The Election of 1860



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The Election of 1860
1. Based on the election map, who do you think won the election? Which section of the country did that candidates support come from (North, South, East, West, etc.)

The politics of 1860 were deeply troubled. John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry stirred the entire nation, and Southerners were not comforted by his hanging. They were increasingly convinced that all Northerners supported murdering white slaveholders.



Democratic Conventions

The Democratic Convention met in Charleston, South Carolina to choose the Democratic Candidate for president in 1860. The man most likely to win the nomination was Stephen A. Douglas. But Southerners were determined to prevent him from being nominated. Southerners hated Douglas’ popular sovereignty; they wanted their party to run on the guarantee that slavery would be allowed in all western territories. Eventually, the Northern delegates who made up the majority finally secured the nomination for Stephen A. Douglas. 50 southern delegates walked out of the convention in anger. The Democratic Party decided to postpone their convention to allow people to cool down and they would meet in Baltimore six weeks later. Once again, Douglas won the nomination, but some southern states did not participate, and others walked out again when Douglas won. Southern Democrats formed their own party and nominated John C. Breckinridge while northern Democrats ran Stephen A. Douglas. Southern Democrats set the stage for a Republican victory in 1860.

The Republican Convention in Chicago

The Republican Party was still brand new in 1860. The first presidential election the Republican participated in was just four years before. But the Republican convention resulted in a number of intelligent political decisions. The man most likely to get the nomination was William H. Seward of New York, who was by far the most famous candidate. But many Republicans believed that Seward’s stance against slavery was too radical so he would not win the election. Although not the most famous candidate, many Republicans liked the Illinois politician Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln had the reputation of being against slavery’s expansion but he was not seen as a radical or abolitionist. Lincoln also opposed the Know Nothings (a political party against immigrants) so he would appeal to immigrant voters, but Lincoln’s stance was not that well known, so many anti-immigrant voters would still vote for Lincoln. Finally, Lincoln was from Illinois, one of the states the Republicans needed to win the election and would appeal to many voters based on the fact that he was born in a poor log cabin and had become successful through hard work. On the first vote, Seward beat Lincoln by 70 votes, but Seward did not have enough votes to win the nomination. The fact that the convention took place in Chicago in Lincoln’s state undoubtedly helped increase enthusiasm for Lincoln. On the third vote, it was finally announced that Lincoln won, and the crowd went wild.

The Republican Party Platform was designed to win the maximum number of votes. (1) Republicans were against the spread of slavery to any new territories (but they were not opposed to slavery in the South). (2) Republicans condemned the actions of John Brown. (3) Republicans supported a homestead act, which would give away Western land to farmers for free after the farmer had worked on and improved the land for five years. (4) Republicans supported the growth of business by endorsing a transcontinental railroad, better roads, canals, and bridges. (5) Finally, Republicans supported a moderate tariff which they argued would help more manufacturing businesses grow and help raise wages for workers. The Republicans thus maximized support from many people as possible, including those that were against slavery, small farmers, businessmen, and workers.

The Election of 1860

In addition to the three candidates running, another party sprung up called the Constitutional Union Party which nominated John Bell. The Constitutional Union Party said absolutely nothing about slavery; they ran on the platform to obey the Constitution and preserve the Union.

The election was a strange one. Republicans made up a united party, but had no Southern support. The Democrats were split in two. Essentially, Lincoln was facing Douglas in the North, while Breckinridge was facing Bell in the South. Lincoln did not even appear on the ballot in ten southern states, meaning that it was not even possible to vote for him. As the race went on, it became clear to Douglas that he was not going to win. Douglas went South, campaigning not for Lincoln, but for the Union. Southerners were threatening to leave the Union if Lincoln and the “Black Republicans” won. Thanks to the division of the Democrats, Lincoln did win, as he carried every Northern state but New Jersey and the North had a larger population than the South.

Southerners were furious. They considered their whole way of life threatened by the Republican victory. Even though Democrats still were the majority in Congress and the Supreme Court, southerners expressed outrage that Lincoln had won and assumed he would immediately move to abolish slavery. Lincoln won on November 6, 1860. On December 20, 1860, a special convention in South Carolina voted 169-0 to secede from the Union. South Carolina declared its independence using the Founding Fathers as an example and the state argued that since Lincoln said "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free" which meant Lincoln would abolish slavery and “The Guarantees of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy....” It took the Second Continental Congress 14 months of debate to decide to declare independence from Britain in 1776. It took less than three months for seven Southern states to secede, and form their own constitution (which was very similar to U.S. constitution, but thoroughly endorsed slavery). The seven Southern states that seceded formed the Confederate States of America, and they elected Jefferson Davis as their president and Alexander Stephens as their vice president. According to Alexander Stephens, the Confederacy’s “new government is founded… upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man.”



Crittenden Compromise

Senator John Crittenden of Kentucky proposed a series of amendments that he hoped would guarantee peace. The Crittenden Compromise among other things guaranteed that slavery would never be abolished where it already existed and it extended the Missouri Compromise Line to the West Coast. Republicans had just won an election on a platform that was opposed to slavery expanding into a single western state, and many also feared that the South would want to annex Mexico or Cuba in order to further increase the size of the slave empire. Lincoln’s stance was firmly against the Crittenden Compromise. Lincoln wrote to a Republican Party leader in New York, “the Missouri Line extended… would lose us everything we gained by the election.” Writing to a Republican Congressman, Lincoln stated, “We have just carried an election on principles fairly stated to the people. Now we are told in advance, the government shall be broken up, unless we surrender to those who we have beaten… If we surrender, it is the end of us, and of the government.” Lincoln’s firm opposition helped unify Republicans against the compromise. It never passed either house of Congress. Perhaps the last chance to avoid Civil War had passed.



As the year 1861 began, the United States was in the worst crisis it had ever experienced since the American Revolution. Seven states had seceded from the Union. And President James Buchanan did nothing. He believed secession was illegal, but he also believed he had no power to do anything. Lincoln did not share that belief, but he would not take office until March 4, 1861. Until then, many Americans were anxious with unanswered questions. Seven states had seceded, but what would the other eight slave states do? How would the new and somewhat unknown man from Illinois handle this crisis? And could the country still avoid civil war?
1. Why did the Democratic Party split?



2. Why did Republicans nominate Lincoln?
3. Were Republicans abolitionists? Explain?

4. How did Lincoln win the election of 1860?
5. Why did southerners say they were seceding from the Union and forming their own government?
6. Why would Lincoln not want to accept the Crittenden Compromise? Do you think he should have endorsed the Compromise to avoid Civil War? Explain.


7. Only 4% of all people living in the South voted for Lincoln, and no one in 10 southern states voted for Lincoln, yet he still won. Did the South have the right to secede? Give two reasons.


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