken throughout Clinton's presidential bid of the extreme pressure many of them felt in facing Trump, whom Clinton argued was temperamentally and intellectually unfit for the presidency and to be in charge of the US nuclear arsenal.
Now she is under pressure to call on a nation, split almost exactly down the middle, to unite behind the next president.
Jason Miller, a Trump campaign spokesman, lauded her speech.
"Very classy speech from @HillaryClinton. Important step in bringing our country together," he tweeted.
It was not the first time Clinton has tasted the pain of ending a defeated presidential campaign. In 2008, she folded her primary bid against Barack Obama in Washington and bemoaned her failure to break the "highest and hardest glass ceiling" by becoming the first female president. That was to be her fate again in 2016, though the personal recriminations are likely to be even more intense this time given that Trump is seen by many Democrats as antithetical to American values.
Clinton called Trump in the early hours of Wednesday to concede defeat after he shattered her Democratic firewall in the Midwest and swept to victory after the most vitriolic general election in generations.
But she did not appear at her election night party in New York. At the time, her campaign chairman John Podesta explained that the campaign wanted to ensure that every vote in still undeclared states was counted -- though her position already seemed hopeless.
Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said Wednesday that she was with Trump when Abedin, called to say her boss wanted to talk to the president-elect.
"I handed him the phone and they had a maybe one-minute conversation, very gracious, very warm. I heard Mr. Trump's side of it," Conway told CNN's Alisyn Camerota on "New Day. "He commended her for being smart and tough and running a very hard-fought campaign. And I am told Secretary Clinton congratulated Donald Trump on his victory, and conceded to him," Conway said.