The Election Fraud of 1860


At the Presidential election of the year 1860, the candidates for President of the United States were the following: Republican nominee, Abraham Lincoln; nominee of the Baltimore Convention (Regular Democratic), Stephen A. Douglass; nominee of the Charleston Convention (Bolting Democratic), John C. Breckenridge; nominee of the Constitutional Union party, John Bell. In the state of New York a fusion of the friends of Douglass, Breckenridge and Bell was effected, and a single electoral ticket run in opposition to Mr. Lincoln. This fusion ticket was divided in this wise: eighteen electors were the avowed supporters of Mr. Douglass, seven favored Mr. Breckenridge and ten were for Mr. Bell. Much fraud prevailed at the election on the sixth day of November, and at the registration prior thereto and therefore.

In the Third ward a scrutiny made by the Republicans detected sixty-three names registered in a single Election district, with no persons to represent them. In one instance the two boys of an Irish widow the one being six and the other seven years of age were registered without the knowledge either of the mother or sons. In the Twelfth ward, five hundred out of the thirty-five hundred names on the registers represented no legal voters. In the Fifteenth ward many fraudulent registrations were unearthed. In the Seventh ward, nine hundred and thirty-five (935) names were found upon the registers, for which there were no persons in existence at the places which had been given as their residences. Vacant lots and uninhabited buildings, were freely claimed as places of abode by those who caused fictitious names to be registered. A few days before the election, arrangements were made by some of the Democratic leaders to bring from Philadelphia, on the three days immediately preceding the election, several hundred men to vote in the Third or lower Congressional district where the candidates for a seat in the National House of Representatives were Amor J. Williamson, Republican, Benjamin Wood, Regular Democrat, and John Y. Savage, Independent Democrat.

Two large dwellings were hired in which to house these imported voters. Blank forms of affidavits were printed, and persons found to represent themselves as householders, and make the requisite oath of identity while the services of a ready Commissioner of Deeds were provided for. The New York Tribune openly charged that five hundred of these printed affidavits were, on the morning of the day before election, actually on hand "in the office of Mr. Benjamin Wood."

The Board of Commissioners of Metropolitan Police, for the purpose of inciting the force to extra vigilance in the work of detecting and arresting offenders issued an order permitting the men to receive for their own personal use the customary $100 reward offered for the arrest and conviction of those who attempted to vote illegally. The police magistrates were applied to, and granted a large number of warrants for persons who had fraudulently registered. The following cases are cited to illustrate the character of the offences committed:

Mr. George K. Cooke, while acting as a Democratic member of the Board of Registry in the Eighth Election district of the Fifteenth ward, caused his own name to be registered in that district as a resident of No. 308 Bowery, while he, in fact, resided at No. 373 Fourth street, in the Ninth Election district, from which place he also registered.

Mr. Napoleon B. Hobbs, a clerk in Lord & Taylor's dry goods store on Broadway, was arrested for having registered in the Eighth Election district of the Fifteenth ward. He had resided in the state less than six months, having come here from Baltimore, Md., and was said to have boasted that he would vote here once, at least. He admitted the facts, and was held to bail to answer the charge.

One John B. Jackson was arrested and committed for having attempted to register in the Third Election district of the Third ward, as a resident of No. 240 Washington street. One of the Board of Registry happened to be familiar with that house and its occupants, and caused Jackson's arrest; whereupon that individual admitted that he did not even reside in the ward.

On the day of election, a large number of arrests of persons who attempted to vote illegally, were made by the police. Among these were the following named persons: David R. Bryant, Francis O'Neil, James A. Shaunessey, Edward Gleason, Henry Wilson, James Scales, Michael Smith, Wm. McGantry, John McCaffrey, James McDermott, James Slover, Charles O'Hearn, and Michael Dorr.

As we have seen, the Common Council was authorized to divide every Election district in which there were more than five hundred voters, while they were required to see to it that no district should contain more than eight hundred voters. The Board was, politically, Democratic.

How faithfully they complied with the provisions of the statute, the following facts will show:

Of two hundred and seventeen election districts, one hundred and fifteen, or more than one half, registered over five hundred names. Of these one hundred and fifteen districts, thirty-two registered between five and six hundred names; thirty-nine registered between six and seven hundred names; twenty-three registered between seven and eight hundred names; eleven registered between eight and nine hundred: five registered between nine hundred and a thousand, three registered between a thousand and eleven hundred; one had twelve hundred and seventy-five, and one thirteen hundred and twenty.

In view of the frauds in registration, the Republicans in many of the wards made a canvass of the Election districts and declared their intention to challenge all such persons as could not be found at the places assigned by them as their residences. This determination led, on the first day of November, tot he passage by the Board of Aldermen of the following resolution, offered by Alderman Gilbert M. Platt, of the Fourteenth Aldermanic district:

"Whereas, it is currently reported and believed, that there exists in this city an organized body of men who intend, on the day of election, to obstruct the polls, by a systematic plan, and challenge every voter they can, in order to keep back the electors and delay voting on that day; therefore,

"Resolved, That the Sheriff of this County be requested and authorized to appoint as many special deputies for each and every district where the election is held, as he may deem proper, to defend the rights and privileges of the electors of this city."

In anticipation of their employment, a large crowd of the lower and rougher elements thronged the corridors of the City Hall and the neighborhood of the park on the morning of the second of November. The then Sheriff, Mr. John Kelly the present Comptroller and head of the Tammany Hall organization hesitated to employ these men, and sought the advice of his counsel, who informed him that he had no power to comply with the directions of the Common Council.

Thanks to the Board of Metropolitan Police, the election was conducted with great quietness and good order; and even the Democratic journals, after the election, admitted the good discipline and impartiality of the force. The registry law, although manifestly defective in many essential respects, proved to be of considerable service in preventing and detecting fraud.


Website: The History
Article Name: The Election Fraud of 1860
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: The Election and Naturalization Frauds In New York City 1860-1870 by John I. Davenport, New York 1894.
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