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From Uneasy Peace to Bitter Conflict

32d. The Election of 1860

Douglas Campaign Ticket
Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War, Virginia Center for Digital History, University of Virginia
This Democratic ticket from Staunton, VA, showing Douglas as the party nominee is unusual because Douglas wasn't shown as the nominee for the Democratic Party in most of the South.

The Democrats met in Charleston, South Carolina, in April 1860 to select their candidate for President in the upcoming election. It was turmoil. Northern democrats felt that Stephen Douglas had the best chance to defeat the "Black Republicans." Although an ardent supporter of slavery, southern Democrats considered Douglas a traitor because of his support of popular sovereignty, permitting territories to choose not to have slavery. Southern democrats stormed out of the convention, without choosing a candidate. Six weeks later, the northern Democrats chose Douglas, while at a separate convention the Southern Democrats nominated then Vice-President John C. Breckenridge.

The Republicans met in Chicago that May and recognized that the Democrat's turmoil actually gave them a chance to take the election. They needed to select a candidate who could carry the North and win a majority of the Electoral College. To do that, the Republicans needed someone who could carry New Jersey, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania — four important states that remained uncertain. There were plenty of potential candidates, but in the end Abraham Lincoln had emerged as the best choice. Lincoln had become the symbol of the frontier, hard work, the self-made man and the American dream. His debates with Douglas had made him a national figure and the publication of those debates in early 1860 made him even better known. After the third ballot, he had the nomination for President.

A number of aging politicians and distinguished citizens, calling themselves the Constitutional Union Party, nominated John Bell of Tennessee, a wealthy slaveholder as their candidate for President. These people were for moderation. They decided that the best way out of the present difficulties that faced the nation was to take no stand at all on the issues that divided the north and the south.

Electoral Map of 1860
The votes of the Electoral College were split among four candidates in the 1860 presidential election. The states that Lincoln won are shown in red, Breckenridge in green, Bell in orange and Douglas in brown.
With four candidates in the field, Lincoln received only 40% of the popular vote and 180 electoral votes — enough to narrowly win the crowded election. This meant that 60% of the voters selected someone other than Lincoln. With the results tallied, the question was, would the South accept the outcome? A few weeks after the election, South Carolina seceded from the Union.
On the Web
Abraham Lincoln's Beard
During Lincoln's campaign for President a little girl wrote and suggested that he grow a beard. She reasoned, "All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President." Less than four months later he sported his famous facial feature! This webpage tells story, complete with the text of the little girl's letter, Lincoln's reply, and several images.
John C. Breckinridge, 1821-1875
John C. Breckinridge, 1860 Presidential candidate nominated by the Southern Democrats, was Vice-president under James Buchanan. This just-the facts biography from the U.S. Senate gives details of his political career.
Lincoln Outfoxed Seward for the Nomination
An article by Gordon Leidner written in 1996 for The Washington Times Civil War page has been transcribed and posted on this website. Also included are images of the 1860 Republican party convention site in Chicago and of the two main contenders for the party's nomination, Lincoln and Seward.
Lincoln's First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861
Lincoln's first official act as President was to address the nation. In his inaugural speech he spoke to his "dissatisfied fellow-countrymen," saying "You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to 'preserve, protect, and defend it.'" Read all the text on this page, which includes a paragraph of introduction, from Columbia University's Bartleby Library.
The Election of 1860
This overview of the 1860 Presidential election is from the Crisis at Fort Sumter website at Tulane University. There are three multimedia links for those with fast connections.
The Lincoln Depot, Springfield, Illinois
Abraham Lincoln left for Washington, D.C., to assume the Presidency from this railroad depot in Springfield, Illinois. This webpage has a transcription of his memorable "Farewell Address" and an eyewitness description of the event.
United States Historical Census Browser
An incredibly powerful charting tool hosted by the University of Virginia library. Click on the 1860 button on the left, then select whatever data you are interested in, such as the number of free blacks, white women, capital investments in manufacturing, Baptist churches, whatever. Then click the Browse Data button at the bottom and — voila! Charts, graphs, data galore. Play around a little until you are comfortable with the many features. Lock it into your memory that this is the kind of site that makes college professors positively drool (when the time comes).
Lincoln Research
Tad Lincoln and the White House turkey, Abe and Mary's wedding day, and the ghost in the Lincoln bedroom — the best Abraham Lincoln stories fit to print.
Election of 1860
Stephen Douglas was the only candidate during the election of 1860 that campaigned throughout the entire country.
Political Cartoons
A huge collection of 1860 political cartoons includes caricatures of the candidates done by Thomas Nast, creator of the Republican elephant and Democratic donkey.
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