The election of 1860 may have been the most significant in American history. It was certainly the only contest so far where the losing party refused to accept the results. Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican elected to the White House, securing an easy electoral majority but with just less than 40 percent of the popular vote. Within weeks, states from the Deep South, led by South Carolina, began to secede from the union. (By Matthew Pinsker)
The contest soon resolved itself into a two-party campaign in each section: Lincoln versus Douglas in the North and Breckinridge versus Bell in the South. The Republicans did not even put up a ticket in ten Southern states. And Douglas has no hope of carrying any of the same ten states. In the North, most old Whigs/American constituency had gone over to the Republicans. And while Breckinridge gained the support of the prominent Northern Democrats identified with the Buchanan administration, the Southern rights party could expect no Northern electoral votes. It became clear that the only way to beat Lincoln was by a fusion of the three opposing parties that might enable them to carry a solid South plus three or four crucial Northern states. But formidable barriers stood in the way of such a fusion. The bitter divisions among Democrats could scarcely be forgiven or forgotten. A good many fire-eaters had worked to break up the party precisely in order to ensure that the election of a Black Republican president and thereby to fire the Southern heart for secession. Even among Southern Democrats who deplored schism, the gulf was now too wide to be bridged. The only fusion achieved in the South was a joint Bell-Douglas ticket in Texas, which won a paltry 24 percent of the vote against Breckinridge. Herculean efforts by party leaders in New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and New Jersey patched together fusion tickets in those states. But this proved futile, for Lincoln won a majority against the combined opposition in the first three states and an electoral plurality in New Jersey.
James M. McPherson, Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction, 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001), 132-133.
The Republican platform, like the nominee, was meant to broaden the party’s appeal in the North. Although a commitment to halt the expansion slavery remained, economic matters received more attention than they had in 1856.The platform called for a high protective tariff, endorsed free homesteads, and supported federal aid for internal improvements, especially a transcontinental railroad. The platform was cleverly designed to attract ex-Whigs to the Republican camp and accommodate enough renegade Democrats to give the party a solid majority in the northern states.
The Democrats failed to present a united front against this formidable challenge. When the party first met in Charleston in late April, Douglas commanded a majority of the delegates but was unable to win the two-thirds required for nomination because of unyielding southern opposition. He did succeed in getting the convention to endorse popular sovereignty as its slavery platform, but the price was a walkout by Deep South delegates who favored a federal slave code.
Robert A. Divine, et al., The American Story, 3rd ed., vol. 1. (New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2007), 373.
[Lincoln] stayed in Springfield until mid-February 1861, biding his time. He then boarded a train for a long, roundabout trip, and began to drop some hints to audiences along the way. To the New Jersey Legislature, which responded with prolonged cheering, he said: "The man does not live who is more devoted to peace than I am...But it may be necessary to put the foot down." At the end of the journey, reluctantly yielding to rumors of plots against his life, he passed unnoticed on a night train through Baltimore and slipped into Washington before daybreak on February 23.
George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, eds., America: A Narrative History, 5th ed., vol. 1 (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1999), 723.
Up to this time the Democratic Election of party had remained united — at least outwardly. Now, however, the demands put forth by the slave power were more than Northern Democrats could endure. The Democratic National Convention met at Charleston, South Carolina, in April, 1860. The Northern Democrats, with Douglasfor their candidate, were willing to accept the Dred Scott opinion, and any decision which the Supreme Court might make as to slavery. The Southerners demanded that the convention should lay down as one of the principles of the Democratic party that Congress should assume the protection of slavery in the territories. They also declared that the Northerners must advocate slavery and acknowledge that slavery was morallyright — nothing else would satisfy the South. The Northern delegates were in the majority; they adopted the Douglas platform and the Southern men withdrew. The convention then adjourned to Baltimore in the hope that time would bring about a reconciliation. In the end, the Northern Democrats nominated Douglas, and the Southern Democrats Breckinridge.
Edward Channing, A Student’s History of the United States, 4th ed. (New York: MacMillan Co., 1922), 435-436.
The Republicans held their convention at Chicago in May, 1860, and adopted a studiously moderate platform. They denied any intention to interfere with slavery in the states, which in their opinion was a matter for the voters of each state to settle for themselves whenever and as often as they pleased. They demanded, however, that Congress should prohibit slavery in the territories—for them the Dred Scott decision had no validity. They also declared in favor of the protective system and internal improvements at the charge of the general government. The selection of a candidate for the presidency proved to of Lincoln, be difficult. Seward and Chase were the most prominent leaders in the party; but they had been "too conspicuous," and Seward was regarded as a visionary. Lincoln was comparatively unknown; he had few enemies, and was strong in the doubtful Western states which had been carried by the Democrats in 1856. His "availability," to use a modern political phrase, commended him to the delegates; but his nomination was hastened by the transfer to him of the votes of fifty delegates who were pledged to Cameron of Pennsylvania. This transfer was made in consequence of a promise given by Lincoln's friends that Cameron have a cabinet position; it should, however, be said that this was in opposition to Lincoln's express direction. His nomination was received with some indignation by the abolitionists.
Edward Channing, A Student’s History of the United States, 4th ed. (New York: MacMillan Co., 1922), 437-438.
Of the four candidates, not one was able to command a national following, and the campaign evolved into a choice between Lincoln and Douglas in the North, Breckenridge and Bell in the South. Once consequence of these separate campaigns was that each section gained a false impression of one another. The South never learned to distinguish Lincoln from the radicals; the North failed to gauge the force of southern intransigence--and in this Lincoln was among the worst. He stubbornly refused to offer the South assurances or to amplify his position, which he said was a matter of public record.
George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, eds., America: A Narrative History, 5th ed. (2 vols., New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1999), 1: 715-716.
An unprecedented number of voters cast ballots on November 6, 1860. Approximately 82 percent of eligible northern men and 70 percent of eligible southern men went to the polls. The Republican platform succeeded in attracting a broad coalition of northern interests, and Lincoln swept all of the eighteen free states except New Jersey, which split its votes between him and Douglas. While Lincoln received only 39 percent of the popular vote, he won easily in the electoral balloting, gaining 180 votes, 28 more than he needed for victory. Lincoln did not win because his opposition was splintered. Even if the votes of his three opponents were combined, Lincoln would still have won. Ominously, however, Breckinridge, running on a southern-rights platform, won the entire Lower South plus Delaware, Maryland, and North Carolina. Two fully sectionalized parties swept their regions, but the northern one had won the presidency.
James L. Roark et al., eds., The American Promise: A History of the United States, 2nd ed. (2
vols., Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002), 1: 483.
The conflict between Buchanan and Douglas took its toll on the Democratic party. When the nominating convention met in Charleston, South Carolina, a hotbed of secessionist sentiments, it met for a record ten days without being able to name a presidential candidate. The convention went through 59 ballots, was disrupted twice by the withdrawal of southern delegates, and then adjourned for six weeks. Meeting again, this time in Baltimore, the Democrats acknowledged their irreparable division by naming two candidates in two separate conventions. Douglas represented northern Democrats, and John C. Breckenridge, Buchanan’s vice-president, carried the banner of the proslavery South. The Constitutional Union party, made up of former southern Whigs and border-state nativists, claimed the middle ground of compromise and nominated John Bell, a slave-holder from Tennessee with mild views.
With Democrats split in two and a new party in contention, the Republican strategy aimed at keeping the states carried by Fremont in 1856 and adding Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Indiana. Seward, the leading candidate for the nomination, had been tempering his antislavery views to appear more electable. So had Abraham Lincoln, who seemed more likely than Seward to carry those key states. With some shrewd political maneuvering emphasizing Lincoln’s “availability” as a moderate with widespread appeal, he was nominated by his party.
Gary B. Nash et al., eds., The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society, 4th ed. (New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., 1998), 497-498.
In the election on the sixth of November Lincoln carried all the Northern states except New Jersey, receiving 180 electoral votes. Douglas got only 12 electoral votes, from Missouri and New Jersey. Bell carried Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, with 39 votes. And Breckinridge got the 72 votes of the rest of the Southern states. But the electoral vote does not tell the story of the election. Douglas polled a very large popular vote in all the states of the North. He received 1,370,000 votes to Lincoln's 1,860,000 and would have easily won with the support of the united Democratic party. He was repudiated by the administration of Buchanan and by the radical slavery leaders of the South, yet he received nearly twice as many votes (1,370,000 to 850,000) as their candidate, Breckinridge. It was a wonderful testimony to his personal and political hold on his countrymen. Again, although Lincoln received 180 electoral votes to 123 for Douglas, Bell, and Breckinridge combined, his popular vote was only 1,860,000 as against 2,810,000 cast for his opponents. He was the choice of exactly 40 per cent of the voters of the country. Finally, the election showed that the South as a whole was not in favor of secession in 1860.
David S. Muzzey, An American History, rev. ed. (Boston: Ginn and Co., 1920), 325.