There have been worse.
The Presidential election of 1860 split the nation. Abraham Lincoln was elected President after a tumultuous nominating process, campaign and election. Secession and Civil War followed.
The issue splitting the nation was slavery. Several parties ran Presidential candidates. Except for four, the others were non-consequential. The four consisted of the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, the Southern Democratic Party, and the Constitutional Union Party.
Each its own thoughts re the slavery issue. The Republicans were anti-slavery. The Democrats thought the states should remain one nation and resolve the slavery issue through Congressional negotiation. The Southern Democrats were for slavery. No question as to its position. The Constitutional Union also had its own thoughts on the subject.
The Republican Party was the new kid on the block. Formerly the Whig Party, it made its first appearance in 1854.
Lincoln had become a Republican. He ran for the U.S. Senate from Illinois in 1858. His opponent Stephen Douglas. Douglas won.
Douglas was a Democrat. He ran for President on the Democratic ticket against Lincoln. Interestingly, both had courted Mary Todd Lincoln in their earlier days.
Lincoln’s political experience was limited. He was a member of the Illinois House of Representatives from 1834-1842. During that time, he did not distinguish himself as anything special. His most noteworthy event while in the Illinois legislature was leaping out of a second floor window.
The opposition wanted a certain billed passed. A quorum was needed in order to take a vote. The opposition locked the doors so no one could leave. Lincoln was not staying and helping make the quorum. He jumped out of the legislature’s second floor window to escape being counted.
Lincoln ran the nomination race differently from the other candidates. He neither traveled nor debated. Made a few speeches. Ran everything from his law offices in Illinois.
Lincoln relied on his friends David Davis, Leonard Swelt and Ward Hill Lamon to be out on the road lining up delegates, etc. Davis was an astute political operative.
The nominating convention was to be held in Chicago. Not the Chicago of today. Then a burgeoning middle west trade center. Population 110,000.
Ten thousand seats were required to hold the convention. Chicago had no building anywhere near the size. A special convention hall was constructed to hold 10,000. The new building was called Wigwam. The acoustics were the best of the day. Any person speaking in a normal voice could be heard anywhere in the convention hall.
Lincoln had attracted national attention when he ran against Douglas for the Senate seat two years earlier. Both men were excellent debaters. After his defeat, Lincoln traveled around the country giving anti-slavery speeches. He also made several fund-raising speeches to the New York City bank and business community.
America took to the back woods boy. Born into poverty. Self educated. Successful. He was the embodiment of the American dream.
There was not much support within the Republican Part for Lincoln as the candidate. Though he had become well-known in a short time, it was not his time. Party leaders thought he should wait his turn.
Lincoln did not agree.
He and his friends went to work lining up delegates. Lincoln from his Illinois offices. His three friends out on the road.
William Seward was the favorite of the Republicans to be the Presidential candidate. A former Governor of New York and U.S. Senator. Other contenders included Governor Salmon Chase of Ohio, former U.S. Representative Edward Bates of Missouri, and Pennsylvania’s Senator Cameron.
The significant campaign managers were David Davis for Lincoln, Thurdlow Weed for Seward. The battle these two men waged is similar to college basketball coaching with only 30 seconds left to play.
Davis turned out to be smarter than Weed.
It took three ballots to secure the nomination.
The first ballot resulted in a large lead for Seward. However, not enough to win. He came up short of the required number. Lincoln ran a distant second. The nomination was Seward’s and it was just a question of time before he won.
The Pennsylvania delegation had voted solidly for their favorite son, Senator Cameron.
The evening of May 17 was between the first and second ballots. Davis went to work that night. Most of the night.
Cameron was agreeable to throwing his votes to Lincoln. For a consideration, of course. Two of them. He wanted to be assured a Cabinet post and that all Pennsylvania federal patronage would go through him.
The telegraph was a means of swift communication. Lincoln wired Davis no way re any deal. Davis should make no promises. Lincoln would not live up to any promises made.
Davis ignored Lincoln and did what was necessary to secure Lincoln the nomination. The next day on the second ballot, Cameron had Pennsylvania switch all its votes to Lincoln.
Was a deal made? Cameron became Secretary of War in Lincoln’s first cabinet. As to the patronage, no one is sure.
The Pennsylvania votes had Lincoln breathing down Seward’s neck. No winner yet, however. A third ballot was required.
During the third ballot, other delegations, seeing the writing on the wall, threw their support to Lincoln. Lincoln was nominated.
Lincoln had his hands full. The South had threatened to secede. Lincoln made it clear he would not tolerate secession. Slavery at the heart of everything.
Immediately upon receiving the Republican nomination, Lincoln put aside his law practice. He ran a stay at home campaign. No whistle stopping for him.
His efforts from the home front were two fold. First, to guide the direction of the campaign. Second, to foresee and hedge any divisions within the Republican Party. Divisions of any nature. Lincoln knew he had to keep his side intact in order to win.
The Southern Democrats, in another convention six weeks later, nominated Senator John Breckinridge as its candidate. The battle lines between North and South were drawn.
Again, slavery the issue.
The Republicans were referred to as Black Republicans. As a result of the Republican Party’s anti-slavery position.
Campaigning consisted of local parades and rallies. The Republicans pushed its people to get the vote out. They worked at it.
The get out the vote was successful. Voter turnout was 81.2 percent. The second highest in American history. The highest ever was the 1876 Presidential election where 81.8 percent turned out to vote.
Shamefully, American elections today bring out nowhere near those percentages.
Lincoln won. He received 1,865,908 votes. Breckinridge, 848,019. Lincoln, 39.8 percent of the vote. Breckinridge, 18.1 percent.
Lincoln carried 18 states. Breckinridege, 11.
Three hundred three Electoral College votes involved. One hundred fifty two required for election. Lincoln won 180 to Breckinridge’s 72.
Lincoln failed to carry one slave holding state. In fact, Lincoln received no southern votes, except for Virginia where he received 1 percent of the vote.
War was inevitable. Lincoln’s election was the immediate impetus for the outbreak of the Civil War. His victory signaled the secession of the Southern States.