Abraham Lincoln and the Election of 1860
The polls had barely closed on the 1858 election when Jeriah Bonham wrote an editorial for the Illinois Gazette predicting the candidates for the 1860 presidential nomination: “Douglas will lead the cohorts of slavery. Lincoln should lead the hosts of freedom in this ‘irrepressible conflict.’ Who has earned the proud position as well as he? as he is in himself the embodiment and exponent of our free institutions. These two men have fought the battles over the plains of Illinois. What so proper as their being the champions of the two principles on the national field?”1
Abraham Lincoln nurtured his 1860 presidential candidacy while politely denigrating it. During 1859, Mr. Lincoln was simply one of many Republicans who were mentioned as a possible alternative to the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination: New York Senator William H. Seward. But several actions occurred in 1859 and early 1860 which helped advance Mr. Lincoln’s chances. The first was the selection of Chicago as the site of the Republican convention – a decision shrewdly engineered by the Illinois Republican chairman Norman B. Judd to give Mr. Lincoln the home court advantage. The second was reaction to Mr. Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech in February 1860 – which thrilled Northeastern Republicans unacquainted with this western lawyer and his unique approach to discussing national issues.
Republicans who sought an alternative to Senator Seward had a new option. Presenting his case for why he should allow his name to be promoted as a Republican presidential candidate in 1860, friend Jesse W. Fell argued: “What the Republican party wants, to insure success in 1860, is a man of popular origin, of acknowledged ability, committed against slavery aggressions, who has no record to defend, and no radicalism of an offensive character…” 2
In the fall of 1859, Mr. Lincoln received an invitation to lecture at the Brooklyn church of Henry Ward Beecher, a noted abolitionist. Lincoln partner William H. Herndon recalled that he “advised Mr. Lincoln to go by all means and to lecture on politics. I told Mr. Lincoln I thought it would help open the way to the Presidency, thought I could see the meaning of the move by the New York men, thought it was a move against Seward, thought Greeley had something to do with it…” 3 The speaking engagement was a followup to the intense speaking schedule Mr. Lincoln had maintained in the Midwest during 1859. He was astute in picking states like Ohio where he might score political points for the 1860 nomination. Ohio’s Salmon P. Chase was less astute. Biographer John Niven wrote “Chase made a major mistake in the fall of 1859 when he refused the invitation tendered to him by William Cullen Bryant and other leading New Yorkers to give an address in the city.” 4 Anti-Seward Republicans were looking for an alternative to the New York senator’s candidacy.
The Lincoln speech at Cooper Union was the product of unusually exhaustive research by Mr. Lincoln – and built on his studies of slavery and the Founding over the previous six years. He was prepared and effective – surprisingly so for his sophisticated New York audience. That audience included some of the city’s top journalists, like editors William Cullen Bryant and Horace Greeley, ensuring that the speech would be widely reported. It was – and invitations to speak followed. Mr. Lincoln was less prepared for the subsequent speeches he was implored to give through New England on his way to visit his son Robert in Exeter, New Hampshire. The Cooper Union speech, he said, “gave me no trouble whatever. The difficult was to make nine others, before reading audiences who had already seen all my ideas in print.” Wisconsin lawyer Charles Caverno observed: “I was in the East when that Cooper Institute speech was delivered. Have you ever watched the turning of the tide – a slow, resistless motion in one direction and a moment later a slow resistless motion in another? That was what you could see in the East as the result of that speech. Men said as they read it: ‘Well, what? Who is this? Here is a strong man – a man of grasp and force. Why, this man would do for the Presidency.'”5
Over the next two months, Mr. Lincoln nurtured his candidacy with increasingly direct professions of his interest. By the end of April, he confessed to Illinois Senator Lyman Trumbull: “The taste is in my mouth a little; and this, no doubt, disqualifies me, to some extent, to form correct opinions. You may confidently rely, however, that by no advice or consent of mine, shall my pretensions be pressed to the point of endangering our common cause.” 6 Because Trumbull harbored his own presidential ambitions, Mr. Lincoln added a personal warning: “A word now for your own special benefit. You better write no letters which can possibly be distorted into opposition, or quasi opposition to me. There are men on the constant watch for such things out of which to prejudice my peculiar friends against you. While I have no more suspicion of you than I have of my best friend living, I am kept in a constant struggle against suggestions of this sort. I have hesitated some to write this paragraph, lest you should suspect I do it for my own benefit, and not for yours; but on reflection I conclude you will not suspect.”7
On May 9, the Illinois Republican State convention in Decatur passed a resolution that unanimously resolved: “That Abraham Lincoln is the choice of the Republican party in Illinois for the presidency, and that the delegates from this State are instructed to use all honorable means to procure his nomination by the Chicago Convention, and that their vote be cast as a unit for him.” 8 One delegate recalled: “Mr. Lincoln was then escorted into the wigwam and to the platform by a committee selected by the chair. His appearance before the convention was the signal for another outburst of most hearty welcome. He received it without a smile, but the benignant expression of his eyes and face, and also his whole attitude, disclosed to every man in that multitude the affectionate gratitude of his heart.”9
Mr. Lincoln had established his credentials as a serious thinker about the nation’s problems, but he had not yet captured the public attention. Fellow Republican Richard Oglesby struggled with this dilemma. He brilliantly solved it at the Illinois state convention. Oglesby talked to Lincoln’s cousin John Hanks about Mr. Lincoln’s early life. At the convention, Ogelsby interrupted the proceedings to announce: “I am informed that a distinguished citizen of Illinois, and one whom Illinois will ever delight to honor, is present, and I wish to move that this body invite him to a seat on the stand.” 10 Mr. Lincoln was lifted bodily from the back of the gathering to the dais. Then, Oglesby staged part two of his plan by claiming that Hanks wanted to make a presentation. Hanks and a confederate then marched into the gathering with a sign: “Abraham Lincoln: The Rail Candidate for President in 1860.” In smaller letters, it announced that the poles holding the sign had been cut by Hanks and “Abe Lincoln” in 1830.
The convention repeatedly demanded that Mr. Lincoln “Identify your work!” According Illinois colleague Richard Price Morgan, “After a moment’s hesitation, addressing himself to the Convention, being again seated, he said, quite solemnly, ‘I cannot say that I split these rails.’ Turning to Mr. Hanks and the committee, and looking at the rails, Mr. Lincoln asked: ‘Where did you get the rails?’ Mr. Hanks replied: ‘At the farm you improved down on the Sangamon.’ ‘Well,’ said Lincoln, ‘that was a long time ago. However, it is possible I may have split these rails, but I cannot identify them.’ Again the Convention shouted, ‘Identify your work! Identify your work!’ At this time the care visible on Mr. Lincoln’s face gave way to a pleasant smile and he again said, ‘What kind of timber are they?’ The committee replied, ‘Honey locust and black walnut.’ ‘Well,’ said Lincoln, his smile increasing, ‘that is lasting timber, and it may be that I split the rails.’ Then he seemed to examine the rails critically, his smile all the time increasing, until his contagious merriment was visible, and he laughingly said, ‘Well boys, I can only say I have split a great many better looking ones.'”
Morgan recalled: “This tactful turn was met by a storm of approval, and three times three were then given, and three more for ‘Honest Abraham Lincoln, the rail candidate, our next President.'” He recalled that after the convention adjourned, “in a moment there was a rush of delegates to the platform. The rails were seized upon and pieces of some of them were sawed off for souvenirs.” Morgan turned his pieces into a gavel. 11 As usual, Mr. Lincoln was scrupulous with the truth. Later as President, Mr. Lincoln was “reminded…that he had authenticated some rails as of his splitting, during the Lincoln and Hamlin campaign. ‘No, I didn’t,’ he replied. ‘They brought those rails in where I was, with a great hurrah, and what I did say was that if I ever split any rails on the piece of ground that the those rails came from (and I was not sure whether I had or not), I was sure that those were the rails.”12
Two weeks later, the Republican National Convention in Chicago demonstrated the inventive genius of Mr. Lincoln’s Illinois supporters, commanded by Judge David Davis; They worked tirelessly from their headquarters at Tremont House to achieve three objectives when the convention convened in the recently constructed “Wigwam.” The first was to convince wavering delegates that William H. Seward could not win key battleground states in the North such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Indiana. And without those states, Seward could not win the Presidency. This itself was a major job since Seward was considered the clear frontrunner. The second was to convince the delegates that Mr. Lincoln was the natural alternative – and better than competitors Salmon P. Chase, John McLean, Edward Bates or Simon Cameron who were variously, too radical, too old, too conservative or too corrupt to be elected. The third was to create an emotional atmosphere in which Mr. Lincoln’s candidacy seemed to be driven by popular demand.
It was not obvious when the Republican convention delegates started assembling in Chicago that Mr. Lincoln was the clear alternative to Seward. Lincoln biographers John G. Nicolay and John Hay wrote: “The opposition to Seward soon made a discovery: that of all the name mentioned, Lincoln’s was the only one offering any chance for such a combination. It needed only the slightest comparison of notes to show that Dayton had no strength save the New Jersey vote; Chase little outside of the Ohio delegation; Cameron none but that of Pennsylvania, and that Bates had only his Missouri friends and a few in border slave-States, which could cast no electoral vote for the Republicans. The policy of the anti-Seward delegates was therefore quickly developed – to use Lincoln’s popularity as a means to defeat Seward.”13
The Republican National Convention was a popular as well as political gathering. So many people came to Chicago that the city’s population doubled by delegates and supporters of the candidates who swarmed through the streets and hotel lobbies. In addition to the 450 delegates, there was room in the Wigwam for thousands of others. “The convention met in an enormous building with a capacity capable of holding ten or twelve thousand people, a barn-like structure, made of rough timber, decorated so completely with flags, banner, bunting, etc., that when filled it seemed a gorgeous pavilion aflame with color and all aflutter with pennants and streamers. It was the first of its kind, and itself something of a wonder,” wrote journalist Isaac Hill Bromley. “The stage proper was of sufficient capacity to hold all the delegates, who were seated on either side of a slightly elevated dais occupied by the presiding officer, the secretaries being just in front, and beyond them, occupying the space to the edge of the platform, the representatives of the press. The parquet below was occupied by alternates and holders of special tickets distributed by the delegates. The galleries were reserved for ladies accompanied by gentlemen, and the miscellaneous public to the number of four or five thousand stood in the aisles and all the available unoccupied space. The peculiarity of this arrangement, it will be seen, was in its breaking the convention proper in two, and seating it on each side, instead of in front of the presiding officer. The advantage of it was that the convention was staged so that the delegates could be seen from all parts of the auditorium and none of the proceedings lost by the audience. Something of convenience was sacrificed to dramatic effect. The convention was just then ‘The greatest show on earth.” 14
“It was a part of the Seward plan to carry the convention by outside pressure,” noted Lincoln ally Leonard Swett. “The friends of all parties, Friday morning, gathered at the capacious Wigwam. About 12,000 were then inside and more out. A line of men were stationed on the roof, the nearest to the speaker’s stand catching from an open skylight the proceedings within and reporting to the next man, and so on to the man on the front of the building, who, with stentorian lungs, announced to the thousands in the streets. Stores were closed, and, seemingly the whole city was there. First opening the war, was the nomination of Seward. It was greeted by a deafening shout, which I confess appalled us a little.” 15
But Seward’s hard-driving, hard-drinking contingent from New York may actually have hurt his candidacy. As one Seward-supporting delegate wrote: “It seemed to me that many of those from New York, who considered themselves the warmest friends and advocates of Mr. Seward, did more to damage him at Chicago than those who opposed him. Much was said at Chicago of the corruption in the New York Legislature last winter, and that Mr. Seward’s election as President would transfer those corrupting influences to Washington. In view of this, his friends damaged him by their overbearing manner in asserting his claims to the nomination, and by the freedom with which they boasted, as it was said, fo the votes they had secured by management, and their offers of money to influence votes for him.”16
Meanwhile, Mr. Lincoln’s political and legal friends also showed up in force in Chicago. Legal colleague Milton Hay stressed that with “due credit to the sagacity and wisdom of those State Politicians who were more nearly Mr. Lincoln’s contemporaries, Davis, Logan, Judd and others, in manipulating the result, yet the perfervid and untiring zeal towards the same result of some of the more prominent of the younger politicians just then emerging into notice, but who have since achieved great State distinction at least, might not improperly claim some notice.” He spoke of future Governors Richard Oglesby and Shelby Cullom. 17
Judge Davis commanded pro-Lincoln teams that met informally and informally with other delegations – to prevent them from supporting Seward on the first ballot and to convince them to switch from favorite sons to Illinois’s favorite on subsequent votes. A key target was the neighboring and larger delegation from Indiana. Together with Illinois, Indiana would cast a block of 48 votes. The Lincoln men used Indiana’s support to leverage backing from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Then the Lincoln team chipped away at delegates in New England that Seward’s supporters thought would go to the New York senator. Seward was undermined by one of his former top allies, New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, who served as a delegate from Oregon, which was short on bodies to fill its delegation. Incongruously, Greeley supported Edward Bates, the most conservative of the Republican hopefuls. Greeley badmouthed Seward’s chances although he actually thought he would capture the nomination. Greeley underestimated Mr. Lincoln. Scholar William Lee Miller wrote: “Lincoln had the advantage, as well as the disadvantage, of being less well-known than others: he had not acquired their enemies.” 18
Back in Springfield, Mr. Lincoln was anxiously awaiting news from Chicago and tempted to break tradition by showing up in person at the national convention. One of the delegates from the Springfield congressional district, N.M. Knapp, wrote Mr. Lincoln: “Things are working: keep a good nerve – be not surprised at any result – but I tell you your chances are not the worst. We have got Seward in the attitude of the representative Republican of the East – you at West. We are laboring to make you the second choice of all the delegations we can, where we can’t make you first choice. We are dealing tenderly with the delegates taking them in detail and making no fuss. Be not too expectant, but rely upon our discretion. Again I say brace your nerves for any result.”19
Mr. Lincoln sent a message to his campaign team: “I agree with Seward in his ‘Irrepressible Conflict,’ but I do not endorse his ‘higher Law’ doctrine. Make no contracts that will bind me.”20 As Whitney recalled the reaction: “Everybody was mad, of course….What was to be done? The bluff Jesse W. Dubois said: ‘Damn Lincoln!’ The polished Swett said, in mellifluous accents: ‘I am very sure if Lincoln was aware of the necessities -‘ The critical Logan expectorated viciously, and said, ‘The main difficulty with Lincoln is -‘ Herndon ventured: ‘Now, friend, I’ll answer that.’ But Davis cut the Gordian knot by brushing all aside with: ‘Lincoln ain’t here, and don’t know what we have to meet, so we will go ahead, as if we hadn’t heard from him, and he must ratify it.'”21
The Lincoln command had a plan to counter Seward’s expected demonstration of support. For this critical day of voting, Lincoln’s supporters arranged to pack the hall by printing counterfeit tickets and distributing them to his supporters for early arrival. While Seward supporters partied the night before, Lincoln’s partisans prepared to pack the hall. The coarse nature of the Seward supporters that he had imported to Chicago did not improve his image while the enthusiastic nature of Illinois Republicans grew to a crescendo as the day to vote neared. The Stop Seward movement convinced enough delegates that Seward was not electable (“available” was the parlance of the day for judging if a candidate could be elected).
When the names were placed in nomination, the assembled throng reacted as if the contest would be settled by the volume of the noise the candidates’ partisans produced. “There is something irresistibly exciting in the united voice of a great crowd,” wrote Nicolay and Hay. “For a moment the struggle appeared to resolved itself into a contest of throats and lungs. Indiana seconded the nomination of Lincoln, and the applause was deafening. Michigan seconded the nomination of Seward; the New York delegation rose en masse, waved their hats, and joined the galleries in a shout which doubled the volume of any yet given. Then a portion of the Ohio delegates once more seconded Lincoln, and his adherents, feeling themselves put upon their mettle, made an effort. “I thought the Seward yell could not be surpassed,’ wrote a spectator; ‘but the Lincoln boys were clearly ahead, and, feeling their victory, as there was a lull in the storm, took deep breaths all round, and gave a concentrated shriek that was positively awful, and accompanied it with stamping that made every plank and pillar in the building quiver.'” 22 Swett wrote: “A thousand steam whistles, ten acres of hotel gongs, a tribe of Comanches, headed by a choice vanguard from pandemonium, might have mingled in the scene unnoticed.”23
Seward led the first ballot 173 ½ to 102. Mr. Lincoln closed on the second ballot within four votes, 184 ½ to 181 – greatly helped by the addition of Pennsylvania’s 48 votes. Swett wrote: “Our programme was to give Lincoln 100 votes on the first ballot, with a certain increase afterward, so that in the convention our fortunes might seem to be rising and thus catch the doubtful.” 24 Although Mr. Lincoln again warned his allies against making bargains, he wasn’t around to stop them, and they did what they thought necessary to get him the nomination. It took three ballots, but on the third ballot, Mr. Lincoln had overtaken Seward and was just 1 ½ votes shy of victory. Shrewdly, Joseph Medill was positioned in Ohio delegation next to the delegation chairman, Robert Cartter, who was quickly convinced to make his mark by shifting four of his state’s votes to Mr. Lincoln.
After that, delegations rushed to be recorded in support. Journalist Isaac Hill Bromley wrote: “I thought I had heard noise and seen wild excitement before, but this was the grand climacteric. On the platform near me [Indianian] Henry S. Lane was executing a war dance with some other dignified delegate as partner; the Indiana men generally were smashing hats and hugging each other; the Illinois men did everything except stand on their heads; hands were flying wildly in the air, everybody’s mouth was open, and bedlam seemed loose. The din of it was terrific. Seen from the stage it seemed to be twenty thousand mouths in full blast…”25
Ohio journalist Murat Halsted, no Lincoln fan, observed: “The fact of the Convention was the defeat of Seward rather than the nomination of Lincoln. It was the triumph of a presumption of availability over preeminence in intellect and unrivaled fame – a success of the ruder qualities of manhood and the more homely attributes of popularity, over the arts of consummate politician, and the splendor of accomplished statesmanship.” 26 Delegates chose a candidate they thought could be elected – not necessarily the one they thought would be the best president once elected. As historian William Baringer wrote: “The doubtful states destroyed Seward not by their inherent strength but by their vociferous predictions of calamity on the Convention ground. Because their misgivings were genuine, the doubtful state leaders so forcefully insisted Seward could not win that they prevented the stampede to Seward which would otherwise have occurred because of his great original strength. The bogey of Seward’s radicalism was exaggerated until, with a majority of the delegates, it carried conviction.”27
Mr. Lincoln first awaited the results of the voting that morning in his Springfield law office – where editor Illinois State Journal Edward L. Baker brought him the results of the first two ballots. Mr. Lincoln then proposed to two lawyer friends that they accompany him to the telegraph office where the results of the second ballot arrived. “While he did not give utterance to his feelings, I could see plainly an expression of satisfaction pass over his face as he read, for he had a very intelligent and expressive countenance,” 28 recalled Charles S. Zane. Mr. Lincoln had moved to the Journal office by the time news of his nomination arrived. “I knew this would come when I saw the second ballot,” he responded. He then headed home, telling friend: “There is a lady over yonder who is deeply interested in this news; I will carry it to her.”29
Seward’s forces were crushed by the voting in Chicago. Journalist Charles Carlton Coffin was seated next to Seward manager Thurlow Weed during the balloting: “I doubt if during his long and eventful life he ever experienced a greater disappointment or a keener sorrow than at that moment. I saw him press his fingers hard upon his eyelids to keep back the tears. His plans had all miscarried. It was the sinking of a great hope. The rails-splitter, story teller – the ungainly, uneducated practitioner of the Sangamon bar – was the nominee instead of the able, learned, classical, polished senator. The mob had nominated him! Mr. Weed did not comprehend that the mob in the wigwam was the best possible representative of the rising public opinion.”30
The New York Times, a pro-Seward publication, reported Mr. Lincoln’s victory but misspelled his name: “The work of the Convention is ended. The youngster who, with ragged trousers, used barefoot to drive his father’s oxen and spend his days in splitting rails, has risen to high eminence, and ABRAM LINCOLN, of Illinois, is declared its candidate for President by the National Republican Party….Mr. SEWARD’s friends assert indignantly, and with a great deal of feeling, that they were grossly deceived and betrayed. The recusants endeavored to mollify New-York by offering her the Vice-Presidency, and agreeing to support any man she might name, but they declined the position, though they remain firm in the ranks, having moved to make LINCOLN’s nomination unanimous. Mr. SEWARD’s friends feel greatly chagrined and disappointed.”31
Illinoisans, however, were thrilled, recalled local editor Jeriah Bonham. “Mr. Lincoln was their favorite – and the people’s idol. It was not thought strange if a man said and did some foolish things – the day was given up to congratulations.” 32 Back in Washington, Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas received a telegram notifying him of Mr. Lincoln’s nomination. Massachusetts Congressman John B. Alley recalled: “I happened to be in the Senate Chamber when Mr. Douglas received the telegram announcing the fact. He went with me from the Senate Chamber to the House of Representatives, of which I was then a member, and small squad of Republicans gathered around him to hear him read the telegram. After reading it, he paused for a few moments and then said of his great antagonist, ‘Well, gentlemen, you have nominated a very able and a very honest man.'”33
A Republican committee of notification trooped from Chicago to Springfield to meet with the party’s new standard-bearer. Many members, such as Philadelphia Congressman William D. Kelley were not initially impressed by Mr. Lincoln’s appearance. But a few minutes with him changed their mind. Kelley later observed: “Well, we might have done a more brilliant thing, but we could hardly have done a better thing.” 34 Illinois Superintendent of Instruction Newton Bateman recalled that during the meeting “little Tad worked his way up to his father’s side, and whispered very loud in his ear. Mr. Lincoln knew that nearly everyone in the room must have heard the whisper – but not the least disconcerted, he arose, and laughing, said: ‘You see, gentlemen, that if I am elected, it won’t do to put that young man in the cabinet – he can’t be entrusted with state secrets.’ The ready wit of this pleasantry was immensely enjoyed. After the merriment had subsided, Mr. Lincoln, still standing, remarked: ‘And now, gentlemen, as you are already aware, Mrs. Lincoln will be happy to meet you in the dining room’ – and led the way to as pleasant and merry a tea party as ever gathered in that little house on Eighth street.” 35 After Mr. Lincoln’s formal reply to the group, George Boutwell whispered to Newton Bateman: “They told me he was a rough diamond – I protest against the adjective – nothing could have more elegant and appropriate.”36
Meanwhile, the Seward delegates from New York – and Seward himself – were bitter about the result. They were particularly bitter at Seward’s fellow New Yorker, Horace Greeley, whose role in their defeat they overstated. A fierce blame game erupted in the press between Greeley and Seward partisan Henry J. Raymond of the New York Times. Republican chances, however, depended on a unified party. Led by David Davis and Leonard Swett, Lincoln’s allies worked hard to heal the rift with Seward and his chief strategist, Thurlow Weed. By the middle of the summer, they were largely successful.
Compared to the Democrats’ problems, the Republican splits were minor. The Democrats met in Charleston, South Carolina, in April and were unable to nominee a candidate after 57 ballots because, unlike the Republicans, they had adopted a rule requiring a super majority of two-thirds to nominate. They gathered against in Baltimore in June, but the Southern delegates were weakened by those who had already bolted the party. So, Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas was duly nominated for President – and southern Democrats quickly ratified incumbent Vice President John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky as their own presidential candidate at a rump convention in Richmond. A fourth group, Constitutional Union Party composed largely of border state Whigs, had chosen Tennessee’s John Bell as their nominee in early May.
“It is not surprising that Charleston and Chicago should furnish many striking contrasts,” wrote Lincoln biographers Nicolay and Hay. “At the Charleston Convention, the principal personal incident was a long and frank speech from one Gaulden, a Savannah slave-trader, in advocacy of the reopening of the African slave-trade. In the Chicago Convention, the exact and extreme opposite of such a theme created one of the most interesting of the debates. The platform had been read and received with tremendous cheers, when Mr. Joshua Giddings, of Ohio, who was everywhere eager to insist upon what he designated as the ‘primal truths’ of the Declaration of Independence, moved to amend the first resolution by incorporating in it the phrase which announces the right of all men to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ The convention was impatient to adopt the platform without change; several delegates urged objections….Mr. Giddings’ amendment was voted down, and the anti-slavery veteran, feeling himself wounded in his most cherished philosophy, rose and walked out of the convention.” 37 A New York delegate took up Giddings’ cause, however, and the amendment in slightly different form was adopted.
Having stated their principles, the Republicans put their emphasis elsewhere in the campaign. The 1860 presidential race was marked by a number of gimmicks. The Wigwam was popularized in Chicago. One young Springfield resident remember “Everywhere wigwams were erected – circular buildings of unplanned boards, – where the spouting [of speeches] went on perpetually, and where many a politician who later won national fame got his start.”38
Lincoln chronicler Melvin L. Hayes wrote: “The Republicans…were mighty proud of the title ‘Honest,’ which represented a quality they thought exceedingly rare in Democratic circles. The New-Hampshire Statesman (Concord) declared that honesty could not possibly be carried to a market where it was more needed than in Washington. A Springfield clergyman, after pointing to the political corruption in the Illinois capital, noted that virtually all public men seemed to be liars, but that he had never heard anyone accuse Lincoln of intentional dishonesty and corruption. Lincoln, the New York Daily Tribune declared, was ‘sterling stuff, which may always be relied upon for perfect integrity, and constant fidelity to duty.'”39
Mr. Lincoln was present for the inception of two important campaign gimmicks. The first was innovation of “Wideawakes,” young Republicans parading through the streets in caps and oilskin capes carrying torches. The phenomenon, which swept the North, was born in Hartford, Connecticut shortly before Mr. Lincoln visited in March 1860. The celebration of the “Railsplitter” Mr. Lincoln first witnessed in Decatur. Richard Oglesby recalled that during the subsequent campaign, “the rail was everywhere and constantly to be seen. It was carried aloft in parades; flaming banners fluttered from it at rallies; glee-clubs sang its praises; campaign-clubs proudly called themselves Railsplitters, Rail-maulers, and Rail-splitter Wide-awakes; lusty men, mounted on huge wagons, split rails as processions moved along; and ‘Lincoln rails’ (of unquestioned authenticity) adorned hundreds of homes.” 40
To educate voters about their “Railsplitter” candidate, several biographies were compiled and widely distributed. While Democrats sought to demonize the Republican standard-bearer, the Republicans presented a folkloric candidate with a common touch. Historian Mark Scroggins noted that “the campaign between the Republicans and the Democrats were particularly nasty. The Republicans tried to convince Western homesteaders that their farms would be carved into plantations if Breckenridge won the election….The Republicans took the brunt of the name calling, and a good share of the mud was slung at Hannibal Hamlin because of his swarthy complexion.” Hamlin was repeatedly described as a mulatto – an expansion on the usual description of his party as “Black Republicans.”41
Historian Lex Renda wrote: “Although they made a variety of antislavery appeals, Republicans throughout the campaign stressed the administration’s shortcomings on the slavery issue: its conspiratorial involvement in the Dred Scott decision, its infamous policy on the Lecompton constitution, and its advocacy of a slave code. Buchanan’s handling of the slavery issue, more than the slavery issue in the abstract, lay at the core of the Republican attack. Just as in 1856, when Republicans campaign as much against Pierce as against Buchanan, in 1860 Republicans focused on Buchanan as much as either of the Democratic nominees. Republicans focused on Buchanan as much as on either of the Democratic nominees. Republicans minimized the differences between Douglas and Breckinridge and argued that the only way to repudiate Buchanan was to vote for Lincoln.”42
After the tumultuous spring conventions, the fall campaign was almost an anticlimax. Senator Douglas rallied and campaigned personally – in violation of the campaign etiquette of the day. While Mr. Lincoln stayed in Springfield, Douglas barnstormed the north and toured South: “Mr. Lincoln is the next President. We must try to save the Union. I will go South.” 43 But, noted historian Jean H. Baker, “Douglas…had exhausted his voice and material by early September…In the North Douglas used his trips to the South as a demonstration of his nationalism and offered himself to voters as a Union man because he was a Democrat, while denying the Breckinridge faction membership in the ‘tout-hearted Democracy’ on the grounds that they were sectionalists.” 44 As the likelihood of a Republican victory increased, attempts to forge fusion tickets among the Douglas, Breckinridge and Bell groups increased, most unsuccessfully.
Lincoln chronicler Melvin L. Hayes wrote: “When Douglas announced that he was going to visit his mother, but then followed a devious route and worked in some speeches on the way, he elicited reams of newspaper copy about ‘Stephen’s search for his mother.’ The Portsmouth (N.H.) Journal printed a poem about the search, with this explanatory footnote: ‘It is said that Stephen did not know where or when he passed his mother; but after traveling South as far as North Carolina, he thought it best to take a ‘back-track’ and so found his mother down in Maine, past Monday.'” 45 Historian James G. Randall wrote: “Douglas swung about with great energy, visiting nearly every Northern state and some Southern ones, projecting his powerful voice over huge outdoor multitudes, overtaxing his strength, courageously appearing in centers of tense hostility, and bearing as best he could the canards of abuse that floated throughout the land, such as the rumors that he was a drunkard, had received the sacraments from the Pope, and was the tool of the Rothschilds.” 46
Mr. Lincoln tracked the campaign without actually campaigning. Historian Reinhard H. Luthin wrote: “Lincoln was keenly interested in the German vote. For years he had endeavored to draw this element from its traditional loyalty to the Democratic party. He now redoubled his efforts, for western Republican leaders knew that without the German vote the Northwest would be lost to the Democrats. The anti-alien laws enacted by the Republicans of Massachusetts in 1859 seriously handicapped Republicans in the Northwest in their endeavors to attract the Teutonic element. Lincoln was concerned over the situation. ‘Massachusetts Republicans,’ he wrote Schuyler Colfax, ‘should have looked beyond their noses, and then they could not have failed to see that tilting against foreigners would ruin us in the Northwest.'”47
Mr. Lincoln did not intend to vote on election day, according to law partner William H. Herndon. “I knew of course that he did so because of a feeling that the candidate for a Presidential office ought not to vote for his own electors; but when I suggested the plan of cutting off the Presidential electors and voting for the state officers, he was struck with the idea and at last consented. His appearance at the polls, accompanied by Ward Lamon, the lamented young Ephraim Elmer Ellsworth, and myself, was the occasion of no little surprise because of the general impression which prevailed that he did not intend to vote. The crowd around the polls opened a gap as the distinguished voter approached, and some even removed their hats as he deposited his ticket and announced in a subdued voice his name, ‘Abraham Lincoln.'”48
Republican opponents did carry 60% of the popular vote but President Lincoln won a convincing majority of 180 in the Electoral College. Together his opponents won only 123 – and Douglas himself won only New Jersey and Missouri. In most of the South, Lincoln’s name was not even on the ballot so not a single vote could be cast on his behalf in their states. When the Electoral College met on February 11, Vice President Breckinridge announced Mr. Lincoln’s victory. Soon, he would be a Confederate general, John Bell would side with the Confederacy, and Stephen Douglas would be dead.
The day after the November election, President-elect Lincoln greeted visitors at usual in the Governor’s office at the State Capitol. Journalist Samuel R. Weed recalled: “He sat a portion of the time in a big armchair with his feet on the lower edge of a large stove and had a word for everybody. Very early in the day he had said to one group of callers: ‘Well, boys, your troubles are over now, but mine have just begun.” He repeated this remark a half-dozen times in two hours and I have no doubt it came direct from his heart.”
After a while the callers became so numerous that he stood up and held a regular levee and took every offered hand. It was amusing to witness this demonstration, but it was so natural, sincere and hearty that no one could question the admiration with which Mr. Lincoln was regarded by his neighbors. An old gray-haired, grizzled farmer shook hands with him, and as he did so exclaimed: “Uncle Abe, I didn’t vote for yer, but I am mighty glad yer elected just the same.”
The President-elect quickly replied: “Well, my old friend, when a man has been tried and pronounced not guilty he hasn’t any right to find fault with the jury.”49
- Jeriah Bonham, Fifty Years’ Recollections with Observations and Reflections on Historical Events, pp. 158-159 (Illinois Gazette, November 4, 1858).
- O.H. Oldroyd, editor, The Lincoln Memorial: Album-Immortelles, pp. 473-476.
- Emanuel Hertz, The Hidden Lincoln, p. 76.
- John Niven, Salmon P. Chase: A Biography, p. 215.
- Roy P. Basler, Editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume IV, p. 555. (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Mary Todd Lincoln, March 4, 1860).
- Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, pp. 210-211 (Charles Caverno, Free Press of Milwaukee, April 7, 1902).
- Roy P. Basler, Editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume IV, pp. 44-45 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Lyman Trumbull, April 29, 1860) .
- Paul M. Angle, editor, Abraham Lincoln by Some Men who Knew Him , pp. 64.
- Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, p. 263 (Richard Price Morgan, February 12,1909).
- William Baringer, Lincoln’s Rise to Power, p. 184.
- Paul M. Angle, editor, Abraham Lincoln by Some Men who Knew Him , pp. 66-67 (“Address of Richard Price Morgan at Pontiac, Illinois”, February 12, 1909).
- 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. 267.
- John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume II.
- Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln (Isaac Hill Bromley, Scribner’s Magazine), November 1893, p. 290.
- Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln (Letter from Leonard Swett to Josiah H. Drummond, May 27, 1860), p. 295.
- James A. Hamilton, Reminiscences of James A. Hamilton; or Men and Events at Home and Abroad, during Three Quarters of a Century, pp. 453-454 (Letter to James A. Hamilton). , May 31, 1860).
- “Recollections of Lincoln: Three Letters of Intimate Friends,” Bulletin of the Abraham Lincoln Association, December 1931, p. 9. (Letter from Orville H. Browning to Isaac N. Arnold, November 25, 1872).
- William Lee Miller, Lincoln’s Virtues: An Ethical Biography, p. 395.
- Jesse Weik, The Real Lincoln; A Portrait, p. 263 (Letter from N.M. Knapp to Abraham Lincoln, May 14, 1860).
- Roy P. Basler, Editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln,Volume IV, p. 50. (May 17, 1860).
- Henry C. Whitney, Lincoln the Citizen, p. 289.
- John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II.
- Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, p. 295 (Letter from Leonard Swett to Josiah H. Drummond, May 27, 1860).
- Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, p. 295. (Letter from Leonard Swett to Josiah H. Drummond, May 27, 1860).
- Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln , p. 290 (Isaac Hill Bromley, Scribner’s Magazine, November 1893).
- William Baringer, Lincoln’s Rise to Power, p. 309.
- William Baringer, Lincoln’s Rise to Power, p. 333.
- Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Lincoln Among His Friends: A Sheaf of Intimate Memories, p. 136 (Charles S. Zane, Sunset Magazine, October 1912) .
- Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Lincoln Among His Friends: A Sheaf of Intimate Memories p. 135. (Charles S. Zane, Sunset Magazine, October 1912).
- Allen Thorndike Rice, editor, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln (Charles Carlton Coffin), p. 166.
- 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.37 (New York Times, May 18, 1860).
- Jeriah Bonham, Fifty Year’s Recollections with Observations and Reflections on Historical Events Giving Sketches of Eminent Citizens – Their Lives and Public Services, pp. 169-170.
- Allen Thorndike Rice, editor, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, p. 575 (John B. Alley).
- Carl Schurz, Reminiscences, Volume II, p. 188.
- Newton Bateman, Abraham Lincoln: An Address, pp. 29-30.
- Newton Bateman, Abraham Lincoln: An Address, p. 29.
- John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II.
- Rufus Wilson Rockwell, editor, Lincoln Among His Friends, p. 94.(John Langdon Kaine, Century Magazine, February 1913).
- Melvin L. Hayes, Mr. Lincoln Runs for President, p. 114.
- Rufus Wilson Rockwell, editor, Lincoln Among His Friends, p. 194 (Richard J. Oglesby, Century Magazine, June 1900) .
- Mark Scroggins, Hannibal: The Life of Abraham Lincoln’s First Vice President, pp. 140-141.
- Lex Renda, Running on the Record: Civil War-Era Politics in New Hampshire, p. 91.
- Allen Johnson, Stephen A. Douglas, p. 437.
- Jean H. Baker, Affairs of Party: The Political Culture of Northern Democrats in the Mid-Nineteenth Century, p. 326.
- Melvin L. Hayes, Mr. Lincoln Runs for President, p. 157.
- James G. Randall, Lincoln the President, Springfield to Gettysburg, Volume I, p 183.
- Reinhard H. Luthin, The First Lincoln Campaign, p. 83.
- William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik, Herndon’s Life of Lincoln, p. 378.
- Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, p. 330 (Samuel R. Weed, New York Times, February 14, 1932) .