The Democratic Party was in disarray in 1860 when they convened in Charleston, South Carolina to choose their presidential candidate. Southern elements insisted that the nominating convention make a strong statement supporting slavery in the territories. Western elements, however, opposed that stance and argued for an endorsement of Popular Sovereignty. The latter position prevailed and the Southern delegates walked out.The Northern Democrats later met in Baltimore, Maryland, and nominated Stephen A. Douglas. Following the violence in "Bleeding Kansas," Douglas had lost much support within the party; however, he had reclaimed his prominence by denouncing Buchanan and the Lecompton constitution in 1858.The Southern Democrats reconvened in Richmond, Virginia and nominated John C. A moderate position was sought by the Constitutional Union Party, which nominated John Bell. The party, composed mostly of former Whigs, enjoyed some strength in the Border States, but lacked any semblance of vigor and was dubbed the "Old Gentlemen's Party."William H. Seward confidently anticipated the nomination from the Republican Party in 1860. Included in the platform were calls for a moderately higher tariff, federally sponsored internal improvements, a homestead bill and federal assistance for a transcontinental railroad to be built over the central route. On slavery, the Republicans proclaimed that each state could decide the issue within its own borders and that no one (Congress or the territorial legislatures) could legalize slavery in the territories.Abraham Lincoln was a respected state politician in Illinois. They lined up votes with promises of patronage and jammed the convention with Lincoln supporters.During the campaign, Lincoln ventured into the South where he preached the value of the Union. In almost the same breath he also warned against secession and pledged that he would, if necessary, act with the conviction of Andrew Jackson in the Nullification Crisis almost 30 years earlier.Lincoln's strength was confined to the populous Northern states, but he won a decisive victory in the Electoral College. Douglas garnered an impressive popular vote, but barely made a showing in the electoral tally.
|Election of 1860|
|Abraham Lincoln (Illinois)|
Hannibal Hamlin (Maine)
|Stephen A. Douglas (Illinois)|
Herschel V. Johnson (Ga.)
|John C. Breckinridge (Ky.)|
Joseph Lane (Oregon)
Southern (Independent) Democrat
|John Bell (Tennessee)|
Edward Everett (Mass.)
Election of 1860 - History
As the fall of 1860 approached, a four-way race for the Presidency—and the future of America—emerged. The ghost of John Brown, the militant abolitionist hung after his actions at Harper’s Ferry, loomed large in early 1860. In April, the Democratic Party convened in Charleston, South Carolina, acknowledged bastion of secessionist thought in the South. The goal was to nominate a single candidate for the party ticket, but it became very clear that the Democratic convention would be one marked by hostility and division. The northern and southern wings of the party could not agree on any one man. Northern Democrats pulled for Senator Stephen Douglas, a pro-slavery moderate championing popular sovereignty, while Southern Democrats were intent on endorsing someone other than Douglas. The failure to include a pro-slavery platform resulted in Southern delegates walking out of the convention, preventing Douglas from gaining the two-thirds majority required for a nomination. A subsequent convention in Baltimore nominated Douglas for the Democratic ticket, while southerners nominated current Vice President John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky as their presidential candidate. The nation’s oldest party had split into two over differences in policy toward slavery.
Certainly, few Americans expected a strong showing from the Republican Party. Indeed, the Republicans were hardly unified themselves. The leading men of the party all vied for their party’s nomination at the Chicago convention in May 1860. There was a growing recognition among the conveners that the party’s nominee would need to be someone who would be able to carry all the free states—only in that situation could a Republican nominee potentially win. Such an electoral reality meant that the early favorite, New York Senator William Seward, came under attack during the convention. Some believed his pro-immigrant position would prevent him from carrying Pennsylvania and New Jersey in a general election. Abraham Lincoln, as a relatively unknown but likable politician, rose from a pool of potential candidates, and was selected by the delegates on the third ballot.
Abraham Lincoln, August 13, 1860, via Library of Congress.
The electoral landscape was further complicated through the emergence of a fourth candidate, Tennessee’s John Bell, heading the Constitutional Union Party. Lincoln carried all free states with the exception of New Jersey (which he split with Douglas). 81.2% of the voting electorate came out to vote—at that point the highest ever for a presidential election. But, Lincoln’s 180 electoral votes came with under 40% of the popular vote. Lincoln was trailed by Breckenridge with his 72 electoral votes, carrying 11 of the 15 slave states, Bell came in third with 39 electoral votes, with Douglas coming in last, only able to garner twelve electoral votes despite carrying almost 30% of the popular vote. All future Confederate states, with the exception of Virginia, excluded Lincoln’s name from their ballots, making the victory even more remarkable.
South Carolina acted almost immediately, calling a convention to declare secession. On December 20, 1860, the South Carolina convention voted unanimously 169-0 to dissolve their Union with the United States. The other states across the Deep South soon followed suit. Mississippi adopted their own resolution on January 9, 1861, Florida followed on January 10, Alabama January 11, Georgia on January 19, Louisiana on January 26, and Texas on February 1. While Texas was the only state to put the issue up for vote amongst the entire voting population, most other states hovered around an 80% vote in favor of secession at their respective conventions.
President James Buchanan would not directly address the issue of secession prior to his term’s end in early March. Any effort to try and solve the issue therefore fell upon Congress, specifically a “Committee of Thirteen” including prominent men such as Stephen Douglas, William Seward, Robert Toombs, and John Crittenden. In what became known as “Crittenden’s Compromise,” Senator Crittenden proposed a series of Constitutional Amendments that guaranteed slavery in southern states states/territories, denied the Federal Government interstate slave trade regulatory power, and offered to compensate slave owners of unrecovered fugitive slaves. The Committee of Thirteen ultimately voted down the measure and it likewise failed in the full Senate vote (25-23). Prospects for reconciliation appeared grim.
The seven seceding states met in Montgomery, Alabama on February 4 th to organize a new nation. The delegates selected Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as president and established a capital in Montgomery, Alabama (it would move to Richmond in May). When Davis received the telegram, his wife later wrote, “he looked so grieved that I feared some evil had befallen our family. After a few minutes he told me like a man might speak of a sentence of death.” Out of a sense of duty, Davis accepted. Whether the states of the Upper South would join the Confederacy remained uncertain. By the early spring of 1861, North Carolina and Tennessee had not held secession conventions, while others in Virginia, Missouri, and Arkansas initially voted down secession. Despite this boost to the Union, it became abundantly clear that these acts of loyalty in the Upper South were highly conditional and relied on a clear lack of intervention on the part of the Federal government. This was the situation facing Abraham Lincoln on his inauguration in March 4, 1861.
Timeline of the 1860 Election
[Other issues: public health fire control and fire safety immigration prohibitionCatholic vs. Protestant French designs on Mexico British control of B.C. railroad development railroad safety "lands for the landless," the "Indian question" government fraud Common Schools. See also the list of non-sectional issues.
The Compromise of 1850 "settles" the territorial and fugitive slave law controversies.
Secessionists and Freesoilers thumped in 1850, 1851, and 1852 state elections [gov.]
A perfect storm of Kansas, Sumner, Lawrence and Lecompton erupts (1854-1858).
The Dred Scott decision produces outrage and enthusiasm (1857).
The Tariff of 1857 reduces duties to their lowest level of the 19th century (1857)
On appeal, the N.Y. Supreme Court upheld the state's nine-month emancipation statute freeing the slaves of Virginian Jonathan Lemmon (1852 October 1857 appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court).
Douglasite and Buchananite Democrats split in Illinois (Spring-Summer 1858).
Republican W. H. Seward gives his "Irrepressible Conflict" speech (October 1858). The Alabama legislature issues a warrant for his arrest on the charge of inciting slave insurrection.
The U.S. Supreme court issues its Abelman v. Booth decision against Wisconsin's personal liberty laws (March 1859).
John Brown and his associates raid Harper's Ferry, Virginia. They are caught, tried, and executed (October-December 1859).
Wesleyan Methodist North Carolinian Daniel Worth is arrested, convicted, and exiled for distributing copies of (ex-North Carolinian) Hinton R. Helper's Impending Crisis . N.C. makes second convictions for distributing literature a capital offense (December 1859-June 1860).
Congress reorganizes, and the Speakership crisis erupts. (Dec. 1859-Jan. 1860)
Lincoln gives his "Cooper Union Address" (February 1860). (Wordie visualizer)
Democrats hold their first convention in Charleston, S.C., permanently fracturing over the territorial slavery issue. (April 1860).
The Constitutional Union party convention is held in Baltimore, nominating John Bell of Tennessee as their candidate (May 1860).
The Republican Party holds its convention at the "Wigwam" in Chicago, nominating Abraham Lincoln (May 1860).
National Democrats seize control of the Baltimore Democratic convention, nominating Stephen A. Douglas. Southern Rights bolters hold a breakaway convention in Richmond, Virginia, where they nominate Kentuckian John C. Breckinridge (June 1860).
The Covode Report uncovers extensive fraud in the Buchanan administration (June 1860).
Douglas, in his Norfolk Address, declares that Lincoln's election would not justify secession and that the laws of the United States must be enforced (August 1860).
State elections show strong Republican gains, first in Maine, (September 1860), and then in Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana (October 1860).
The Election of 1860 Role Play
Teaching Activity. By Bill Bigelow.
A role play based on the election of 1860 allows students to explore the political debates of the time and the real reasons for the Civil War.
Most of my students share a cartoon-like version of the causes of the Civil War: slavery was horrible President Abraham Lincoln was a great man who hated slavery so, to free the slaves, he fought a war against the South the North won and the slaves were freed.
This common but wildly inaccurate history reinforces at least two unfortunate myths: the United States fights wars only for high moral purposes and African Americans owe their freedom to the efforts of a great white man.
The activities in this lesson offer students a more complex and truthful historical picture, and, thus, help to puncture these myths.
Four political parties competed for the presidency in 1860. The outcome resulted in a social earthquake that permanently transformed the United States of America. The role play asks students to confront the actual issues addressed by the different parties in 1860. It gives students the tools to analyze some of the main causes of the Civil War, and helps them expel the simplistic notions of the war’s aims that they may, perhaps unconsciously, carry around.
Election Day 1860
The cannon salvo that thundered over Springfield, Illinois, at sunrise on November 6, 1860, signaled not the start of a battle, but the end of the bitter, raucous six-month-long campaign for president of the United States. Election Day was finally dawning. Lincoln probably awoke, like his neighbors, at the first cannon blast, if, that is, he had slept at all. Just a few days before, warning that "the existence of slavery is at stake," South Carolina's Charleston Mercury had called for a prompt secession convention in "each and all of the Southern states" should the "Abolitionist white man" capture the White House. That same day, a prominent New York Democrat prophesied that if Lincoln were elected, "at least Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina would secede."
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Video: One Life: The Mask of Lincoln
Yet the danger that a Lincoln victory could prove cataclysmic did little to deflate the city's celebratory mood. By the time the polls opened at 8 a.m., a journalist reported, "tranquility forsook Springfield" altogether, and "the out-door tumult" awoke "whatever sluggish spirits there might be among the populace."
Less than three weeks earlier, Lincoln had confided to a caller that he would have preferred a full term in the Senate, "where there was more chance to make reputation and less danger of losing it—than four years in the presidency." It was a startling admission. But having lost two senatorial races over the past five years, most recently to Stephen A. Douglas—one of the two Democrats he now opposed in his run for the White House—Lincoln's conflicted thoughts were understandable.
Looking at his electoral prospects coolly he had reason to expect he would prevail. In a pivotal state election two months earlier, widely seen as a harbinger of the presidential contest, Maine had elected a Republican governor with a healthy majority. Republicans had earned similarly impressive majorities in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. Lincoln finally allowed himself to believe that the "splendid victories. seem to fore-shadow the certain success of the Republican cause in November."
Complicating matters was the fact that four candidates were competing for the presidency. Earlier in the year, the sectionally riven Democratic Party had split into Northern and Southern factions, promising a dilution of its usual strength, and a new Constitutional Union Party had nominated Tennessee politician John Bell for president. Though Lincoln remained convinced that no "ticket can be elected by the People, unless it be ours," no one could be absolutely certain that any candidate would amass enough electoral votes to win the presidency outright. If none secured an absolute majority of electors, the contest would go to the House of Representatives. Anything might yet happen.
Stephen A. Douglas, the presidential standard-bearer of Northern Democrats, took care to deny that he harbored hopes for such an outcome, but privately dreamed of it. Outgoing President James Buchanan's endorsed choice, Vice President John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, had improbably emerged as the Democratic favorite in the president's home state of Pennsylvania, where "Old Buck" still enjoyed popularity. In New York, opposition to Lincoln coalesced around Douglas. Horace Greeley, editor of the pro-Lincoln New York Tribune, exhorted the Republican faithful to allow no "call of business or pleasure, any visitation of calamity, bereavement, or moderate illness, to keep you from the polls."
Despite the lingering uncertainty, Lincoln had done next to nothing publicly, and precious little privately, to advance his own cause. Prevailing political tradition called for silence from presidential candidates. In earlier elections, nominees who had defied custom appeared desperate and invariably lost. Besides, when it came to the smoldering issue of slavery, the choice seemed clear enough. Douglas championed the idea that settlers in new Western territories were entitled to vote slavery up or down for themselves, while Breckinridge argued that slave owners could take their human property anywhere they chose. Against both stood Lincoln.
Such profound disagreement might have provided fodder for serious debate. But no such opportunities existed within the reigning political culture of mid-19th-century America, not even when the canvass involved proven debaters like Lincoln and Douglas, who had famously battled each other face to face in seven senatorial debates two years earlier. Worried that Lincoln might be tempted to resume politicking, William Cullen Bryant, editor of the pro-Republican New York Evening Post, bluntly reminded him that "the vast majority of your friends. want you to make no speeches, write no letters as a candidate, enter into no pledges, make no promises, nor even give any of those kind words which men are apt to interpret into promises." Lincoln had obliged.
He was already on record as viewing slavery as "a moral, political and social wrong" that "ought to be treated as a wrong. with the fixed idea that it must and will come to the end." These sentiments alone had proven enough to alarm Southerners. But Lincoln had never embraced immediate abolition, knowing that such a position would have isolated him from mainstream American voters and rendered him unelectable. Unalterably opposed to the extension of slavery, Lincoln remained willing to "tolerate" its survival where it already existed, believing that containment would place it "in the course of ultimate extinction." That much voters already knew.
When a worried visitor from New England nonetheless urged him, the day before the election, to "reassure the men honestly alarmed" over the prospect of his victory, Lincoln flew into a rare fury, and, as his personal secretary John George Nicolay observed, branded such men "liars and knaves." As Lincoln hotly explained: "This is the same old trick by which the South breaks down every Northern victory. Even if I were personally willing to barter away the moral principle involved in this contest, for the commercial gain of a new submission to the South, I would go to Washington without the countenance of the men who supported me and were my friends before the election I would be as powerless as a block of buckeye wood."
In the last letter of his noncampaign, composed a week before Election Day, one can hear the candidate refusing to be drawn into further debate: "For the good men of the South—and I regard the majority of them as such—I have no objection to repeat seventy and seven times. But I have bad men also to deal with, both North and South—men who are eager for something new upon which to base new misrepresentations—men who would like to frighten me, or, at least, to fix upon me the character of timidity and cowardice. They would seize upon almost any letter I could write, as being an 'awful coming down.' I intend keeping my eye upon these gentlemen, and to not unnecessarily put any weapons in their hands."
So Lincoln's "campaign" for president ended as it began: in adamant silence, and in the same Illinois city to which he had so tenaciously clung since the national convention. Like the solar eclipse that had obscured the Illinois sun in July, Lincoln remained in Springfield, hidden in full view.
Inside what one visiting reporter described as the "plain, neat looking, two story" corner house where he had lived with his family for 16 years, Lincoln prepared to accept the people's verdict. In his second-floor bedroom, he no doubt dressed in his usual formal black suit, pulling his long arms into a frock coat worn over a stiff white shirt and collar and a black waistcoat. As always, he wound a black tie carelessly round his sinewy neck and pulled tight-fitting boots—how could they be otherwise?—over his gargantuan feet. He likely greeted Mary and their two younger sons, 9-year-old Willie and 7-year-old Tad, at the dining table. (The eldest, Robert, had recently begun his freshman year at Harvard.)
Lincoln probably took his usual spare breakfast with the family—an egg and toast washed down with coffee. Eventually he donned the signature stovepipe hat he kept on an iron hook in the front hall. Then, as always—unaccompanied by retinues of security men or political aides—he stepped outside, turned toward the Illinois State Capitol some five blocks to the northwest and marched on toward his headquarters.
The bracing air that greeted Lincoln may have surprised—even worried—him. The unseasonable chill could dampen voter turnout. As the morning warmed, however, reports of sun-drenched, cloudless skies from one end of the state to the other stirred Republican hearts, clement weather being crucial to the task of enticing widely scattered rural voters, predominantly Republican, to distant polling places.
Once notorious for its muddy streets and freely roaming pigs, Springfield now boasted outdoor, gas-fed lighting a large and growing population of lawyers, doctors and merchants and clusters of two- and three-story brick structures surmounting wood-plank sidewalks.
Looming with almost incongruous grandeur over the city was the imposing State House, its red-painted copper cupola rising twice as tall as any other structure in town. Here, since his nomination in May, Lincoln had maintained his official headquarters—and his official silence—in a second-floor corner suite customarily reserved for the state's governor. For six months, Lincoln had here welcomed visitors, told "amusing stories," posed for painters, accumulated souvenirs, worked on selected correspondence and scoured the newspapers. Now he was headed there to pass his final hours as a candidate for president.
Lincoln entered the limestone State House from the south through its oversized pine doors. He ambled past its Supreme Court chamber, where he had argued many cases during his 24-year legal career, and past the adjacent libraries where he had researched the sensational speech he had delivered at Cooper Union nine months earlier in New York City. Then he climbed the interior staircase, at the top of which stood the ornate Assembly chamber where, in 1858, he had accepted the Republican Senate nomination with his rousing "House Divided" address.
Keeping his thoughts to himself as usual, Lincoln headed to a 15-foot-by-25-foot carpeted reception room and smaller adjacent office, simply furnished with both upholstered and plain wooden chairs, a desk and a table—ceded to him these many months by the new governor, John Wood.
Here the journalists who arrived to cover Lincoln's movements this Election Day encountered the candidate, "surrounded by an abattis [sic] of disheveled newspapers and in comfortable occupancy of two chairs, one supporting his body, the other his heels." Entering the crowded room to a hearty "come in, sir," a New York newspaperman was struck by the candidate's "easy, old fashioned, off-handed manner," and was surprised to find "none of that hard, crusty, chilly look about him" that "dominated most campaign portraits." Doing his best to display his "winning manner" and "affability," Lincoln spent the early part of the day "receiving and entertaining such visitors as called upon him," respectfully rising each time a new delegation arrived. "These were both numerous and various—representing, perhaps as many tempers and as many nationalities as could easily be brought together at the West."
When, for example, "some rough-jacketed constituents" burst in, who, "having voted for him. expressed a wish to look at their man," Lincoln received them "kindly" until they "went away, thoroughly satisfied in every manner." To a delegation of New Yorkers, Lincoln feigned displeasure, chiding them that he would have felt better had they stayed home to vote. Similarly, when a New York reporter arrived to shadow him, he raised an eyebrow and scolded: "a vote is a vote every vote counts."
But when a visitor asked whether he worried that Southern states would secede if he won, Lincoln turned serious. "They might make a little stir about it before," he said. "But if they waited until after the inauguration and for some overt act, they would wait all their lives." Unappreciated in the excitement of the hour was this hint at a policy of nonaggression.
On this tense day, Lincoln offered the hopeful view that "elections in this country were like 'big boils'—they caused a great deal of pain before they came to a head, but after the trouble was over the body was in better health than before." Eager as he was for the campaign to "come to a head," Lincoln delayed casting his own vote. As the clock ticked away, he remained secluded in the Governor's suite, "surrounded by friends. apparently as unconcerned as the most obscure man in the nation," occasionally glancing out the window to the crowded polling place across Capitol Square.
As Lincoln dawdled, more than four million white males began registering their choices for the presidency. In must-win New York, patrician lawyer George Templeton Strong, an ardent Lincoln supporter, sensed history in the making. "A memorable day," he wrote in his diary. "We do not know yet for what. Perhaps for the disintegration of the country, perhaps for another proof that the North is timid and mercenary, perhaps for demonstration that Southern bluster is worthless. We cannot tell yet what historical lesson the event of November 6, 1860, will teach, but the lesson cannot fail to be weighty."
The Virginia extremist Edmund Ruffin also wanted Lincoln to win—though for a different reason. Like many fellow secessionists, Ruffin hoped a Lincoln victory would embolden the South to quit the Union. Earlier that year, the agricultural theorist and political agitator had published a piece of speculative fiction entitled Anticipations of the Future, in which he flatly predicted that "the obscure and coarse Lincoln" would be "elected by the sectional Abolition Party of the North," which in turn would justify Southern resistance to "oppression and impending subjugation"—namely, a fight for "independence."
Several hundred miles to the north, in the abolitionist hotbed of Quincy, Massachusetts, Charles Francis Adams—Republican Congressional candidate, son of one American president, grandson of another and proud heir to a long family tradition of antislavery—proudly "voted the entire ticket of the Republicans," exulting: "It is a remarkable idea to reflect that all over this broad land at this moment the process of changing the rulers is peacefully going on and what a change in all probability." Even so, Adams had hoped for a different Republican—William Seward—to win the nomination.
Closer to Springfield—and perhaps truer to the divided spirit of America—a veteran of the Mexican War evinced conflicted emotions about the choices his Galena, Illinois, neighbors faced. "By no means a 'Lincoln man,' " Ulysses S. Grant nonetheless seemed resigned to the Republican's success. "The fact is I think the Democratic party want a little purifying and nothing will do it so effectually as a defeat," asserted the retired soldier, now starting life anew in the family's leather-tanning business. "The only thing is, I don't like to see a Republican beat the party."
In Stephen A. Douglas' hometown of Chicago, meanwhile, voters braved two-hour waits in lines four blocks long. But Douglas was not there to cast a vote of his own. On the southern leg of a multi-city tour, he found himself in Mobile, Alabama, where he may have taken solace that Lincoln's name did not even appear on that state's ballots—or, for that matter, on any of the nine additional Deep South states. The man who had beaten Lincoln for the Senate only two years earlier now stood to lose his home state—and with it, the biggest prize in American politics—to the very same man.
As of Election Day, Lincoln had successfully avoided not only his three opponents, but also his own running mate, Hannibal Hamlin. Republicans had nominated the Maine senator for vice president without Lincoln's knowledge or consent—true to another prevailing political custom that left such choices exclusively to the delegates—in an attempt to balance the ticket. After asking a mutual acquaintance to convey his "respects" to Hamlin a week after the convention, Lincoln waited a full two months before initiating direct communication. Even then, pointing out that both of them had served in the 30th Congress from 1847 to 1849—Lincoln as a congressman and Hamlin as a senator—Lincoln admitted, "I have no recollection that we were introduced." Almost grudgingly did he add: "It appears to me that you and I ought to be acquainted."
Now, on Election Day, the Republican Party's running mates would be voting much as they had "run": separately and silently.
Frederick Douglass was skeptical. Like Lincoln, the former slave turned passionate civil rights pioneer was self-educated, a brilliant writer and a captivating orator. And while both men rejected the idea that the Constitution gave Americans the right to own slaves, Douglass did not agree that the Constitution protected slavery in states where it had existed before the founding of the Republic or in Southern states that had joined the Union since. And while Douglass decried "threats of violence" against Republicans in Kentucky and other states "and the threats of dissolution of the Union in case of the election of Lincoln," he could not bring himself to praise Lincoln directly. Their warm personal acquaintance would not begin for several more years.
Springfield's actual polling place, set up in a courtroom two flights upstairs at the oblong-shaped Sangamon County Court House at Sixth and Washington streets, consisted of two partially enclosed "voting windows close beside each other," one for Democrats, one for Republicans. It was "a peculiar arrangement" in the view of the correspondent from St. Louis, but one that had been "practiced in Springfield for several years." A voter had only to pick up the preprinted ballot of his choice outside, and then ascend the stairs to announce his own name to an election clerk and deposit the ballot in a clear glass bowl. This was secret in name only: voters openly clutching their distinctly tinted, ornately designed forms while waiting in line signaled precisely how they intended to vote. The system all but guaranteed bickering and ill feelings.
In this roiling atmosphere, it was hardly surprising that Lincoln had replied almost defensively to a neighbor about how he planned to vote. "For Yates," he said—Richard Yates, the Republican candidate for governor of Illinois. But "How vote" on "the presidential question?" the bystander persisted. To which Lincoln replied: "Well. by ballot," leaving onlookers "all laughing." Until Election Day afternoon, Lincoln's law partner William Herndon was convinced that Lincoln would bow to the "feeling that the candidate for a Presidential office ought not to vote for his own electors" and cast no ballot whatsoever.
But around 3:30 p.m., he peered out the window toward the crowd surrounding the courthouse, slipped out of the Governor's Room, headed downstairs and "walked leisurely over to deposit his vote," accompanied by a small group of friends and protectors to "see him safely through the mass of men at the voting place."
As Lincoln reached the courthouse to cheers and shouts from surprised Republicans, "friends almost lifted him off the ground and would have carried him to the polls [but] for interference." The "dense crowd," Lincoln's future assistant secretary John M. Hay recalled, "began to shout with. wild abandon" even as they "respectfully opened a passage for him from the street to the polls." People shouted out "Old Abe!" "Uncle Abe!" "Honest Abe!" and "The Giant Killer!" Even Democratic supporters, Herndon marveled, "acted politely—civilly & respectfully, raising their hats to him as he passed on through them."
A New York Tribune reporter on the scene confirmed that "all party feelings seemed to be forgotten, and even the distributors of opposition tickets joined in the overwhelming demonstrations of greeting." Every Republican agent in the street fought for "the privilege of handing Lincoln his ballot." A throng followed him inside, John Nicolay reported, pursuing him "in dense numbers along the hall and up the stairs into the court room which was also crowded." The cheering that greeted him there was even more deafening than in the street, and once again came from both sides of the political spectrum.
After he "urged his way" to the voting table, Lincoln followed ritual by formally identifying himself in a subdued tone: "Abraham Lincoln." Then he "deposited the straight Republican ticket" after first cutting his own name, and those of the electors pledged to him, from the top of his preprinted ballot so he could vote for other Republicans without immodestly voting for himself.
Making his way back to the door, the candidate smiled broadly at well-wishers, doffing the black top hat that made him appear, in the words of a popular campaign song, "in h[e]ight somewhat less than a steeple," and bowed with as much grace as he could summon. Though the "crush was too great for comfortable conversation," a number of excited neighbors grabbed Lincoln by the hand or tried offering a word or two as he inched forward.
Somehow, he eventually made his way through this gantlet and back downstairs, where he encountered yet another throng of frenzied well-wishers. Now they shed all remaining inhibitions, "seizing his hands, and throwing their arms around his neck, body or legs and grasping his coat or anything they could lay hands on, and yelling and acting like madmen." Lincoln made his way back to the Capitol. By 4 p.m. he was safely back inside "his more quiet quarters," where he again "turned to the entertainment of his visitors as unconcernedly as if he had not just received a demonstration which anybody might well take a little time to think of and be proud over."
Even with the people's decision only hours away, Lincoln still managed to look relaxed as he exchanged stories with his intimates, perhaps keeping busy in order to remain calm himself. Samuel Weed thought it remarkable that "Mr. Lincoln had a lively interest in the election, but. scarcely ever alluded to himself." To hear him, noted Weed, "one would have concluded that the District Attorneyship of a county in Illinois was of far more importance than the Presidency itself." Lincoln's "good nature never deserted him, and yet underneath I saw an air of seriousness, which in reality dominated the man."
After four o'clock, telegrams bearing scattered early returns began trickling in, uniformly predicting Republican successes across the North. When one cantankerous dispatch expressed the hope that the Republican would triumph so his state, South Carolina, "would soon be free," Lincoln scoffed, recalling that he had received several such letters in recent weeks, some signed, others anonymous. Then his expression darkened and he handed the telegram to Ozias Hatch with the remark that its author, a former congressman, "would bear watching." Indirect as it was, this was the candidate's first expression that he expected soon to be president-elect, with responsibilities that included isolating potential troublemakers. Shortly thereafter, around 5 p.m. Lincoln walked home, presumably to take dinner. There he remained with his family for more than two hours.
When Lincoln returned to the state house around 7 to resume reading dispatches, he still displayed "a most marvelous equanimity." Down the corridor, inside the cavernous, gas-lit Representative Hall, nearly 500 Republican faithful massed for a "lively time." The chamber "was filled nearly all night," Nicolay recalled, by a crowd "shouting, yelling, singing, dancing, and indulging in all sorts [of] demonstrations of happiness as the news came in."
Weed distinctly remembered the candidate's silent but evocative reaction when the first real returns finally arrived. "Mr. Lincoln was calm and collected as ever in his life, but there was a nervous twitch on his countenance when the messenger from the telegraph office entered, that indicated an anxiety within that no coolness from without could repress." It turned out to be a wire from Decatur "announcing a handsome Republican gain" over the presidential vote four years earlier. The room erupted with shouts at the news, and supporters bore the telegram into the hallway "as a trophy of victory to be read to the crowd."
Further numbers proved agonizingly slow in coming.
The day before, the town's principal telegraph operator had invited Lincoln to await the returns at the nearby Illinois & Mississippi Telegraph Company headquarters, in whose second-floor office, the man had promised, "you can receive the good news without delay," and without "a noisy crowd inside." By nine o'clock, Lincoln could resist no longer. Accompanied by Hatch, Nicolay and Jesse K. Dubois, Lincoln strode across the square, ascended the stairs of the telegraph building and installed himself on a sofa "comfortably near the instruments."
For a time, the growing knot of onlookers notwithstanding, the small room remained eerily quiet, the only sounds coming from "the rapid clicking of the rival instruments, and the restless movements of the few most anxious among the party of men who hovered" around the wood-and-brass contraptions whose worn ivory keys pulsated magically.
At first the "throbbing messages from near and far" arrived in "fragmentary driblets," Nicolay remembered, then in a "rising and swelling stream of cheering news." Each time a telegraph operator transcribed the latest coded messages onto a mustard-colored paper form, the three-by-five-inch sheet was quickly "lifted from the table. clutched by some of the most ardent news-seekers, and sometimes, in the hurry and scramble, would be read by almost every person present before it reached him for whom it was intended."
For a while, the telegraph company's resident superintendent, John J. S. Wilson, grandly announced every result aloud. But eventually the telegraph operators began handing Lincoln each successive message, which, with slow-motion care, "he laid on his knee while he adjusted his spectacles, and then read and reread several times with deliberation." Despite the uproar provoked by each, the candidate received every piece of news "with an almost immovable tranquility." It was not that he attempted to conceal "the keen interest he felt in every new development," an onlooker believed, only that his "intelligence moved him to less energetic display of gratification" than his supporters. "It would have been impossible," another witness agreed, "for a bystander to tell that that tall, lean, wiry, good-natured, easy-going gentleman, so anxiously inquiring about the success of the local candidates, was the choice of the people to fill the most important office in the nation."
Lincoln had won Chicago by 2,500 votes, and all of Cook County by 4,000. Handing over the crucial dispatch, Lincoln said, "Send it to the boys," and supporters whisked it across the square to the State House. Moments later, cheering could be heard all the way to the telegraph office. The ovation lasted a full 30 seconds. Indiana reported a majority of "over twenty thousand for honest old Abe," followed by similarly good news from Wisconsin and Iowa. Pittsburgh declared: "Returns already recd indicate a maj for Lincoln in the city by Ten Thousand[.]" From the City of Brotherly Love came news that "Philadelphia will give you maj about 5 & plurality of 15" thousand. Connecticut reported a "10,000 Rep. Maj."
Even negative news from Southern states like Virginia, Delaware and Maryland left the nominee "very much pleased" because the numbers from these solidly Democratic strongholds might have been far worse. Notwithstanding this growing arsenal of good news, the group remained nervously impatient for returns from the swing state of New York, whose mother lode of 35 electoral votes might determine whether the election would be decided this very night or later in the uncertain House of Representatives. Then came a momentous report from the Empire State and its impulsive Republican chairman, Simeon Draper: "The city of New York will more than meet your expectations." Between the lines, the wire signaled that the overwhelmingly Democratic metropolis had failed to produce the majorities Douglas needed to offset the Republican tide upstate.
Amid the euphoria that greeted this news, Lincoln remained the "coolest man in that company." When the report of a probable 50,000-vote victory quickly followed from Massachusetts, Lincoln merely commented in mock triumph that it was "a clear case of the Dutch taking Holland." Meanwhile, with only a few intimates able to fit inside the modest telegraph office, crowds built in the square outside, where, the New York Tribune reported, rumors "of the most gigantic and imposing dimensions" began wildly circulating: Southerners in Washington had set fire to the capital. Jeff Davis had proclaimed rebellion in Mississippi and Stephen Douglas had been seized as a hostage in Alabama. Blood was running in the streets of New York. Anyone emerging from the telegraph station to deny these and kindred rumors was set down as having his own reasons for concealing the dreadful truth.
Shortly after midnight, Lincoln and his party walked to the nearby "ice cream saloon" operated by William W. Watson & Son on the opposite side of Capitol Square. Here a contingent of Republican ladies had set up "a table spread with coffee, sandwiches, cake, oysters and other refreshments for their husbands and friends." At Watson's, the Missouri Democrat reported, Lincoln "came as near to being killed by kindness as a man can conveniently be without serious results."
Mary Lincoln attended the collation, too, as "an honored guest." For a time, she sat near her husband in what was described as "a snug Republican seat in the corner," surrounded by friends and "enjoying her share of the triumph." A fervent political partisan in her own right who had viewed the October state results in both Indiana and Pennsylvania as extremely hopeful signs, Mary had become more anxious than her husband in the final days of the campaign. "I scarcely know, how I would bear up, under defeat," she had confided to her friend Hannah Shearer.
"Instead of toasts and sentiment," eyewitness Newton Bateman remembered, "we had the reading of telegrams from every quarter of the country." Each time the designated reader mounted a chair to announce the latest results, the numbers—depending on which candidate it favored—elicited either "anxious glances" or "shouts that made the very building shake." According to Bateman, the candidate himself read one newly arrived telegram from Philadelphia. "All eyes were fixed upon his tall form and slightly trembling lips, as he read in a clear and distinct voice: 'The city and state for Lincoln by a decisive majority,' and immediately added in slow, emphatic terms, and with a significant gesture of the forefinger: 'I think that settles it.' "
If the matter remained in doubt, the long-awaited dispatch from New York soon arrived with a tally that all but confirmed that Lincoln would indeed win the biggest electoral prize of the evening—and with it, the presidency. The celebrants instantly crowded around him, "overwhelming him with congratulations." Describing the reaction—in which "men fell into each other's arms shouting and crying, yelling like mad, jumping up and down"—one of the celebrants compared the experience to "bedlam let loose." Hats flew into the air, "men danced who had never danced before," and "huzzahs rolled out upon the night."
In the State House, "men pushed each other—threw up their hats—hurrahed—cheered for Lincoln. cheered for New York—cheered for everybody—and some actually laid down on the carpeted floor and rolled over and over." One eyewitness reported a "perfectly wild" scene, with Republicans "singing, yelling! Shouting!! The boys (not children) dancing. Old men, young, middle aged, clergymen, and all. wild with excitement and glory."
As church bells began pealing, Lincoln eased past the dense throng of Watson's well-wishers, "slipped out quietly looking grave and anxious," and headed back toward the telegraph office to receive the final reports.
He appeared to steel himself. One observer saw him pacing up and down the sidewalk before re-entering the Illinois & Mississippi building. Another glimpsed his silhouette, his head bowed to stare at the latest dispatch while "standing under the gas jets" that lit the streets. Back inside, wires from Buffalo sealed the state—and the White House—for the Republicans. The final telegram from New York ended with the words: "We tender you our congratulations upon this magnificent victory."
Though the crowd inside the telegraph office greeted this climactic news with lusty cheering, Lincoln merely stood to read the pivotal telegram "with evident marks of pleasure," then silently sank back into his seat. Jesse K. Dubois tried to break the tension by asking his old friend: "Well, Uncle Abe, are you satisfied now?" All Lincoln allowed himself to say was: "Well, the agony is most over, and you will soon be able to go to bed."
But the revelers had no intention of retiring for the night. Instead they emptied into the streets and massed outside the telegraph office, shouting "New York 50,000 majority for Lincoln—whoop, whoop hurrah!" The entire city "went off like one immense cannon report, with shouting from houses, shouting from stores, shouting from house tops, and shouting everywhere." Others reacted more solemnly. One of the final telegrams Lincoln received that night came from an anonymous admirer who signed himself only as "one of those who am glad today." It read: "God has honored you this day, in the sight of all the people. Will you honor Him in the White House?"
Abraham Lincoln won election as the 16th president of the United States by carrying every Northern state save New Jersey. No candidate had ever before taken the presidency with such an exclusively regional vote. In the end, Lincoln would amass 180 electoral votes in all—comfortably more than the 152 required for an absolute majority. Lincoln could also take comfort from the fact that the rapidly growing nation awarded him more popular votes than any man who had ever run for president,866,452 in all, 28,000 more votes than Democrat James Buchanan had earned in winning the presidency four years earlier. But Lincoln's votes amounted to a shade under 40 percent of the total cast, second only to John Quincy Adams as the smallest share ever collected by a victor. And the national tally alone did not tell the full story.
Testifying alarmingly to the deep rift cleaving North from South, and presaging the challenges soon to face his administration, was the anemic support Lincoln garnered in the few Southern states where his name was allowed to appear on the ballot. In Virginia, Lincoln received just 1,929 votes out of 167,223 cast—barely 1 percent. The result was even worse in his native Kentucky: 1,364 out of 146,216 votes cast.
Analyzed geographically, the total result gave Lincoln a decisive 54 percent in the North and West, but only 2 percent in the South—the most lopsided vote in American history. Moreover, most of the 26,000 votes Lincoln earned in all five slaveholding states where he was allowed to compete came from a single state—Missouri, whose biggest city, St. Louis, included many German-born Republicans.
Forced to "the lamentable conclusion that Abraham Lincoln has been elected President," the anti-Republican Washington Constitution forecast "gloom and storm and much to chill the heart of every patriot in the land. We can understand the effect that will be produced in every Southern mind when he reads the news this morning—that he is now called on to decide for himself, his children, and his children's children whether he will submit tamely to the rule of one elected on account of his hostility to him and his, or whether he will make a struggle to defend his rights, his inheritance, and his honor."
According to a visiting journalist, Springfield remained "alive and animated throughout the night." Rallies continued until dawn, growing so "uncontrollable" by 4 a.m. that revelers toted back the cannon with which they had inaugurated Election Day and now made it again "thunder rejoicings for the crowd." John Nicolay tried going to bed at 4:30 but "couldn't sleep for the shouting and firing guns." By most accounts, the celebrations ended only with daybreak.
No one is entirely sure when Lincoln himself finally retired. According to one eyewitness, he left the telegraph office for his house at 1:30 a.m. according to another, shortly after 2. Not until 4:45 a.m. did the New York Tribune receive a final bulletin from its Springfield correspondent confirming that "Mr. Lincoln has just bid good-night to the telegraph office and gone home."
Moments before his departure, whenever it came, Lincoln at last received the final returns from his hometown—a matter about which he admitted he "did not feel quite easy," national victory notwithstanding. But Lincoln could take heart. Though he lost Sangamon County to Douglas by a whisker,556 to 3,598—he won the hotly contested city of Springfield by all of 22 votes. At this latest news, "for the first and only time" that night, Lincoln "departed from his composure, and manifested his pleasure by a sudden exuberant utterance—neither a cheer nor a crow, but something partaking of the nature of each"—after which he "contentedly" laughed out loud.
The president-elect thanked the telegraph operators for their hard work and hospitality, and stuffed the final dispatch from New York into his pocket as a souvenir. It was about time, he announced to one and all, that he "went home and told the news to a tired woman who was sitting up for him."
To several observers, Lincoln suddenly seemed graver—his thoughts far away. Nicolay could see the "pleasure and pride at the completeness of his success" melt into melancholy. The "momentary glow" of triumph yielded to "the appalling shadow of his mighty task and responsibility. It seemed as if he suddenly bore the whole world upon his shoulders, and could not shake it off." Even as the outer man continued absentmindedly studying final election returns, the "inner man took up the crushing burden of his country's troubles, and traced out the laborious path of future duties." Only later did Lincoln tell Gideon Welles of Connecticut that from the moment he allowed himself to believe he had won the election, he indeed felt "oppressed with the overwhelming responsibility that was upon him."
From "boyhood up," Lincoln had confided to his old friend Ward Hill Lamon, "my ambition was to be President." Now reality clouded the fulfillment of that lifelong dream. Amid "10,000 crazy people" outside, the president-elect of the United States slowly descended the stairs of the Illinois & Mississippi telegraphic office and disappeared down the street, "without a sign of anything unusual."
A contemporary later heard that Lincoln arrived home to find his wife not waiting up for him, but fast asleep. He "gently touched her shoulder" and whispered her name, to which "she made no answer." Then, as Lincoln recounted: "I spoke again, a little louder, saying 'Mary, Mary! we are elected!' " Minutes before, the final words his friends heard him utter that night were: "God help me, God help me."
From Lincoln President-Elect by Harold Holzer. Copyright © 2008 by Harold Holzer. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., NY.
THE ELECTION OF 1860
The election of 1860 triggered the collapse of American democracy when the elevation of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency inspired secessionists in the South to withdraw their states from the Union.
Lincoln’s election owed much to the disarray in the Democratic Party. The Dred Scott decision and the Freeport Doctrine had opened up huge sectional divisions among Democrats. Though Brown did not intend it, his raid had furthered the split between northern and southern Democrats. Fire-Eaters vowed to prevent a northern Democrat, especially Illinois’s Stephen Douglas, from becoming their presidential candidate. These proslavery zealots insisted on a southern Democrat.
The Democratic nominating convention met in April 1860 in Charleston, South Carolina. However, it broke up after northern Democrats, who made up a majority of delegates, rejected Jefferson Davis’s efforts to protect slavery in the territories. These northern Democratic delegates knew that supporting Davis on this issue would be very unpopular among the people in their states. A second conference, held in Baltimore, further illustrated the divide within the Democratic Party. Northern Democrats nominated Stephen Douglas, while southern Democrats, who met separately, put forward Vice President John Breckinridge from Kentucky. The Democratic Party had fractured into two competing sectional factions.
By offering two candidates for president, the Democrats gave the Republicans an enormous advantage. Also hoping to prevent a Republican victory, pro-Unionists from the border states organized the Constitutional Union Party and put up a fourth candidate, John Bell, for president, who pledged to end slavery agitation and preserve the Union but never fully explained how he’d accomplish this objective. In a pro-Lincoln political cartoon of the time ([link]), the presidential election is presented as a baseball game. Lincoln stands on home plate. A skunk raises its tail at the other candidates. Holding his nose, southern Democrat John Breckinridge holds a bat labeled “Slavery Extension” and declares “I guess I’d better leave for Kentucky, for I smell something strong around here, and begin to think, that we are completely skunk’d.”
The Republicans nominated Lincoln, and in the November election, he garnered a mere 40 percent of the popular vote, though he won every northern state except New Jersey. (Lincoln’s name was blocked from even appearing on many southern states’ ballots by southern Democrats.) More importantly, Lincoln did gain a majority in the Electoral College ([link]). The Fire-Eaters, however, refused to accept the results. With South Carolina leading the way, Fire-Eaters in southern states began to withdraw formally from the United States in 1860. South Carolinian Mary Boykin Chesnut wrote in her diary about the reaction to the Lincoln’s election. “Now that the black radical Republicans have the power,” she wrote, “I suppose they will Brown us all.” Her statement revealed many southerners’ fear that with Lincoln as President, the South could expect more mayhem like the John Brown raid.
Election of 1860
Written by Peter Joseph, RHAM High School, Hebron, Connecticut
Grade Level: High school, designed for 11th grade general level U.S. History curriculum
Expected Class Sessions to Complete: Two 45-minute class periods
Objectives: Students will be able to:
- Identify causes of secession
- Identify reasons for remaining in the Union
- Synthesize historical information and create a course of action
- Present a logical argument for a course of action
Skill Sets Used:
Historic Newspaper Articles
- The Past and Present Great Republics of the World- the Secession Movement- Lessons of History, New York Herald, Jan. 1, 1861, pg. 4
- A Genuine Union Speech, Milwaukee Sentinel, Jan. 6, 1861, pg. 2
- The Southern Confederacy: No Temporizing, Georgia Weekly Telegraph, Feb. 7, 1861, pg. 3
- Dissolution and its Consequences “The Inexorable Logic of Events”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 22, 1860, pg. 4
- States' Rights
Before the lesson: Students should have already read the applicable textbook sections on the election of 1860.
The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 placed the nation at a crossroads. Throughout the campaign the fire-eaters in the Deep South had pledged to destroy the Union if Lincoln or any Republican was elected. In their eyes, Lincoln and the Republicans would destroy the Southern way of life by abolishing the institution of slavery. Secession conventions were called across the South, as states decided whether or not to remain in the Union.
The class will be simulating its own secession convention. The articles discuss potential problems surrounding Lincoln's election, secession, or the aftermath of a state's decision to secede. The instructor may need to help students see how the assigned article for their group fits into the debate over secession.
- Divide the class into pairs or groups of three. Each group represents one county of our state, and will have one vote as we make our decision.
- Each group should be given the article The Past and Present Great Republics of the World as well as one other newspaper article from 1860. Based on these two readings, the students need to complete the following tasks:
- Identify arguments for and against secession
- Identify arguments for and against remaining in the Union
- Take a position on the issue. Using the supplied readings, as well as their knowledge of the time period, draft a persuasive letter or speech arguing for or against secession from the Union.
- Each group should create a poster advocating their position, and create a 30-second speech/commercial to inform the voters of their position
- One student from each group will present the speech/commercial to the class.
- After each group in the class has presented their speech/commercial, the class should take a vote as to whether to secede from the United States based on the election of Abraham Lincoln.
Suggestions for Evaluation:
Students can be evaluated on their speech/commercial, or on their poster
- Students write a brief description of what happens next based on their decision. What new challenges and difficulties do they face? If they seceded, what is their next step? If they remained loyal, how do they help the Union effort?
If class opted for secession, have them create a new state constitution
If class opted for remaining in the Union, draft a letter to President Lincoln advising him on how to deal with Forth Sumter and the rebellion.
II. Time, Continuity, & Change
b. Apply key concepts such as time, chronology, causality, change, conflict, and complexity to explain, analyze, and show connections among patterns of historical change and continuity
d. Systematically employ processes of critical historical inquiry to reconstruct and reinterpret the past, such as using a variety of sources and checking their credibility, validating and weighing evidence for claims, and searching for causality.
IV. Power, Authority, & Governance
b. Explain the purpose of government and analyze how its powers are acquired and justified
d. Compare and analyze the ways nations and organizations respond to conflicts between forces of unity and forces of diversity
f. Analyze and evaluate conditions, actions, and motivations that contribute to conflict and cooperation within and among nations
Connecticut State Frameworks for the Social Studies
Standard 1: Content Knowledge
1.1- Demonstrate an understanding of significant events and themes in United States history.
1.7- Explain the purpose, structures, and functions of government and law at the local, state, national, and international levels.
1.8- Describe the interactions between citizens and their government in making and implementation of laws.
Standard 2: History/Social Studies Literacy
2.1- Access and gather information from a variety of primary and secondary sources, including electronic media
2.2- Interpret information from a variety of primary and secondary sources, including electronic media
2.3- Create various forms of written work to demonstrate an understanding of history and social studies issues
2.4- Demonstrate an ability to participate in social studies discourse through informed discussion, debate, and effective oral presentation
3.1- Use evidence to identify, analyze, and evaluate historical interpretations
3.2- Analyze and evaluate human action in historical and/or contemporary contexts from alternative points of view.
Hopes, Fears and the Election of 1860
Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.
Eighteen sixty was a year of mixed feelings of hope and fear.
Americans had hope for the future, because they would be electing a new president. But they had fear that even a new president could not hold the nation together. The states of the South were very close to leaving the Union over the issue of slavery.
This week in our series, Tony Riggs and Frank Oliver talk about the candidates and the issues in the election of 1860.
After four years as president, James Buchanan decided not to run again. Buchanan was a Democrat. His party, like the nation, was split over slavery. Southern Democrats wanted the party to support slavery. Northern Democrats refused.
The opposition Republican Party expected to gain votes from dissatisfied Democrats. Republicans had become stronger since the last presidential election in 1856. They felt their candidate would win in 1860.
The Democratic nominating convention opened in April in Charleston, South Carolina. Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois was the leading candidate. He had the support of a majority of convention delegates. But he did not have the two-thirds majority needed to win the nomination.
Many Southern Democrats did not like Stephen Douglas. Some did not trust him. Others did not accept his policies on slavery. Douglas did not oppose slavery or the spread of slavery. However, he said no federal law could make slavery legal in a territory where the people did not want it. This was his policy of "popular sovereignty."
The Southern Democrats who opposed Stephen Douglas were led by William Yancey of Alabama. Yancey wanted to get a pro-slavery statement into the party's platform. He was sure Douglas would not accept the nomination based on such a platform.
If Yancey failed to get the statement he wanted, he would take Southern Democrats out of the convention. And out of the party.
The committee on resolutions considered three platforms. One platform declared that the people of a territory had the right to decide if slavery would be legal or illegal. The second declared that the Supreme Court had that right. And the third declared that no one did -- that slavery was legal everywhere.
William Yancey spoke to the convention in support of the pro-slavery platform. He said pro-slavery Democrats did not want to destroy the union. But he said someone had to make clear to anti-slavery Democrats that the union would be dissolved if the constitutional rights of slave owners were not honored.
Yancey spoke of the danger of a great slave rebellion. He described it as a sleeping volcano that threatened the lives, property, and honor of the people of the South. He said the actions of the North might cause that volcano to explode.
Another convention delegate answered Yancey's speech. He said Northern Democrats were tired of defending the interests of the South. "Now," he said, "Yancey tells us we must agree that slavery is right. He orders us to hide our faces and eat dirt. Gentlemen of the South," he said, "you mistake us. We will not do it!"
In this atmosphere of tension, it was clear that a pro-slavery platform would not be approved. The Alabama delegation announced that, therefore, it must withdraw. The delegations from the other six states of the Deep South -- Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas -- did the same.
Those fifty men organized their own convention. They approved a pro-slavery platform, but did not nominate anyone for president. They agreed to meet again a few weeks later in Richmond, Virginia.
The Northern Democrats postponed their nomination, too. They agreed to meet again in Baltimore, Maryland.
The Republican Party held its presidential nominating convention in Chicago, Illinois. There was no question who was the leading candidate. He was the best-known Republican in the country at that time: Senator William Seward of New York.
The Republican platform seemed to contain something for everyone.
For those opposed to slavery, the platform rejected the idea that slave owners had a constitutional right to take slaves into new territories. For foreign-born Americans, it supported their right to full citizenship. For manufacturers, it proposed a new tax on imports to protect American industry. And for those in the northwest, it called for free land for settlers, and federal aid to build roads and canals.
Delegates approved the platform with loud cheers. They would return the next day to nominate their candidate for president.
William Seward was sure he would win the nomination. If not on the first vote, he thought, then on the second. But there was some opposition to Seward. And his campaign organization failed to see its strength.
The candidate of the opposition was Abraham Lincoln.
The Republican convention voted three times. Lincoln gained support on each ballot. But neither he nor Seward received enough votes for the nomination. Then, before a fourth vote could be taken, a delegate from Ohio asked to speak. The big room became silent. "Mr. chairman," he said, "I rise to announce the change of four votes of Ohio to Mr. Lincoln."
That was enough to give Abraham Lincoln the Republican nomination for president.
One month later, the Democrats re-opened their nominating convention. Most of the Southern Democrats who walked out of the first meeting came back. Many of their seats at the convention had been given to new delegates. So a new dispute arose over which delegates had the right to be there.
A compromise plan split the seats between old and new delegates. But most of the Southerners rejected it. One by one, a majority of each Southern delegation walked out. The remaining Democrats then voted for a candidate. They chose Stephen Douglas.
Southern Democrats nominated their own candidate, John Breckinridge of Kentucky. And a group called the Constitutional Union Party nominated John Bell.
The election campaign opened in the summer of 1860. Lincoln was not well-known. So the Republican Party published many books and pamphlets about him. They told the story of a poor farm boy who educated himself and, through hard work and honesty, had become a candidate for president.
Lincoln's supporters organized a loud and colorful campaign, complete with marching bands and signs. Lincoln himself was silent. He said, "It has been my decision since becoming a candidate to make no speeches. I am here only to see you and to let you see me. "
In fact, it was Lincoln's assistants who had advised him to say nothing. They believed he had said enough in the past to make clear his position on the important issues.
Stephen Douglas, on the other hand, campaigned very hard. His health was poor. And he had trouble getting money. But that did not stop him from speaking in almost every state.
Within a few weeks, however, Douglas recognized that he had no real hope of winning. His position on slavery had cost him all support in the South.
Douglas believed that, of the other candidates, Abraham Lincoln had the best chance of winning the presidential election. He also believed pro-slavery extremists would use Lincoln's election as an excuse to take Southern states out of the union. So he turned his efforts to a campaign for the union itself.
He said, "The election of a man to the presidency by the American people, under the Constitution, is no reason for any attempt to dissolve this glorious nation."
Election day was November sixth. The popular vote was close between Lincoln and Douglas. But the electoral vote was not. Lincoln received one hundred eighty. Breckinridge received seventy-two. Bell received thirty-nine. And Douglas received just twelve.
Abraham Lincoln would be the new president of the United States.
He would enter office facing the most serious crisis in American history. For, before his inauguration, southern states finally acted on their threats. They began to leave the union.
Election of 1860 - History
Some Historians say State's Rights, Nationalism, and Economics were the cause, but the real answer is: "Slavery is the main cause of the Civil War".
The road to the Civil War leads to discussions of state's rights (to slavery), and differing economic systems (specifically whether those economic systems should involve slavery), and the election of Abraham Lincoln (specifically how his election impacted slavery), but none of those things would have been issues without slavery!
The most controversial section of the Compromise of 1850: The Fugitive Slave Law. You may remember that there was already a fugitive slave law written into the United States Constitution, so what made this one so controversial?
Under this new law, any citizen was required to turn in anyone he or she knew to be a slave to authorities, and that made, like, every person in New England into a sheriff, and it also required them to enforce a law they found abhorrent.
This law was also terrifying to people of color in the North because even if you, say, been born free in Massachusetts, the courts could send you into slavery if even one person swore before a judge that you were a specific slave. And many people of color responded to The Fugitive Slave Law by moving to Canada, which at the time was still technically an English colony, thereby further problematizing the whole idea that England was all about tyranny, and the United States was all about freedom.
The most important result of The Fugitive Slave Law was that it convinced some Northerners that the government was in the hands of a sinister "Slave Power." Sadly, "Slave Power" was not a heavy metal band, or a Britney Spears's new single, or even a secret organization of powerful slaves, but rather a conspiracy theory about a secret organization of pro-slavery Congressmen.
That conspiracy theory is going to grow in importance, but before we get to that, let us discuss railroads: underrated in Monopoly, and underrated in the Civil War.
Railroads made shipping cheaper and more efficient, and allowed people to move around the country quickly, and they had a huge backer, and also a tiny backer, in the form of Illinois Congressman Stephen Douglas, who wanted a transcontinental railroad because: 1) He felt it would bind the Union together (at a time when it could use some binding), and 2) He figured it would go through Illinois, which would be good for his home state. But there was a problem.
To build a railroad, the territory through which it ran need to be organized, ideally as states, and if the railroad was gonna run through Illinois, then the Kansas and Nebraska territories would need to become state-like, so Douglas pushed forward the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act formalized the idea of popular sovereignty, which basically meant that white residents of states could decide for themselves whether the state should allow slavery. Douglas felt this was a nice way of avoiding saying whether he favored slavery. Instead, he could just be in favor of letting other people be in favor of it.
If you remember from the previous Lesson 21, the Missouri Compromise banned slavery in new states north of the 36 30' line, and since in theory, Kansas or Nebraska could have slavery if people there decided they wanted it under the Kansas-Nebraska Act, despite being north of that line, this in practice repealed the Missouri Compromise. As a result, there was quite a lot of violence in Kansas, so much so that some people say the Civil War really started there in 1857. Also, the Kansas-Nebraska Act led to the creation of a new political party: The Republicans. Yes, those Republicans.
So Douglas's law helped to create a new coalition party dedicated to stopping the extension of slavery. It was made of former Free Soilers, Northern anti-slavery Whigs, and some No-Nothings. It was also a completely sectional party, meaning that it drew supporters almost exclusively from the free states in the North and West, which, you'll remember were tied together be common economic interests, and the railroad.
Remeber Slave Power? For many Northerners, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise, was yet more evidence that Congress was controlled by a sinister slave-power group, doing the bidding of rich plantation owners.
By 1854, the North was far more populous than the South - it had almost double the South's Congressional representation - but in spite of this advantage, Congress had just passed a law extending the power of slave states, and potentially, because two new states meant four new senators, making the Federal Government even more pro-slavery! And to Abolitionists, that didn't really seem like democracy.
The other reason that many Northerners cared enough about Kansas and Nebraska to abandon their old party loyalties was that having them become slave states was seen as a threat to Northerners' economic self-interest.
Remember, the West was seen as a place where individuals, specifically white individuals, could become self-sufficient farmers. As Lincoln wrote, "The whole nation is interested that the best use shall be made of these territories. We want them for the homes of free white people. This they cannot be, to any considerable extent, if slavery shall be planted within them. New free States are the places for poor people to go to and better their condition."
So the real question was, Would these Western territories have big, slave-based plantations, like happened in Mississippi, or small family farms full of frolicking free white people, like happened in Thomas Jefferson's imagination?
So the new Republican party ran its first presidential candidate in 1856, and did remarkably well - John C. Frémont, from California, picked up 39% of the vote, all of it from the North and West, and lost to the Democrat James Buchanan, who had the virtue of having spent most of the previous decade in Europe, and thus not having a position on slavery.
I mean, let me take this opportunity to remind you that James Buchanan's nickname was "The Old Public Functionary."
Meanwhile, Kansas was trying to become a state by holding election in 1854 and 1855. I say "trying", because these elections were so fraudulent that they would be funny, except that everything stopped being funny 12 years before the Civil War.
So part of the Kansas problem was that hundreds of so-called "Border Ruffians" flocked to Kansas from pro-slavery Missouri, to cast ballots in Kansas elections. Which led to people coming in form free states, and setting up their own rival governments. Fighting eventually broke out and more than 200 people were killed in fact, in 1856, pro-slavery forces laid siege to anti-slavery Lawrence, Kansas, with cannons.
One particularly violent incident involved the murder of an entire family by an anti-slavery zealot form New York, named John Brown (Lesson 20). He got away with that murder, but in the end, Kansas passed to two constitutions, because, you know, that's a good way to get started as a government. The pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution was the first that went to the U.S. Congress, and it was supported by Stephen Douglas as an example of popular sovereignty at work - except that the man who oversaw the voting in Kansas called it a "vile fraud".
Congress delayed Kansas' entry into the Union - because Congress' primary business is delay - until another, more fair, referendum took place, and after that vote, Kansas eventually did join the U.S. as a free state in 1861, by which time it was too late.
Dred Scott vs Sanford
While all this was going in Kansas and Congress, the Supreme Court was busy rendering the worst decision in its history. The Dred Scott Decision.
Dred Scott had been a slave, whose master had taken him to live in Illinois and Wisconsin, both of which barred slavery, so Scott sued, arguing that if slavery was illegal in Illinois, then living in Illinois made him definitionally not a slave.
The case took years to find its way to the Supreme Court, and eventually, in 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney from Maryland handed down his decision. The Court held that Scott was still a slave, but it went even further, attempting to settle the slavery issue once and for all.
Taney ruled that black people "had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit."
That is an actual quote, from an actual decision by the Supreme Court of the United States of America.
Taney's ruling basically said that all black people anywhere in the United States could be considered property, and that the Court was in the business of protecting that property. This meant that a slave owner could take his slaves from Mississippi and Massachusetts, and they would still be slaves.
Which meant that technically, there was no such thing as a free state - at least, that's how people in the North, especially Republicans, saw it. But the Dred Scott decision helped convince even more people that the entire government - Congress, President Buchanan, and now, the Supreme Court - were in the hands of the dreaded Slave Power.
In 1859, John Brown led a disastrous raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry hoping to capture guns and then give them to slaves who would rise up and use those guns against their masters. But Brown was an awful military commander and not a terribly clear thinker in general and the raid was an abject failure. Many of the party were killed, he was captured, and he stood trial and was sentenced to death. Thus he became a martyr to the abolitionist cause which is probably what he wanted anyway. On the morning of his hanging, he wrote: "I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood."
And so the state was set for one of the most important presidential elections in American history:
In 1860, the Republican party chose as its candidate, Abraham Lincoln who had proved his eloquence in a series of debates with Stephen Douglas when the two were running for the Senate in 1858. Lincoln lost that election, but the debates made him famous and he could appeal to immigrant voters because he wasn't associated with the Know-Nothings.
The Democrats on the other hand, were, to a historian term, a mess. The Northern wing of the party favored Stephen Douglas but he was unacceptable to voters in the Deep South so Southern Democrats nominated John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, making the Democrats, the last remaining truly national party no longer truly a national party. A third party, the Constitutional Union Party, dedicated to preserving the Constitution, quote "as it is", i.e. including slavery, nominated John Bell of Tennessee. Abraham Lincoln received zero votes in nine American states but he won 40% of the overall popular vote, including majorities in many of the most populous states, thereby winning the Electoral College. So anytime a guy becomes president who literally did not appear on your ballot, there is likely to be a problem.
The Beginning of the Civil War
And indeed Lincoln's election led to a number of southern states seceding from the Union. Lincoln himself hated slavery but repeatedly said he would leave it alone in the states where it is existed. But the demographics of Lincoln's election showed Southerners and Northerners alike that slave power, to whatever extent it had existed, was over.
By the time he took office on March 1, 1861, seven states had seceded and formed the Confederate States of America and the stage was set for the fighting to begin, which it did when Southern troops fired upon the Union garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor on April 12, 1861.
So that's when the Civil War started but it became inevitable earlier, maybe in 1857 or maybe in 1850 or maybe in 1776 or maybe in 1619 when the first African slaves arrived in Virginia. Because here's the thing: In the Dred Scott decision, Chief Justice Taney said that black Americans had "no rights which the white man was bound to respect." But this was demonstrably false! Black men had voted in elections and held property including even slaves, they appeared in court on their own behalf, they'd had rights, they'd expressed those rights when given the opportunity! And the failure of the United States to understand that the rights of black Americans were as inalienable as those of white Americans is ultimately what made the Civil War inevitable.
Presidential Election of 1860: Platforms
- Republicans: They ran on an anti-slavery platform and had been gaining power since the Presidential Election of 1856. Nominated Abraham Lincoln for President.
- Southern Democrats: John C. Breckenridge was their nomination and they were the extreme pro-slavery part of the Democratic party who threatened secession. They were also known as &ldquoFire-Eaters.&rdquo
- Constitutional Union: They took a middle ground on the slavery issue and chose to ignore it. They wanted to avoid the conflict that slavery presented. They nominated John Bell.
- Northern Democrats: They nominated Stephen Douglass, a moderate to the slavery issue. He was an author of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and had shown an ability to work with southerners on the issue of slavery.
The Election of 1860 and Secession
As the fall of 1860 approached, a four-way race for the Presidency &mdash and the future of America &mdash emerged. The ghost of John Brown, the militant abolitionist hung after his actions at Harper&rsquos Ferry, loomed large in early 1860. In April, the Democratic Party convened in Charleston, South Carolina, acknowledged bastion of secessionist thought in the South. The goal was to nominate a single candidate for the party ticket, but it became very clear that the Democratic convention would be one marked by hostility and division. The northern and southern wings of the party could not agree on any one man. Northern Democrats pulled for Senator Stephen Douglas, a pro-slavery moderate championing popular sovereignty, while Southern Democrats were intent on endorsing someone other than Douglas. The failure to include a pro-slavery platform resulted in Southern delegates walking out of the convention, preventing Douglas from gaining the two-thirds majority required for a nomination. A subsequent convention in Baltimore nominated Douglas for the Democratic ticket, while southerners nominated current Vice President John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky as their presidential candidate. The nation&rsquos oldest party had split into two over differences in policy toward slavery.
Certainly, few Americans expected a strong showing from the Republican Party. Indeed, the Republicans were hardly unified themselves. The leading men of the party all vied for their party&rsquos nomination at the Chicago convention in May 1860. There was a growing recognition among the conveners that the party&rsquos nominee would need to be someone who would be able to carry all the free states &mdash only in that situation could a Republican nominee potentially win. Such an electoral reality meant that the early favorite, New York Senator William Seward, came under attack during the convention. Some believed his pro-immigrant position would prevent him from carrying Pennsylvania and New Jersey in a general election. Abraham Lincoln, as a relatively unknown but likable politician, rose from a pool of potential candidates, and was selected by the delegates on the third ballot.
The electoral landscape was further complicated through the emergence of a fourth candidate, Tennessee&rsquos John Bell, heading the Constitutional Union Party. Lincoln carried all free states with the exception of New Jersey (which he split with Douglas). 81.2% of the voting electorate came out to vote &mdash at that point the highest ever for a presidential election. But, Lincoln&rsquos 180 electoral votes came with under 40% of the popular vote. Lincoln was trailed by Breckenridge with his 72 electoral votes, carrying 11 of the 15 slave states, Bell came in third with 39 electoral votes, with Douglas coming in last, only able to garner twelve electoral votes despite carrying almost 30% of the popular vote. All future Confederate states, with the exception of Virginia, excluded Lincoln&rsquos name from their ballots, making the victory even more remarkable.
South Carolina acted almost immediately, calling a convention to declare secession. On December 20, 1860, the South Carolina convention voted unanimously 169-0 to dissolve their Union with the United States. The other states across the Deep South soon followed suit. Mississippi adopted their own resolution on January 9, 1861, Florida followed on January 10, Alabama January 11, Georgia on January 19, Louisiana on January 26, and Texas on February 1. While Texas was the only state to put the issue up for vote amongst the entire voting population, most other states hovered around an 80% vote in favor of secession at their respective conventions.
President James Buchanan would not directly address the issue of secession prior to his term&rsquos end in early March. Any effort to try and solve the issue therefore fell upon Congress, specifically a &ldquoCommittee of Thirteen&rdquo including prominent men such as Stephen Douglas, William Seward, Robert Toombs, and John Crittenden. In what became known as &ldquoCrittenden&rsquos Compromise,&rdquo Senator Crittenden proposed a series of Constitutional Amendments that guaranteed slavery in southern states states/territories, denied the Federal Government interstate slave trade regulatory power, and offered to compensate slave owners of unrecovered fugitive slaves. The Committee of Thirteen ultimately voted down the measure and it likewise failed in the full Senate vote (25-23). Prospects for reconciliation appeared grim.
The seven seceding states met in Montgomery, Alabama on February 4th to organize a new nation. The delegates selected Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as president and established a capital in Montgomery, Alabama (it would move to Richmond in May). When Davis received the telegram, his wife later wrote, &ldquohe looked so grieved that I feared some evil had befallen our family. After a few minutes he told me like a man might speak of a sentence of death.&rdquo Out of a sense of duty, Davis accepted.
Whether the states of the Upper South would join the Confederacy remained uncertain. By the early spring of 1861, North Carolina and Tennessee had not held secession conventions, while others in Virginia, Missouri, and Arkansas initially voted down secession. Despite this boost to the Union, it became abundantly clear that these acts of loyalty in the Upper South were highly conditional and relied on a clear lack of intervention on the part of the Federal government. This was the situation facing Abraham Lincoln on his inauguration in March 4, 1861. (3)