Donate/Purchase DVDs

Transcript Archive

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Lincoln Wins Election, November 6, 1860

Today in 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th President of the United States. He was the first Republican to occupy the White House. His entire Presidency was overshadowed by the Civil War, a war that saw federal power expand as never before. Lincoln had to juggle both his duty to the win the war and his duty to unify the nation once victory was assured. While he would not live to see reunification, his handling of the war set a precedent that, although not always followed, was well remembered.

The election of 1860 was a four-way race, something that 20th century Americans would find a bit strange. The multiple parties that fielded candidates were a natural result of the division that existed in the country at the end of the 1850’s. The northern states wanted an end to slavery, both for moral and economic reasons. Many in the south viewed northern activism as interference in southern tradition and an abdication of state’s rights. The state’s rights issue found strong support in the southern states because most southerners did not own slaves, but they understood the cultural differences between north and south very well.

Abraham Lincoln won the Republican nomination on the third ballot in Chicago in May, 1860. Unlike his opponents in the new party, Lincoln had few enemies. Senator Hannibal Hamlin of Maine was chosen as his running mate. The Kentucky-born Lincoln had proven himself a gentleman and a fierce debater, the sort of combination that would be crucial if the union were to be saved.

The Democrats nominated Stephen Douglas of Illinois after 110 southern Democrats walked out of the convention over a platform dispute concerning slavery. Douglas and Lincoln had met before during their series of debates in Illinois two years earlier. The southern Democrats held their own convention in Richmond, Virginia (future capital of the Confederacy) and nominated the incumbent Vice President, Kentuckian John Breckinridge. Breckinridge was pro-slavery while Douglas was considered middle of the road on the issue.

Former Whigs and others who felt disenfranchised by the Democrats and Republicans formed the Constitutional Union Party. They nominated John Bell of Tennessee to represent them on the ticket. The party advocated compromise on the issue of slavery; Bell personally owned a large number of slaves.

With the Democrats divided and the overall vote split four ways, Lincoln won 40% of the popular vote and 180 electoral votes. Interestingly enough, Lincoln wasn’t on the ballot in nine southern states and only won two counties in the south. Douglas only won Missouri despite the fact that he had the second-highest number of popular votes. Bell won Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia; Breckenridge won the rest of the south.

As soon as the votes were finalized, the lead-up to the Civil War began. From the South Carolina state house came the announcement that “the union….is hereby dissolved.” Mere weeks after the election but before Lincoln’s inauguration, 7 states seceded from the Union and established themselves as the Confederate States of America. When Lincoln was sworn into office in March, 1861, the siege at Fort Sumter, the beginning of the war, was only six weeks in the future.

No comments: