The Republican Convention
A week later, on May 16, the Republican Party convened in Chicago, Illinois, for their second national convention. The leading candidate for the presidential nomination was Senator William Henry Seward, a former governor of New York. He was a smart, talented, and popular politician, but he also had several negatives. His strong stance against nativism (the anti-immigrant movement) and the American Party hurt his chances with former Know-Nothings. For some, a close association with New York State political boss Thurlow Weed tainted the candidate. In addition, Seward would not be able to compete effectively in Border States against native-son John Bell of Tennessee, the Constitutional Union Party nominee. Furthermore, the likely Democratic nomination of Stephen Douglas necessitated a Republican candidate who could attract “Western” (i.e., Midwestern) voters. The main obstacle to Seward’s nomination, though, was the slavery issue.

Peppering his speeches with references to the notions of “Higher Law” and “Irrepressible Conflict,” Seward had gained a reputation as an avid anti-slavery advocate. The Republican Party was clearly opposed to the expansion of slavery, but many party leaders thought they could not win with a candidate who was considered too extreme on the issue. They needed to appeal to voters in states outside their New England and Upper-Midwest base; states like Illinois, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, which had voted Democratic in 1856 and in which slavery was not the paramount issue. Horace Greeley, the maverick editor of the New York Tribune, privately stated the case: “I want to succeed this time, yet I know the country is not Anti-Slavery. It will only swallow a little Anti-Slavery in a great deal of sweetening. An Anti-Slavery Man per se cannot be elected; but a Tariff, River and Harbor, Pacific Railroad, Free Homestead man may succeed although he is Anti-Slavery.” Seward tried to moderate his views before the convention, but that only made him seem like an insincere opportunist.

Senator Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania was another major candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, but his support was limited primarily to his home state, and rumors of corruption bedeviled him. Governor Salmon P. Chase of Ohio had the backing of a small coalition of antislavery delegates. The elderly Edward Bates of Missouri was endorsed by Horace Greeley, a leader of the anti-Seward faction. A second tier of candidates included the 1856 presidential and vice presidential nominees, John C. Frémont and William Dayton, Congressman Cassius Clay of Kentucky, Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio, and Abraham Lincoln of Illinois.

Lincoln had gained national recognition during the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, but was still not well known outside of Illinois. In December 1859, he published a campaign biography, and in February 1860, he delivered an address at Cooper Union in New York City which garnered positive press coverage and made him a sought-after speaker at Republican rallies throughout New England. Lincoln’s advocacy of internal improvements and tariffs made him popular in states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and he had managed to be anti-nativist and anti-slavery without alienating moderates—just the sort of candidate that editor Horace Greeley had been seeking.

In May, the Illinois delegation entered the Republican National Convention unified behind Lincoln. The convention’s location in Chicago gave the “rail-splitter” the home-field advantage and his campaign manager, David Davis, filled the hall with loud, enthusiastic Lincoln supporters. The candidate telegraphed Davis, “I authorize no bargains and will be bound by none.” To which the campaign manager responded, “Lincoln ain’t here,” and, therefore, made political deals to bring various state delegations into the Lincoln camp. When Davis secured Pennsylvania’s pledge of a second-ballot vote (in exchange for promising a cabinet post to its favorite-son candidate, Simon Cameron), Greeley became convinced that Lincoln was the only candidate who could take the nomination from Seward. The editor then lobbied to bring the Bates delegates into the Lincoln column after initial balloting.

On the first ballot Seward led with 173˝ votes to 102 for Lincoln, 50˝ for Cameron, 49 for Chase, and 48 for Bates, with the rest distributed among several candidates. Although in the lead, Seward had failed to win the necessary simple majority (233), and the behind-the-scene efforts of Davis, Greeley, and others working for Lincoln became tangible on subsequent ballots. The switch of the Pennsylvania delegation from Cameron to the Illinoisan resulted in a second-ballot tally of 181 for Lincoln and 184˝ for Seward. On the third ballot, four Ohio delegates switched from Chase to put Lincoln over the top and other delegations followed suit, giving “Honest Abe” 364 of the 466 votes. The convention then nominated Senator Hannibal Hamlin of Maine for vice president. The Republican platform opposed the expansion of slavery into the western territories without condemning it in the South, criticized the judicial activism of the Dred Scott decision, denounced John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry, endorsed a federal homestead law and a transcontinental railroad, and opposed stricter naturalization laws.

Controversy had arisen when Congressman Joshua Giddings of Massachusetts, an elderly abolitionist, proposed that the Republican platform endorse the proposition from the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal. When his resolution was defeated, perhaps out of fear that it would make the party seem too radical, Giddings registered his disgust by slowly ambling out of the convention hall. Delegate George William Curtis, the 36-year-old columnist for Harper’s Weekly and Harper’s Monthly, then sprang to his feet, demanded recognition from the chairman, and delivered an impassioned speech in favor of Gidding’s proposal. This time, the convention was swayed to accept the resolution endorsing the Declaration’s doctrine of equality.

The Campaign
The Republicans faced the general election united behind Lincoln, with party leaders, including his former rivals for the nomination, Seward, Chase, and Bates, campaigning actively for him. Young Republican men formed “Wide Awake” clubs, wearing helmets and capes and snake-dancing in torchlight parades. Democrats faced the electorate with two essentially regional—Northern and Southern—nominees. The Constitutional Union Party hoped to win enough electoral votes to throw the election into the House of Representatives.

Most Southerners believed that Lincoln was a secret abolitionist and pointed to his House Divided speech and similar comments. “Fire-eater” William Yancey toured the North warning that the South would secede if the Republican were elected. Lincoln refused to assuage Southern fears or to elaborate on his position. He simply pointed to his previous statements that slavery was immoral and he hoped it would be ended someday, but he vowed not to disturb it where it already existed. In an almost unprecedented move, Douglas went on a speaking tour through the Northeast and the South (by tradition, presidential nominees did not publicly campaign). At first Douglas hoped to gather support for what he thought was the unifying concept of popular sovereignty, but by the fall he realized that Lincoln would probably be elected president. Douglas explained to Southerners that they had no reason to secede even if Lincoln was elected, and he warned that secession would cause a civil war.

The Election Results
On November 6, 1860, 81% of eligible voters went to the polls. Lincoln was elected president by earning an Electoral College majority, which was greater than the combined total of his three opponents: 180 for Lincoln to 72 for Breckinridge, 39 for Bell, and 12 for Douglas. The Republican won the popular vote with a nearly 40% plurality, and carried all of the Northern and West Coast states. Douglas secured almost 30% of the vote but received electoral votes from only two states—Missouri and New Jersey. Bell garnered over 12% and carried three states—Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. Breckinridge won 18% of the popular vote and the electoral votes of 11 slave states. However, the South was not as monolithic as it appeared on an Electoral College map of the nation. In the popular vote, the combined totals of the two more moderate candidates on the slavery issue—Bell and Douglas—exceeded Breckinridge’s plurality in three states—Georgia, Louisiana, and Maryland—and neared it in three others—Alabama, Arkansas, and North Carolina.

Nevertheless, Lincoln’s victory was wholly sectional. The Republican had carried every county in New England, 109 of 147 counties in the Mid-Atlantic states, and 252 of 392 counties in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. He received no votes in nine states in the Deep South, and won only 2 of 996 counties in the entire South. After the election results were known, Southern slave states, led by South Carolina, began seceding from the Union. By the time of Lincoln’s inauguration in March 1861, seven states from the Deep South had left the Union. After the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861, the Civil War began and four more Southern states seceded to join the Confederacy.

Sources consulted: William A. DeGregorio, The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents; William Harlan Hale, Horace Greeley: Voice of the People (1950); David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (1995); Elting Morison, “Election of 1860” in The Coming to Power: Critical Presidential Elections in American History, ed. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1971), pp. 118-143; Phillip Shaw Paludan, The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln (1994); George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, America: A Narrative History (1999); and, John C. Willis, “American’s Civil War,” Tables, “The Presidential Election of 1860”:

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