Abraham Lincoln and the Election of 1864

Abraham Lincoln and the Election of 1864

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division: LC-DIG-ppmsca-17562

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(Oxford University Press, 2006)

No American President had been reelected since Andrew Jackson had defeated Lincoln hero Henry Clay in 1832. Abraham Lincoln was determined to break that three-decade long curse. Meeting with President Lincoln in the summer of 1863 Benjamin Rush Cowen recalled that President Lincoln “talked of the pending political campaign with great intelligence and interest, and had many pertinent inquiries to make as to the political situation in Ohio. His anxiety as to the result of the election, however, seemed less on his own account than because of the effect his defeat might have on the issue of the war.”1 There is ample evidence from Mr. Lincoln’s interactions with friends like Leonard Swett and Alexander K. McClure that Mr. Lincoln took an active interest in his own reelection. He told one Presbyterian delegation that he “had his hand in” and wanted to remain in the presidency until the Civil War was won.2

A few months later, California journalist Noah Brooks reported: “There is no longer any need of concealing or ignoring the fact that Lincoln is a candidate for renomination. Your correspondent has the highest authority for saying that he does not seek the nomination, but really desires it at the hands of the loyal people of the United States. In this desire, a natural ingredient, is his hope that he may receive the suffrages of the people as an approval of the policy with which he has conducted an Administration through a long and arduous struggle. It is true that other Presidents may have asked the same on the same ground, but Lincoln has been called upon to administer the Government in strange and perilous times, and, as it is conceded that a change in the Administration during the present war would be, to say the least, risky, or, to use Lincoln’s own phrase, would be ‘swapping horses in the middle of the stream’ it would be a direct rebuke to the present incumbent of the Presidential chair to rotate him out of office while affairs are in such a situation.”3

Brooks, who had easy access to the President, reported: “He is no seeker for a renewal of office, busies himself with no thought of his own future, and never bestows favors with any reference whatever to the relations of an applicant for office toward himself. But patient, patriotic, persevering, and single-hearted, he goes right on with his duty, ‘pegging away,’ just as though, as he has said to me, his own life were to end with his official life, content to leave his earnest labors and conscientious discharge of duty to the disposal of God and his country.”4

There were serious impediments to President Lincoln’s reelection, however. “During four years of administration, Mr. Lincoln had made many enemies, among those who had originally supported him; and the democratic party were not scrupulous in the use of means to bring him into disrepute with the people. Many republicans suffered under private grievances. Their counsels had not been sufficiently followed; their friends had not been properly served,” wrote early Lincoln biographer Josiah G. Holland. “Some thought Mr. Lincoln had been too fast and too severe in his measures; others thought that he had been too slow.”5 Historian Harold M. Dudley wrote: “Many of Lincoln’s critics credited him with honesty and good intentions but indicted his judgment, his lack of system, and his failure to act promptly.”6

Democratic conservatives and Republican radicals maneuvered to find an alternative to the incumbent. The difficulty which radicals had in choosing a candidate to oppose President Lincoln was similar to President Lincoln’s need for a general. Not just anybody would do. Salmon P. Chase had the presidential bug and he had an ego to match. He believed his had the gravitas and the background necessary for the Presidency. President Lincoln and his close relationship with Secretary of State William H. Seward grated on him. President Lincoln’s policies grated on Chase’s followers in Congress who organized behind his candidacy. Chase biographer Frederick J. Blue wrote: “Exactly when Chase was informed of the organization of the campaign group is not known, but in mid-January he wrote that a number of ‘the clearest headed and most judicious men here…have determined to submit my name to the people in connection with the next Presidency.’ Moreover, he ‘consented to their wishes.’ Several of the members had personal grievances against Lincoln in addition to political differences.”7

Interior Secretary John Palmer Usher remembered that “Senator Pomeroy, of Kansas, put out a circular saying that Mr. Lincoln was not qualified to manage the affairs of this country and to successfully conduct the war then raging. It was signed by Kansas men with others. It was…broadcast all over the country under the frank of the treasury department, this privilege being used by the bureau officers, one or more, of the treasury department. Many of the circulars were returned directly to President Lincoln.”8

The document was distributed by Senator Samuel C. Pomeroy’s in February 1864. “This circular was marked ‘strictly private,’ and gave to Pomeroy, whose initials were S.C., the nickname of ‘Secret Circular Pomeroy.'” wrote Lincoln aide William O. Stoddard, but 100,000 “secret” documents were printed. Stoddard noted that ” its main propositions were that the renomination of Lincoln was not only undesirable but impossible; that the honor of the nation and the cause of liberty and union would suffer in consequence of his reelection; that the ‘one-term principle’ was essential to the safety of republican institutions; that Salmon P. Chase had more of the qualities needed in a President at that critical time than any other man; and that the discussion of Chase’s availability had surprised his warmest admirers by the development of his strength.”9

The publicity around the Pomeroy Circular forced Chase to pen an awkward letter of apology and resignation to President Lincoln, who denied that he had read the document although he had been shown the circular. President Lincoln wrote that he “did not perceive occasion for change” in Chase’s job. On March 5, Chase renounced his presidential ambitions. By mid-March, Nicolay was writing: “Chase having retired from the Presidential contest, the tide continues to set as strongly as ever to Lincoln, and politicians therefore have but little to intrigue about. A few malcontents in the Republican party are stewing around, trying to make Butler, Fremont, or anybody they can get, the nucleus of a little faction in opposition to Lincoln but there is not the remotest prospect that their eggs will hatch.”10 Chase’s decision was forced not just be the ineptitude of his own supporters but also by the shrewd maneuvering of Lincoln supporters and patronage holders, engineering resolutions of support for his reelection, beginning in New Hampshire in January. Frederick J. Blue wrote: “The president had skillfully used his own patronage to build up his support and retain the backing of most party leaders. The ill-timed, intemperate appeal of the Chase committee thus precipitated a rush of politicians to join the Lincoln bandwagon and urged his renomination.”11

Political intrigue did not cease, however. The names of Union generals were prominently mentioned. President Lincoln preferred not to show his political hand but he had been active in sounding out the intentions of possible presidential opponents such as Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Benjamin Butler. He sent personal representatives to sound them out. Historian Mark Scroggins argued that President Lincoln “knew that his machination would have to be kept secret. It was not that Hannibal Hamlin was a popular vice president. In fact, he cut a rather dull figure in the office. Nor was it because Hamlin had a hard core of support in New England. Lincoln had to be covert because if the Radical Republicans knew that he was considering a Southern War Democrat for the ticket, they would have done everything in their power to demolish his nomination.”12 John Hay recorded in his diary in May 1864:

“I said to the President today that I thought Butler was the only man in the Army to whom power would be dangerous. McClellan was too timid & vacillating to usurp. Grant was too sound and cool headed & too unselfish; Banks also. Fremont would be dangerous if had more ability & energy.
“‘Yes,’ says the Ancient, ‘he is like Jim Jett’s brother. Jim used to say that his brother was the biggest scoundrel that ever lived, but in the infinite mercy of Providence he was also the biggest fool.”13

Butler was an opportunist in the best and worst senses. He saw that his political ambitions were cultivated. Biographer Richard S. West, Jr., wrote: “Colonel J. Wilson Shaffer, a Western newspaperman and politician, who had adopted Butler as his favorite candidate for the Presidency and had devoted most of the past year to pushing that project, was rewarded with the spot of Chief of Staff. Shaffer became a sort of roving liaison offer to present to officials in New York, Baltimore and Washington the military problems of Butler’s command of a post in which he continued his political machinations.”14

President Lincoln was dismissive of the Fremont challenge. Treasury official George S. Boutwell recalled: “When the proceedings of the convention of dissenting Republicans, which assembled at Cleveland in 1864, were mentioned to him and his opinion sought, he told the story of two fresh Irishmen who attempted to find a tree-toad that they heard in the forest, and how, after a fruitless hunt, one of them consoled himself and his companion with the expression, ‘An’ faith it was nothing but a noise.”15 Recalling the same story, Benjamin Rush Cowen said Mr. Lincoln added: “A good many things in this world at which timid people become greatly alarmed are found on nearer approach to be mere noise.”16 When Mr. Lincoln was informed that only 400 persons had attended the Cleveland convention, he pulled out a Bible and read the verses from I Samuel 22:2: “And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them; and there were with him about four hundred men.” 17

A little more than a week after the Cleveland convention, Republicans gathered in Baltimore for what they called a National Union Party convention. Lincoln aide John Hay wrote to colleague John G. Nicolay in Baltimore at the start of the convention: “The President wishes not to interfere in the nomination even by the confidential suggestion. He also declines suggesting anything in regard to platform or the organization of the Convention. The Convention must be guided in these matters by their own views of justice & property.”18

Lincoln’s nomination was opposed only by a radical delegation from Missouri, which the President clearly wanted seated despite its opposition to him. They cast their votes for General Ulysses Grant before moved that Lincoln’s renomination be unanimous. Pandemonium erupted. Attorney General Edward Bates complained: “The Baltimore Convention (National Union I believe, it’s called itself) has surprised and mortified me greatly. It did indeed nominate Mr. Lincoln, but in a manner and with attendant circumstances, as if the object were to defeat their own nomination. They were all (nearly) instructed to vote for Mr. Lincoln, but many of them hated to do it, and only ‘kept the word of promise to the them hated to do it, and only ‘kept the word of promise to the ear’ doing their worst to break it to the hope. They rejected the only delegates from Mo. who were instructed and pledged for Lincoln, and admitted the destructives, who were pledged against Lincoln, and, in fact, voted against him, falsely alleging that they were instructed to vote for Grant! The conservative was chosen in a manner more legitimate and regular than the destructive Radicals; for the Radical convention in Mo. (which appointed those delegates) was, substantially annulled, by the defection of the whole German element, they preferring to go to Cleveland and support Fremont, rather than go to the packed Lincoln gathering, at Baltimore.” He wrote that those who did not defect directly to Fremont “resolved to send delegates to Baltimore, because they could better serve the destructive cause, and support Fremont, at Baltimore than at Cleveland. And they judged rightly – for they ‘are wiser, in their generation than the children of light.'”19

Then, the Republican-Union convention turned its attention to the nomination for vice president. Among those nominated were Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, former New York Senator Daniel S. Dickinson, and Tennessee Governor Andrew Johnson. Controversy has swirled about what role President Lincoln played in replacing Vice President Hannibal Hamlin with Johnson. Lincoln’s secretaries denied his involvement; Pennsylvania newspaper editor Alexander K. McClure swore by it. At the time, John G. Nicolay wrote that he had told the chairman of the Illinois delegation “I thought Lincoln would not wish even to indicate a preference for V.P. as the rival candidates were all friendly to him.” President Lincoln had written on the letter “Wish not to interfere about V.P.” 20 Journalist Noah Brooks said that President Lincoln told him he would have been happy with Hamlin’s renomination. He added: “Some of our folks referring, as I believed, to Republican leaders had expressed the opinion that it would be wise to take a War Democrat as candidate for Vice-President, and that, if possible, a Border State man should be the nominee.” President Lincoln pronounced his approval by saying: “Andy Johnson, I think, is a good man.” But according to Brooks, “I have always have been confident that Lincoln, left to himself, would have chose that old ticket of 1860 and Lincoln and Hamlin should be placed in the field.” 21 When asked about his preferences for Vice President, Mr. Lincoln informed the Illinois delegation that Kentuckian Joseph “Holt is a good man, but I had not heard or thought of him for V.P. Wish not to interfere about V.P. Can not interfere about platform. Convention must judge for itself.”22

Governor Johnson had a clear lead on the first ballot but was well short of nomination. Hamlin’s renomination may have been doomed by political jealousies. Hamlin Biographer Mark Scroggins wrote: “The excitable governor of Iowa, William Stone, suddenly leaped out of his seat and announced that his delegation would give his state’s entire vote to Johnson. Governor Stone had no authority to take this action; he was not even an elected delegate. He was only filling a vacancy. Most of the Iowa delegation opposed Johnson. The spokesman, Daniel D. Chase, tried frantically to signal Chairman Dennison. But Governor Dennison was either confused or did not hear Chase’s protests. Before Chase could get the floor, Kentucky announced that she was changing her vote to Johnson too. This swung the pendulum and state after state abandoned Hamlin and threw their votes to Johnson.”23

At President Lincoln’s request, the Republican Convention endorsed a constitutional amendment to end slavery. The Republican Platform proclaimed: “That as Slavery was the cause, and now constitutes the strength, of this rebellion, and as it must be always and everywhere hostile to the principles of Republican Government, justice and the national safety demand its utter and complete extirpation from the soil of the Republic; and that we uphold maintain the acts and proclamations by which the Government, in its own defense has aimed a death-blow at this gigantic evil. We are in favor, furthermore, of such an amendment to the Constitution, to be made by the people in conformity with its provisions, as shall terminate and forever prohibit the existence of Slavery within the limits or jurisdiction of the United States.”24

Ohio Governor William Dennison led a national delegation from the Baltimore convention to the White House. “I know no reason to doubt that I shall accept the nomination tendered; and yet perhaps I should not declare definitely before reading and considering what is called the Platform,” President Lincoln told the delegation informing him of his nomination: “I will say now, however, that I approve the declaration in favor of so amending the Constitution as to prohibit slavery throughout the nation. When the people in revolt, with a hundred days of explicit notice, that they could, within those days, resume their allegiance, without the overthrow of their institution, and that they could not so resume it afterwards, elected to stand out, such an amendment of the Constitution as is now proposed, became a fitting, and necessary conclusion to the final success of the Union cause. Such alone can meet and cover all cavils. Now, the unconditional Union men, North and South, perceive its importance, and embrace it. In the joint names of Liberty and Union, let us labor to give it legal form, and practical effect.”25 It was an somewhat disingenuous statement from a President who worked hard behind the scenes to achieve just that result at the Republican convention.

With the convention behind him, President Lincoln ran into a series of increasingly troubling political difficulties. Journalist Noah Brooks recalled: “Political discussion in Washington during the months immediately preceding the second nomination of Lincoln was exceedingly animated. Although, as we afterward found, the country at large really thought of no name but Lincoln’s, Washington politicians were all agog over a variety of compromises that would placate the ultra-radicals of the Republican party, and keep in line the conservatives.26 Those radicals and abolitionists unhappy with President Lincoln were not pacified by his renomination. Other Republicans grew increasingly worried about his reelection prospects. Historian Christopher J. Olsen wrote: “The incomplete nature of William T. Sherman’s accomplishment [in Georgia dealt another blow to Lincoln and the Republicans. On July 18, Lincoln had called for another five hundred thousand volunteers, and Peace Democrats rejoiced. By September 1, the Union had suffered more than one hundred thousand casualties since May, and the Confederates still held Richmond, Petersburg, and Atlanta. The Union Army under Nathaniel Banks was stalled in southern Mississippi, Benjamin Butler never got up the peninsula in Virginia, and the Confederates controlled Texas and most of Arkansas. After starting the year with such high hopes, Union voters now despaired. The July 1864 draft call produced the most no-shows of any single Union drafter…”27

The Democratic prospects of General George B. McClellan seemed to be rising. In March, former President Millard Fillmore wrote McClellan’s wife: “As a general rule I am not in favor of electing military chieftains to the Presidency but all general rules have their exceptions and in my humble judgement, this is a crisis in the affairs of the nation, when a truly patriotic and skillful military man of disinterested devotion to his country can do more than save it from ruin than any other and I believe General McClellan to be that man and hence my desire to see him President.” 28 Many Americans agreed with Fillmore as spring turned to summer. Historian Harold M. Dudley wrote: “The summer of 1864 was an exceedingly gloomy period for the union cause and a time of depression for the president. The resignation of Secretary Chase, the mounting price of gold with the evident lack of national credit, the failure to recruit the army by volunteers making necessary a presidential call for half a million men in the draft order of July 19, the Wade-Davis Manifesto of August 5 with its heavy burden of criticism directed in full force against the President, the lack of cooperation manifested by Horace Greeley in the Niagara Falls peace proposals of early August, together with open rebellion in Ohio led by Vallandigham, and the rabid attacks printed in the New York World, which led to a temporary suspension of its publication, all pointed to the tremendous pressure which bore down upon the administration during July and August.”29

Historian Hans L. Trefousse wrote: “Lincoln himself was also depressed by the Manifesto. It was sad ‘to be wounded in the house of one’s friends,’ as he put it, and he wondered whether Wade and Davis intended to oppose his election openly. But the President realized that the authors had probably overshot their mark. Commenting that he had not and probably would not read the Manifesto, he told a characteristic story. ‘It is not worth fretting about,’ he said. ‘It reminds me of an old acquaintance who, having a son of a scientific turn, bought a microscope. The boy went around, experimenting with his glass upon everything that came in his way. One day, at the dinner table, his father took up a piece of cheese. ‘Don’t eat that, father,’ said the boy; ‘it is full of wrigglers.’ ‘My son,’ replied the old gentleman, taking, at the same time, a huge bite, ‘let ’em wriggle; I can stand it if they can!'”

“Lincoln’s story was apt. He could stand the Manifesto, as the reaction of the country was beginning to show. His supporters in Washington did not even bother to print the document in their Daily Morning Chronicle; the Tribune’s strictures upon it made much better copy. And when, three days later, news of Farragut’s victory at Mobile reached the North, the could well afford to disregard the Manifesto altogether. The skies are again brightening,’ they wrote.”30

Maine Congressman James G. Blaine wrote: “Although they might have won Republican approval on the specific constitutional issues involved, Wade and Davis seriously misjudged the political situation. So far from hurting Lincoln, the protest actually seemed to help him. As Blaine put it, the ‘very strength of the paper was…its special weakness. It was so powerful an arraignment of the President that of necessity it rallied his friends to his support.'” 31 Many Republicans and Republican newspapers rushed to the President’s defense, including Wade’s own local Ashtabula Sentinel. The county Republican convention resolved “That the recent attack on the President by Wade and Davis is, in our opinion, ill-timed, ill-tempered, and ill-advised, carrying great and undisguised joy to rebel camps in the South and rebel sympathizers in the North…” The New York Times charged it was designed to “aid the success of the Democratic party.” However, noted Davis biographer Gerald Henig wrote, “a number of party members…firmly sided with Wade and Davis. William Cullen Bryant of the New York Evening Post vigorously argued that the congressmen were entitled to speak out when the President, at his own whim, put aside the action of Congress and ‘left the restoration of the rebel states…wholly unprovided for, except by methods which the Executive might think proper to dictate.” The editor of the Principia, an abolitionist paper published in New York, regarded the manifesto as a ‘manly protest’ against Lincoln’s desire ‘to sacrifice, upon the altar of personal ambition, the liberties not only of four millions of native colored Americans, but, through the subversion of our republican institutions, the liberties also of thirty millions of whites.'”34

Later in August, Republicans panicked. The Army of the Potomac was stalled outside Richmond after a series of bloody defeats in battle. Americans seemed to be wearying of the war effort and Republicans were wearying of their standard-bearer who in July had pocket-vetoed the Wade-Davis Bill on reconstruction. Lincoln friend Alexander K. McClure wrote that “three months after his re-nomination in Baltimore his defeat by General McClellan was generally apprehended by his friends and frankly conceded by Lincoln himself.” 35 Republican National Chairman Henry J. Raymond wrote: “I hear but one report, the tide is setting against us.”36

Two events changed the political tide: the capture of Atlanta by General Sherman and the nomination of General McClellan on a peace platform. Historian Fawn Brodie wrote: “The moment, however, that George B. McClellan was nominated to oppose Lincoln on the Democratic ticket, Thaddeus Stevens and other Radicals, recognizing a real enemy, began to work feverishly for Lincoln’s victory. As Charles Sumner put it privately, ‘Lincoln’s election would be a disaster, but McClellan’s damnation.’ Thaddeus Stevens quietly urged Carl Schurz to repair the split in the Republican Party by swinging the Fremont Radicals to Lincoln’s side. And Zachary Chandler finally succeeded in getting Fracmont to withdraw from the race. Stevens exacted a price for this, however, the Conservative, anti-Negro Montgomery Blair went out of the Cabinet.”37

During the summer, President Lincoln had met with Simon Cameron and Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania. Stevens pressured him to promise to remove Postmaster General Blair from his Cabinet. Mr. Lincoln refused, saying: “It would be degrading to my manhood to consent to any such bargain, I was about to say it is equally degrading to your manhood to ask it.” Then he added: “I confess that I desire to be re-elected. God knows I do not want the labor and responsibility of the office for another four years. But I have the common pride of humanity to wish my past four years Administration endorsed; and besides I honestly believe that I can better serve the nation in its need and peril than any new man could possibly do.”38

The Democrats had postponed their own convention until the end of the summer. Returning home to Illinois in August 1864, John Hay wrote back to the White House: “We are waiting with the greatest interest for the hatching of the big peace Snakes at Chicago. There is throughout the country, I mean the rural districts, a good healthy Union feeling & an intention to succeed, in the military & the political contests, but everywhere in the towns, the copperheads are exultant and our own people either growing & despondent or sneakingly apologetic.”39 The next day, Hay expanded his field report:

It is reported here that Horace Greeley Henry J. Raymond & the Ex. Com. Are trying to run Lincoln off, having give up beat. Most of our people are talking like damned fools. My father on the contrary is the most sanguine man I have met. He says we will carry this State with a fair working majority. Some of the Dutch [Germans] are bit with the Fremont mania. But the returned soldiers are all for Lincoln, if they can be kept right till November.”40

Historian Jennifer L. Weber wrote: “Copperheads continued hammering away at the themes that had become their rhetorical centerpieces: The financial and human costs of the war, the suspension of habeas corpus, the presence of the draft, the fact that this had become a war of emancipation. Lincoln was a tyrant who had only contempt for the Constitution.”41 The Democrats in New York City formed a “Society for the Diffusion of Political Knowledge” in early 1863. As the 1864 election drew near, the opposition tracts became increasingly vicious against President Lincoln as a pamphlet battle began.

The Democratic campaign truly kicked off in December 1863 with the publication of a Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro. It was an attempt to confuse supporters and opponents of Abraham Lincoln. Journalists at the New York World concocted the pamphlet to make it appear that it had been written by an abolitionist who favored the mixing of races – and thus create a controversy. Historian Sidney Kaplan wrote: “This pamphlet, a curious hash of quarter-truths and pseudo-learned oddities, was to give a new word to the language and a refurbished issue to the Democratic Party – although its anonymous author for good reason perhaps, never came forward to claim his honors. In the welter of leaflets, brochures, cards, tracts and cartoons struck off by all parties during the Civil War, it stands out as centrally significant.”42 In late December, the booklet was mailed off to prominent abolitionists in the hope that some would endorse its thesis and thereby fuel a political bonfire. Later, they placed advertisements for the pamphlet in abolitionist periodicals in an attempt to fuel political mischief.

Given northern racism, it was a reasonable, if dishonest, political tactic. Even in President Lincoln’s Illinois, anti-black prejudice was strong and animosity to any immigration of former slaves into the state was stronger. Historian Bruce Tap wrote: “Many Midwesterners believed blacks were indolent, shiftless, and incapable of surviving on their own. Inevitably they would become a burden on society. On the other hand, the common complaint of white laborers was the fear that their economic well-being would be harmed due to the presence of cheaper black labor. There was also the concern of the negative social consequences of the mingling of the two races, that an inferior’ race would lower the standards of the superior race.”43 Democrats tried to harness this racism against President Lincoln and the Republicans.

Congressman Samuel C. Cox, a leading Ohio Democrat, lambasted the spurious miscegenation pamphlet in a major speech in Congress on February 17, 1864. His speech in turn received wide distribution, further fueling anti-black and therefore anti-Republican sentiment.44 Historian Jennifer Weber wrote that “Democrats… pounced on the tract as evidence of the administration’s perverse and hidden agenda. Representative Cox of Ohio gave a lengthy address on February in the House. Abolitionists and Republicans ‘used to deny, whenever it was charged, that they favored black citizenship; yet now they are favoring black suffrage in the District of Columbia, and will favor it wherever in the South they need it for their purposes.’ This and other evidence ‘ought to convince us that that party is moving steadily forward to perfect social equality of black and white, and can only end in this detestable doctrine of – miscegenation!'”45 Kaplan wrote that author’s new word, “miscegenation,” became a real issue for Democrats and Republicans: “From January to November 1864 the Democratic press would tear this ‘issue’ to tatters.”46 According to Kaplan, “right up to the November allotting, although the Worldalone among the Democratic sheets would speak in whispers on the subject, the national press would bandy word and issue in an unending saturnalia of editorial, caricature and verse.”47

Democratic prospects waxed and waned during 1864 as did the relative dominance of War Democrats and Peace Democrats, often known as Copperheads. The Democratic battle cry was “The Union as it was, and the Constitution as it is,” a paraphrase of a statement made by New York Governor Horatio Seymour.48 “The Democrats,” noted Noah Brooks, “were irreconcilably divided. Although they were noticeably quiet during the weeks preceding the assembling of the Union Republican National Convention at Baltimore that summer, it was clear that the ‘Peace’ and ‘War’ factions of the party could not possibly be made to harmonize. The two hostile camps occasionally fired a shot at each other even in the infrequent sittings of congress. S. S. Cox was one of the more talkative and vivacious representatives who led the War Democrats pledged to the cause of McClellan, and New York Congressman Fernando Wood was the acknowledged leader in Congress of the Peace faction, whose affections were fixed on New York Governor Horatio Seymour.”49

Most Democratic hopes rested on General George B. McClellan, who had been dismissed as commander of the Army of the Potomac in November 1862 and since then had awaited a new command that never came. In the fall of 1863, General McClellan ventured into politics. “Charles Mason, the Iowa judge managing McClellan’s campaign in the nation’s capital, implored him to visit Pennsylvania before the critical state and congressional elections there in mid-October. Mason wrote McClellan on October 3 that his mere presence ‘at some of the great political meetings which will be held next week would greatly promote their interest…'” wrote Lincoln chronicler John Waugh.50 By endorsing an anti-war Democrat, McClellan tarnished his credentials as a War Democrat. He was uncomfortable as a politician, a discomfort that increased as his nomination neared as the Democratic candidate for President in 1864.

Historian Jennifer L. Weber wrote: “McClellan’s certain nomination was predicated on the belief that he would draw thousands of votes from soldiers in the field. Even though he was politically viable and shared conservatives’ opposition to emancipation, McClellan was too moderate for the peace faction. In July a splinter group of Philadelphia hard-liners tried to nominate Millard Fillmore or Franklin Pierce, both former presidents, as the party candidate. The effort went nowhere, but peace men across the North nodded in approval.”51 Navy Secretary Gideon Welles remembered: “The democratic national convention met at Chicago on the 29th of August, to nominate a candidate for president, and to lay down the programme or platform of political principles which the managers professed to believe best for the country, and by which they and their associates were governed. Until within a few days of the meeting of the convention circumstances had favored them. Scarcely a cheering ray had dawned upon the administration after the renomination of Mr. Lincoln until about the time the democratic delegates convened at Chicago. Except the success of the navy in the destruction of the rebel cruiser Alabama by the Kearsarge in June, and the passage of the forts of Mobile Bay by David Farragut in August, there had seemed a pall over the Union cause, and all efforts, civil and military, of the administration. Information of the surrender of Fort Morgan was received on the day the democratic convention assembled. That convention pronounced the war a failure. Not only did rambling party declaimers harangue crowds against the despotic and arbitrary measures of the government, which, they said, was alienating the South, but men of eminence, some of whom had enjoyed public confidence and held high official position, participated in the assaults upon the president, who, while thus attacked, was struggling against reverses and armed resistance to the Union.”52

McClellan’s campaign manager, New York financier Samuel L. M. Barlow, refused to go to Chicago to manage the party platform. New York Governor Horatio Seymour did go and was recruited as an alternative to McClellan. Historian William Frank Zornow wrote that on “Sunday evening Seymour had a long talk with the ultra peace men in an effort to convince them that he was now unavailable and that they should support McClellan. He told them that when the New York delegation met again Monday morning for its final ballot that McClellan would most likely to be chosen. The ultras, however, were still adamant, and many of them insisted that they would nominate Seymour regardless of what action the New York delegation took.”53

The Peace Democrats then concentrated on the party platform. Worried about a possible threat by New York Governor Seymour, McClellan’s allies underestimated the competence of Vallandigham who inserted language in the platform that said “justice, humanity, liberty and the public welfare demand that immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities, with a view to an ultimate convention of the States, or other peaceable means, to the end that at the earliest practicable moment peace may be restored on the basis of the Federal Union of the States.” McClellan’s allies lost a crucial subcommittee vote that would have made reunion a prerequisite for peace negotiations. They decided against contesting the platform at the level of either the full committee or full convention. It was a critical mistake. New York Republican Chauncey M. Depew observed: “The platform committee, and the convention afterwards, permitted to go into the platform a phrase proposed by Clement C. Vallandigham, of Ohio, the phrase being, ‘The war is a failure.’ Soon after the adjournment of the convention, to the victories of Farragut and Sherman was added the spectacular campaign and victory of Union General Philip Sheridan in the valley of the Shenandoah. The campaign at once took on a new phase.” 54

On August 31, McClellan was nominated with a clear majority on the first ballot with a strong peace Democrat, George H. Pendleton, as his running mate. For many in the North, the Democratic Party effectively demonstrated its unreadiness to lead the country by passing a party platform at odds with the opinions of its presidential nominee He was placed in a difficult dilemma how to accept the nomination but reject the platform’s peace plank. Historian Christopher Dell wrote that “A struggle began, between the War and Peace factions, concerning the presidential candidate’s traditional letter of acceptance. War Democrats supporting McClellan wanted him to say that no armistice would go into effect until the Confederate states agreed to reenter the Union. Peace Democrats wanted him to recommend an armistice as a prelude to diplomatic negotiations. McClellan wanted to go along with the Peace faction. He had been warned by Vallandigham and others that failure to do so would result in their mass desertion. Moreover, he believed that if negotiations failed, the armistice could end and the war could recommence without difficulty.”55

McClellan attempted to fudge the differences, but ended up rejecting the position of the Peace Democrats. Like the platform, McClellan’s response was vague and imprecise. Nevertheless, McClellan’s acceptance letter and rejection of the platform was the high point of his campaign, but it came too late to erase the image of the convention. McClellan used his pen to some advantage for the rest of the campaign but avoided personal involvement. He proved as difficult a candidate as he had been a general. “Don’t send any politicians out here, I’ll snub them if they come, confound them,” he wrote a friend.

By comparison with the activist incumbent, McClellan was a very passive candidate. McClellan’s managers based in New York City tried to mobilize the Tammany machine there and the Copperhead network around the country behind McClellan. Biographer Stephen W. Sears wrote: “He left the direction of the campaign to August Belmont, Samuel Barlow, and newspaper editors Manton Marble and William Prime. He made just two public appearances, at rallies in Newark and in New York; as he told a supporter on October 3, ‘I have made up my mind on reflection that it would be better for me not to participate in person in the canvass.’ He dutifully corresponded with some political figures and met others who visited him, but it is clear from these letters that presidential politics was not to George McClellan’s liking, and midway through the campaign he secluded himself and his wife for a week at the country home of his friend Joseph W. Alsop, in Connecticut.”56

Union soldiers held the potential balance of power in the election. McClellan sought to reignite his old popularity with the troops. President Lincoln, meanwhile, encouraged the voting by soldiers, whether in the field or on furloughs, especially in the pre-presidential elections in October. Soldiers held the potential swing votes in the election. Despite their previous allegiance to General McClellan, most were believed to be Lincoln supporters. Lincoln biographer John Waugh wrote: “The soldier vote wasn’t deciding the election. Only in Maryland was it making a difference, and there it didn’t affect the presidential outcome….The massive soldier defection from McClellan was, as suspected, not so much a vote against him as against the company he had been forced to keep. One of Lincoln’s friends put it this way: ‘The soldiers are quite as dangerous to Rebels in the rear as in front.'”57 Although the support of the Union soldiers was not the margin of victory, it did provide a cushion of comfort for the Republican ticket and was vital in Connecticut where the Republican victory was determined by the soldier vote.

Federal officials like Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana and state officials like New York Secretary of State Chauncey M. Depew worked hard to maximize the number of soldier votes. Although Democratic strategy depended on McClellan attracting a large proportion of the votes of his former troops, the Democrat peace platform undermined that effort. Although Secretary of War Stanton was unenthusiastic about the politicization of the war effort, he acquiesced. Historian David E. Long wrote: “The general feeling in the army was that his dismissal had been wrong and politically motivated, and that McClellan had good reason to be upset. However, his consorting with prominent Copperheads disappointed the troops he had nurtured and trained so devotedly. If he had any promise as a national political candidate, he had to retain the support of his army. The Army of the Potomac represented not merely the votes of 100,000 men, but also the votes of relatives and friends who relied on these men for news from the front. The soldiers were heroes to those they left behind and any action that hindered their effort was looked upon as disloyalty. Had McClellan been as astute a politician as he was a military organizer and theorist, he would have realized that the military vote represented his best chances of being elected and could have been more circumspect in his associations.”58 Ultimately, although the soldier vote was not decisive, it boosted President Lincoln’s margin substantially and may have boosted the National Union ticket to victory in Connecticut and New York. By better than 3-1, soldiers preferred the commander-in-chief to their former commander.

General Ulysses S. Grant took an active role in advocating measures that would make it easier for soldiers to vote in 1864. He sent Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton a memo that argued strongly for soldier voting: “Most of these men are not regular soldiers in the strict sense of that term; still less are they mercenaries, who give their services to the Government simply for its pay, having little understanding of the political questions or feeling little or no interest in them. On the contrary they are American citizens, having still their homes and social and political ties binding them to the States and districts from which they come and to which they expect to return.”59

Democrats across the North were split in their attitudes toward the war. These splits had important political ramifications in states like Indiana and Ohio where Copperheads were particularly strong. Their involvement with the Knights of the Golden Circle and Sons of Liberty as well as representatives of the Confederacy undermined the credibility of Democrats more inclined to support the war effort. Republicans in Indiana, led by Governor Oliver P. Morton, were particularly quick to exploit Copperhead actions to discredit them. “Distorting the words and misrepresenting the aims of the peace Democrats was a singularly effective device by which Republican strategists discredited the rival party,” wrote historian Kenneth M. Stampp.60 But there was reality behind the Republican complaints. Two Confederate agents, Clement C. Clay and Jacob Thompson had been sent to Canada to work with anti-war Democrats, especially in states like Indiana and Illinois.

With the help of political reports on the Democratic conspiracies as well as well-timed arrests and trials, Republicans won a surprisingly easy victory in Indiana in early October. Pennsylvania’s election at the same time was another bellwether. Lincoln chronicler John Waugh wrote: “Since Indiana had no soldier voting law, the two Indianans, Schuyler Colfax and Oliver Morton, both urged the president to get their boys home to vote in the state elections in October. After the fall of Atlanta, Lincoln wrote General Sherman suggesting, but no ordering, him to permit Indiana’s soldiers, ‘or any part of them, to go home and vote at the State election,’ if he could do it without endangering his army.”61

Sherman’s own attitudes toward the election were ambivalent. By September, 1864, Sherman was in Atlanta, reporting directly to President Lincoln: “I will keep our men to the high roads and commons, and pay for the corn and meat we need and take. I am fully conscious of the delicate nature of such assertions, but it would be a magnificent stroke of policy, if I could without wasting a foot of ground or of principle arouse the latent enmity to Jeff Davis, of Georgia.” 62 His enthusiasm for the President’s policies was limited, however, as Sherman indicated in a letter to his brother only weeks before the presidential election: “I got your letter about my being for McClellan, I never said so, or thought So, or gave any one the right to think so. I almost despair of a popular Government, but if we must be so inflicted I suppose Lincoln is the best choice, but I am not a voter. Even if I am north I could not vote.”63

Sherman expanded on these sentiments in a letter to his wife: “You ask my opinion of McClellan. I have been much amused at similar inquiries of John & Others in answer to a news paragraph that I pledge 99 votes of the hundred to McClellan. Of course this is the invention of some Rumor. I never said such thing. I will vote for nobody because I am not entitled to vote. Of the two, with the inferences to be drawn at home & abroad I would prefer Lincoln, though I Know that McClellan Clement Vallandigham or even Jeff Davis if President of the U.S. would prosecute the war, and no one with more vigor than the latter. But at the time the howl was raised against McClellan I knew it was in a measure unjust, for he was charged with delinquencies that the American People are chargeable for. Thus how unjust to blame me for any misfortune now when all the Authorities & People are conspiring to break up the army till the Election is over. Our Armies vanish before our eyes and it is useless to complain because the Election is more important than war.”64

According to McClellan biographer Stephen W. Sears, “McClellan devoted most of his campaign efforts to the army vote. Thirteen states had made some provision for their soldiers to vote, and it was expected that the general’s great popularity with the men in the ranks during his time in command would be reflected in the 1864 balloting. He sought out officers friendly to him to distribute Democratic campaign literature to the troops, and encouraged the formation of such military clubs as the McClellan Legion to rally ex-soldiers and men home on furlough and sick leave to his cause. Despite these efforts, however, no other segment of the electorate rejected his candidacy so strongly. In the final election county Lincoln would capture 55 percent of the vote; among the soldiers the president’s count was 78 percent. In spite of his acceptance letter, Northern soldiers perceived General McClellan as representing the party advocating peace at any price, and they turned against him by an overwhelming margin.”65 By a 3-1 margin, soldiers who voted in the field rejected their former commander and supported their commander-in-chief.

President Lincoln realized that the future of the war effort depended on the future of his campaign. And although he prepared for the worst, he fully intended to work for his reelection. On August 23, President Lincoln wrote a sealed memorandum which he had the members of his Cabinet sign. He had been convinced by the negative reports of Republican leaders that he would lose in November. The memo read: “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probably that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.”66

In September, President Lincoln yielded to political reality and asked for the resignation of Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, who had repeatedly infuriated more radical Republicans. Although there was no explicitquid pro quo, John C. Fremont simultaneously withdrew his presidential candidacy. The Republican Party, which seem hopelessly splintered in August, came quickly together. Dissident Republicans and newspaper editors in New York dropped their efforts to field another candidate and fell in behind President Lincoln. Federal employees were actively solicited for campaign contributions. Only Navy Secretary Gideon Welles resisted such efforts. The President contributed his advice to the officials running the campaign from Congress such as Iowa Senator James Harlan and New York Senator Edwin D. Morgan. The party’s control of patronage assured it of an army of loyal supporters. Deviators complained that they were punished, but their punishment was mitigated whenever President Lincoln learned of specific complaints. Fawn Brodie wrote that Radical Republican Congressman “Stevens then campaigned vigorously for Lincoln in Pennsylvania, telling the voters that the president had risen above ‘the influence of Border State seductions and Republican cowardice.’ ‘Let us forget, he said, ‘that he had ever erred, and support him with redoubled energy.'”67

“As the war news improved and the Democrats searched for identity there was a movement of disgruntled Republicans back to Lincoln’s candidacy,” wrote historian Larry T. Balsamo.68 Mr. Lincoln was not passive in this process. Historian Harold M. Dudley wrote: “Though Lincoln was adamant in upholding the union cause, yet he was not unwilling to use diplomacy to bring to himself the crown of success in the November. The removal of Montgomery Blair from the cabinet to propitiate Chase, the tender of Blair’s office to Horace Greeley, the proffer of the French mission to James Gordon Bennett, critical editor of the New York Herald, presidential endorsement of New York Congressman Roscoe Conkling, brother-in-law of Horatio Seymour and Lincoln’s avowed enemy, together with Blair’s attempt to induce McClellan to withdraw from the campaign by offering him a military position – all indicate the policy of Lincoln and his friends to present a united front in the interest of Republican success at the November election.” 69 Republican prospects brightened throughout the fall. McClellan’s candidacy failed to capture the public imagination as Union military victories, such as the victory of General Philip Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley in October reignited northern faith in an eventual Union triumph. Even President Lincoln faith in his own reelection was strengthened though he remained conservative in his estimation of the northern states he would carry.

“Denunciation of Lincoln by Democratic spellbinders was of the bitterest character,” remembered New York Republican Abram J. Dittenhoefer. “Newspapers affiliated with the anti-war party criticized every act of the administration and belittled the conduct of the war by Federal generals in the field. Therefore, Republican speakers did not mince words in criticism of the Democratic Presidential candidate, Gen. George B. McClellan.” Dittenhoefer himself said in a speech at Cooper Union on September 27: “The battle that will be fought in November between the Union and the Confederate forces north of the Potomac will end in the destruction or exhaustion of the Southern Confederacy. Abraham Lincoln is the commander of the Union forces. I will now prove that George B. McClellan is the leader of the Confederate forces.” Dittenhoefer later admitted: “Read in the calmness of to-day my language appears unwarrantedly aggressive, but at that time it seemed conservative.”70

The actual election seemed almost an anticlimax. “Election day was dull, gloomy and rain; and as if by common consent, the White House was deserted, only two members of the Cabinet attending the regular meeting of that body,” reported California journalist Noah Brooks, a close friend of Mr. Lincoln. “The President took no pains to conceal his anxious interest in the result of the election then going on all over the country, but just before the hour for Cabinet meeting he said: ‘I am just enough of a politician to know that there was not much doubt about the result of the Baltimore Convention, but about this thing I am far from being certain; I wish I were certain.'”71

The President and his aides went to the telegraph room of the nearby War Department to await the results. War Department official Charles Dana recalled: “November 8th, election day, I went over to the War Department about half past eight o’clock in the evening, and found the President and Mr. Stanton together in the Secretary’s office. General Thomas Eckert, who then had charge of the telegraph department of the War Office, was coming in constantly with telegrams containing election returns. Mr. Stanton would read them, and the President would look at them and comment upon them. Presently there came a lull in the returns, and Mr. Lincoln called me to a place by his side.

“‘Dana,’ said he, ‘have you ever read any of the writings of Petroleum V. Nasby?’
‘No, sir,’ I said; ‘I have only looked at some of them, and they seemed to be quite funny.’
‘Well,’ said he, ‘let me read you a specimen’; and, pulling out a thin yellow-covered pamphlet from his breast pocket, he began to read aloud. Mr. Stanton viewed these proceedings with great impatience, as I could see, but Mr. Lincoln paid no attention to that. He would read a page or a story, pause to consider a new election telegram, and then open the book again and go ahead with a new passage. Finally, Mr. Chase came in, and presently somebody else, and then the reading was interrupted.”72

Secretary Stanton was not amused. Dana recalled that “Mr. Stanton motioned to me to come with him into General Eckert’s room, and when the door was shut he broke out in fury: ‘God damn it to hell,’ said he, was there ever such nonsense? Was there ever such inability to appreciate what is going on in an awful crisis? Here is the fate of this whole republic at stake, and here is the man around whom it all centers, on whom it all depends, turning aside from this monumental issue to read the God damned trash of a silly mountebank!” Dana wrote:

“This fiery speech of the enraged Secretary was interrupted by General Eckert, who had another telegram which he showed to him, and with which we all went back into Mr. Stanton’s own office, in order that the President might see it. Hardly had he begun to read it, however, when a new occasion of irritation arose. The messenger brought in a card and handed it to the President, who said at once, as he passed the card over to the Secretary, ‘Show him in!’ Stanton read it, and turning to me, exclaimed in a low voice: ‘God in heaven, it is Whitelaw Reid!’ I understood at once the point of this explosion. Mr. Reid, who was then the correspondent of the Cincinnati Gazette and a great friend of Secretary Chase in Washington, was not liked by the Secretary of War. This dislike had gone so far that the doorkeepers at the War Department had received directions that Mr. Reid was not to be admitted. But when he sent his card in to the President, they could not refuse it. Mr. Reid came in and was greeted by Mr. Lincoln, but not by the Secretary. His purpose was merely to obtain from headquarters and from the highest authority the assurance that the election had certainly gone in favor of Lincoln; and after expressions of thanks and congratulations he withdraw. Just then Judge David C. Cartter came in with two or three other gentlemen, among Mr. Gustavus V. Fox of the Navy Department, and the reading of Petroleum V. Nasby from the Confederate Cross Roads was not resumed.”73

Aide John Hay wrote in his diary: “We went into the Secretary’s room. Mr. Wells and Fox soon came in. They were especially happy over the election of Rice, regarding it as a great triumph for the Navy Department. Says Fox, ‘There are two fellows that have been especially malignant to us, and retribution has come upon them both, John Hale and Henry Winter Davis.’ ‘You have more of that feeling of personal resentment than I,’ said Lincoln. ‘Perhaps I may have too little of it, but I never thought it paid. A man has not time to spend half his life in quarrels. If any man ceases to attack me. I never remember the past against him. It has seemed to me recently that Winter Davis was growing more sensible to his own true interests and has ceased wasting his time by attacking me. I hope for his own good he has. He has been very malicious against me but has only injured himself by it. His conduct has been very strange to me. I came here, his friend, wishing to continue so. I had heard nothing but good of him; he was the cousin of my intimate friend Judge Davis. But he had scarcely been elected when I began to learn of his attacking me on all possible occasions. It is very much the same with Hickman. I was much disappointed that he failed to be my friend. But my greatest disappointment of all has been with Iowa Senator James W. Grimes. Before I came here, I certainly expected to rely upon Grimes more than any other one man in the Senate. I like him very much. He is a great strong fellow. He is a valuable friend, a dangerous enemy. He carries too many guns not to be respected in any point of view. But he got wrong against me, I do not clearly know how, and has always been cool and almost hostile to me. I am glad he has always been the friend of the Navy and generally of the Administration.”74

The news that night was almost uniformly positive. Except early reports from New York which awarded it to McClellan. Historian Larry T. Balsamo wrote that “just over four million sovereign voters went to the polls to help decide the nation’s destiny. The results were an overwhelming referendum of approval and support for Lincoln, his party and the policies of his administration.”75 Eventually, the President would win about 55 percent of the vote and all but three states, Kentucky, Delaware, and New Jersey. Dana remembered: “The first gun came from Indiana, Indianapolis sending word about half-past six in the evening that a gain of fifteen hundred in that city had been made for Lincoln. At seven o’clock, accompanied only by a friend, the President went over the War Department to hear the telegraphic dispatches, as they brought in the returns, but it was nearly nine o’clock before anything definite came in, and then Baltimore sent up her splendid majority of ten thousand plus. The President only smiled good-naturedly and said that was a fair beginning. Next Massachusetts send word that she was good for 75,000 majority (since much increased), and hard upon her came glorious old Pennsylvania, Forney telegraphing that the State was sure for Lincoln. ‘As goes Pennsylvania, so goes the Union, they say,’ remarked Father Abraham, and he looked solemn, as he seemed to see another term of office looming before him. There was a long lull, and nothing heard from New York, the chosen battle ground of the Democracy, about which all were so anxious. New Jersey broke the calm by announcing a gain of one Congressman for the Union, but with a fair prospect of the State going for McClellan; then the President had to tell a story about the successful New Jersey Union Congressman, Dr. Newell, a family friend of the Lincolns, which was interrupted by a dispatch from New York City, claiming the State by 10,000. ‘I don’t believe that,’ remarked the incredulous Chief Magistrate, and when Greeley telegraphed at midnight that we should have the state by about four thousand, he thought that more reasonable. So the night wore on, and by midnight we were sure of Pennsylvania, the New England States, Maryland, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and it then appeared that we should have Delaware. Still no word came from Illinois, or Iowa, or any of the trans-Mississippi States, and the President was specially concerned to hear from his own State, which sent a dispatch from Chicago about one o’clock in the morning, claiming the State for Lincoln by 20,000 and Chicago by 2,500 majority. The wires worked badly on account of the storm, which increased, and nothing more was heard from the West until last night, the 10th, when the President received two days’ dispatches from Springfield, claiming the state by 17,000 and the Capital by 20 majority, Springfield having been heretofore Democratic. By midnight the few gentlemen in the office had had the pleasure of congratulating the President on his re-election. He took it very calmly – said that he was free to confess that he felt relieved of suspense, and was glad that the verdict of the people was so likely to be clear, full and unmistakable, for it them appeared that his majority in the electoral college would be immense. About two o’clock in the morning a messenger came over from the White House with the intelligence that a crowd of Pennsylvanians were serenading his empty chamber, whereupon he went home, and in answer to repeated calls came forward and made one of the happiest and noblest little speeches of his life…”76

Hay recalled: “Towards midnight we had supper, provided by Eckert. The President went awkwardly and hospitably to work shoveling out the fried oysters. He was most agreeable and genial al the evening in fact. Fox was abusing the coffee for being so hot, saying quaintly, it kept hot all the way down to the bottom of the cup as a piece of ice staid cold till you finished eating it.”77 President Lincoln told serenaders that night: “All who have labored to-day in behalf of the Union organization, have wrought for the best interests of their country and the world, not only for the present, but for all future ages. I am thankful to God for this approval of the people.” 78 Historian David E. Long wrote: “Lincoln generally fared well in the cities. Outside of New York State, where McClellan outpolled him in every major city except Rochester, the only Northern cities where the president did not poll a majority were Detroit and Milwaukee. Milwaukee, where he received the lowest percentage of votes of any Northern city, contained a large number of German Catholics. Lincoln did poorly with Catholic immigrants, among whom support for the war was weakest. They felt little attachment to a war being waged for the freedom of blacks. Almost universally he lost the Irish vote. Pundits viewing the election went to great lengths to establish that the source of Lincoln’s support was in the soil, the rural areas where hard-working, honest Protestant farmers lived the same life that young Lincoln had. The facts do not necessarily bear that out. In very few places did the president not do better than he did in Cook County, Illinois, where he won more than 81 percent of the vote. In Boston, Providence, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and St. Louis, he received more than three of every five ballots. In Cincinnati, he won 56 percent; Philadelphia, 55 percent; and Rochester, 53 percent. Also, before going too far in pursuit of the idea that Lincoln’s strength was with ‘men of the soil,’ it should be remembered that most Confederate soldiers were yeoman farmers.”79

Historian William Frank Zornow wrote: “The President polled 339,308 more votes in 1864 than he had in his first election. He had 55.08 per cent of the vote cast, and thereby removed from his shoulders the stigma of being a minority president. He carried five more states than in his first election: Missouri, Maryland, West Virginia, Kansas, and Nevada. Delaware and Kentucky voted against him on both occasions, and in the second election they were joined by New Jersey, which had given Lincoln four of its electoral votes in 1860. In 1864, Kansas, West Virginia, and Nevada voted in the presidential race for the first time. In four states, Maine, New Hampshire, Michigan, and Wisconsin the President polled fewer votes than in 1860, and nine states (the above four plus Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont) his percentage of the votes polled was diminished.”80

The morning after the election, aide Edward D. Neill saw the President busy at work when he reported for duty and went into Mr. Lincoln’s office. “Entering the room, I took a seat by his side, extended my hand, and congratulated him upon the vote, for my country’s sake and for his own sake. Turning away from the papers which had been occupying his attention, he spoke kindly of his competitor….”81 George McClellan responded to the result by writing privately: “I was fully prepared for the result and not in the slightest degree overcome by it. For my country’s sake, I deplore the result but the people have decided with their eyes wide open and I feel a great weight removed from my mind.”82

Two days later after the election, President Lincoln delivered a more considered response to a serenade gathered outside the North Portico of the White House. He had written out his remarks in advance and an aide held a candle so he could read them to the crowd:

“It has been a grave question whether any government, not too strong for the liberties of its people, can be strong enough to maintain its own existence, in great emergencies.
On this point the present rebellion brought our republic to a severe test; and a presidential election occurring united, in regular course during the rebellion added not a little to the strain. If the loyal people, were put to the utmost of their strength by the rebellion, must they not fail when divided, and partially paralyzed, by a political war among themselves, but the election was a necessity.
We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us. The strife of the election is but human-nature practically applied to the facts of the case. What has occurred in this case, must ever recur in similar cases. Human-nature will not the change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak, and as a strong; as silly and as wise; as bad and good. Let us, therefore, study the incidents of this, as philosophy to learn wisdom from, and none of them as wrongs to be revenged.
But the election, along with its incidental, and undesirable strife, has done good too. It has demonstrated that a people’s government can sustain a national election, in the midst of a great civil war. Until now it has not been known to the world that this was possibility. It shows also how sound, and how strong we still are. It shows that, even among candidate of the same party, he who is most devoted to the Union, and most opposed to treason, can receive most of the people’s votes. It shows also, to the extent yet known, that we have more men now, than we had when the war began. Gold is good in its place; but living, brave, patriotic men, are better than gold.
But the rebellion continues; and now that the election is over, may not all, having a common interest, re-unite in a common effort, to save our common country? For my own part I have striven, and shall strive to avoid placing any obstacle in the way. So long as I have been here I have not willingly planted a thorn in any man’s bosom.
While I am deeply sensible to the high compliment of a re-election; and duly grateful, as I trust, to Almighty God for having directed my countrymen to a right conclusion, as I think, for their own good, it adds nothing to my satisfaction that any other man may be disappointed or pained by the result.
May I ask those who have not differed with me, to join with me, in this same spirit towards those who have?
And now, let me close by asking three hearty cheers for our brave soldiers and seamen and their gallant and skilful commanders.83


Fred Barnes, The Weekly Standard: “Weber’s highly readable account of the short life span of the Copperheads is especially valuable because it redresses a historical oversight, and also points intriguingly to a current political struggle. The oversight was to give Copperheads short shrift by minimizing their role in the Civil War and the trouble they caused Lincoln.”

More on the Author


    1. Benjamin Rush Cowen, Abraham Lincoln: An Appreciation by One Who Knew Him, pp. 34-35.
    2. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, p. 349(Robert Brewster Stanton, Century Magazine, February 1920) .
    3. Michael Burlingame, editor, Lincoln Observed: Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks, pp. 66-67 (October 6, 1863).
    4. Michael Burlingame, editor, Lincoln Observed: Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks, October 6, 1863, p. 67.
    5. Josiah G, Holland, Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 467.
    6. Harold M. Dudley, “The Election of 1864,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, March 1932, p. 501.
    7. Frederick J. Blue, Salmon P. Chase: A Life in Politics, p. 222.
    8. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, p. 376 (John Palmer Usher, June 20, 1887).
    9. Herbert Mitgang, editor, Washington, D.C., in Lincoln’s Time: A Memoir of the Civil War Era by the Newspaperman Who Knew Lincoln Best, Noah Brooks, p. 127-128.
    10. Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House: Letters, Memoranda, and Other Writings of John G. Nicolay,(John Nicolay to Therena bates, March 21, 1864), 1860-1865, p. 131.
    11. Frederick J. Blue, Salmon P. Chase: A Life in Politics, p. 223.
    12. Mark Scroggins, Hannibal: The Life of Abraham Lincoln’s First Vice President, p. 204.
    13. Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, editors, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, May 22, 1864, pp. 197-198.
    14. Richard S. West, Jr. Lincoln’s Scapegoat General: A Life of Benjamin F. Butler, 1818-1893, pp. 220-221.
    15. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, (George S. Boutwell), p. 111.
    16. Benjamin Rush Cowen, Abraham Lincoln: An Appreciation by One Who Knew Him, p. 36.
    17. Clarence Edward Macartney, Lincoln and the Bible (See William E. Barton, The Soul of Abraham Lincoln, pp. 93-94, p. 84.
    18. Michael Burlingame, editor, At Lincoln’s Side: John Hay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings, p. 84 (Letter from John Hay to John G. Nicolay, June 6, 1864).
    19. Howard K. Beale, editor, The Diary of Edward Bates, pp. 374-375.
    20. >Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois (Letter of John Nicolay to John Hay, June 6, 1864).
    21. Herbert Mitgang, editor, Washington, D.C., in Lincoln’s Time: A Memoir of the Civil War Era by the Newspaperman Who Knew Lincoln Best, Noah Brooks, p. 142.
    22. Roy P. Basler, editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VII, p. 376 (Endorsement Concerning Leonard Swett and Joseph Holt, June 6, 1864).
    23. Mark Scroggins, Hannibal: The Life of Abraham Lincoln’s First Vice President, p. 203.
    24. David Herbert Donald and Harold Holzer, editors, Lincoln in the Times; The Life of Abraham Lincoln as Originally Reported in The New York Times, p. 209 (New York Times, June 9, 1864).
    25. Roy P. Basler, editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume. VII, pp. 381-382 (Reply to Committee Notifying Lincoln Of His Renomination).
    26. Herbert Mitgang, editor, Washington, D.C., in Lincoln’s Time: A Memoir of the Civil War Era by the Newspaperman Who Knew Lincoln Best, Noah Brooks, p. 140.
    27. Christopher J. Olsen, The American Civil War: A Hands-On History, p. 200.
    28. Hans L. Trefousse, Benjamin Franklin Wade, pp. 228-229.
    29. Harold M. Dudley, “The Election of 1864,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, March 1932, p. 506 (Letter from Millard Fillmore to Mrs. George B. McClellan, March 24, 1864).
    30. Harold M. Dudley, “The Election of 1864,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, March 1932, p. 510.
    31. James G. Blaine, Twenty Years in Congress, Volume II, pp. 43-44.
    32. Hans L. Trefousse, Benjamin Franklin Wade, p. 227.
    33. Hans L. Trefousse, Benjamin Franklin Wade, p. 228.
    34. Gerald Henig, Henry Winter Davis, p. 217.
    35. Alexander K. McClure, Our Presidents and How We Make Them, p. 183.
    36. Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois (Letter from Henry J. Raymond to Abraham Lincoln, Monday, August 22, 1864).
    37. Allan Nevins and Irving Stone, editors, Lincoln: A Contemporary Portrait, p. 30 (Fawn Brodie, “Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens”).
    38. Charles M. Segal, editor, Conversations with Lincoln, p. 338.
    39. Michael Burlingame, editor, At Lincoln’s Side: John Hay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings, p. 91 (Letter from John Hay to John G. Nicolay, August 25, 1864).
    40. Michael Burlingame, editor, At Lincoln’s Side: John Hay’s Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings, p. 92 (Letter from John Hay to John G. Nicolay, August 26, 1864).
    41. Jennifer L. Weber, Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North, p. 159.
    42. Sidney Kaplan, “The Miscegenation Issue in the Election of 1864,” The Journal of Negro History, July 1949, p. 277.
    43. Bruce Tap, “Race, Rhetoric and Emancipation: The Election of 1862 in Illinois,” Civil War History, Spring 1993, pp. 102-103.
    44. Sidney Kaplan, “The Miscegenation Issue in the Election of 1864,” The Journal of Negro History, July 1949, p. 276.
    45. Jennifer L. Weber, Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North, pp.160-161.
    46. Sidney Kaplan, “The Miscegenation Issue in the Election of 1864,” The Journal of Negro History, July 1949, p. 276.
    47. Sidney Kaplan, “The Miscegenation Issue in the Election of 1864,” The Journal of Negro History, July 1949, p. 309.
    48. Jennifer L. Weber, Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North, p. 67.
    49. Herbert Mitgang, editor, Washington, D.C., in Lincoln’s Time: A Memoir of the Civil War Era by the Newspaperman Who Knew Lincoln Best, Noah Brooks, p. 141.
    50. John Waugh, Reelecting Lincoln, pp. 326-327.
    51. Jennifer L. Weber, Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North, p. 167.
    52. Gideon Welles, “Lincoln’s Triumph in 1864,” The Atlantic Monthly, April 1878, p. 455.
    53. William Frank Zornow, “McClellan and Seymour in the Chicago Convention of 1864,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Winter 1950, p. 291.
    54. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, p. 506 (Chauncey M. Depew, Scribners’ Magazine, November 1921).
    55. Christopher Dell, Lincoln and the War Democrats: The Grand Erosion of Conservative Tradition, p. 276.
    56. Stephen W. Sears, editor, Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan, pp. 588-589.
    57. John Waugh, Reelecting Lincoln, pp. 354-355.
    58. David E. Long, Jewel of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln’s Re-Election and the End of Slavery, p. 57.
    59. Bruce Catton, “Grant and the Politicians,” American Heritage,October 1968, from Bruce Catton, Grant Takes Command .
    60. Kenneth M. Stampp, “The Milligan Case and the Election of 1864 in Indiana,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, June 1944, p. 43.
    61. John Waugh, Reelecting Lincoln, p. 341.
    62. Brooks D. Simpson and Jean V. Berlin, editors, Sherman’s Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865 , p. 716 (Letter of William T. Sherman to Abraham Lincoln, September 17, 1864).
    63. Brooks D. Simpson and Jean V. Berlin, editors, Sherman’s Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman 1860-1865 , p. 711 (Letter of William T. Sherman to John Sherman, October 11, 1864).
    64. Brooks D. Simpson and Jean V. Berlin, editors, Sherman’s Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman , 1860-1865, pp. 740-741. (Letter of William T. Sherman to Ellen Sherman, October 27 1864).
    65. Stephen W. Sears, editor, Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan, pp. 588-589.
    66. Roy P. Basler, editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln,Volume VII, p. 514 (Memorandum Concerning His Probable Failure of Re-election, August 23, 1864).
    67. Allan Nevins and Irving Stone, editors, Lincoln: A Contemporary Portrait, p. 30 (Fawn Brodie, “Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens”).
    68. Larry T. Balsamo, “We Cannot Have Free Government Without Elections’: Abraham Lincoln and the Election of 1864,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Summer 2001,
    69. Harold M. Dudley, “The Election of 1864,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review,p. 517 (Letter from George B. McClellan to Sam McClellan, November 10, 1864, March 1932)
    70. Abram J. Dittenhoefer, How We Elected Lincoln, p. 88.
    71. Michael Burlingame, editor, Lincoln Observed: Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks, pp. 142-143 (November 11, 1864).
    72. Charles Dana, Recollections of the Civil War, pp. 234-236.
    73. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, p. 578 (Charles Dana, New York Sun, 1884).
    74. Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, editors, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay, pp. 244-245 (November 8, 1864).
    75. Larry T. Balsamo,”‘We Cannot Have Free Government Without Elections’: Abraham Lincoln and the Election of 1864,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Summer 2001,
    76. Michael Burlingame, editor, Lincoln Observed: Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks , pp. 143-144.
    77. Charles Dana, Recollections of the Civil War, pp. 227-228.
    78. Roy P. Basler, editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VIII, p. 96 (Response Serenade at the White House, November 8, 1864).
    79. David E. Long, Jewel of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln’s Re-Election and the End of Slavery, p. 258.
    80. William Frank Zornow, Lincoln & the Party Divided, pp. 215-216.
    81. Theodore C. Blegen, editor, Abraham Lincoln and His Mailbag: Two Documents by Edward D. Neill, One of Lincoln’s Secretaries, p. 28.
    82. Harold M. Dudley, “The Election of 1864,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, March 1932, pp. 511-512.
    83. Roy P. Basler, editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume VIII, pp. 100-101 (Response Serenade at the White House, November 8, 1864).