The Election of 1860


We are now arrived at the culmination of the harsh struggle which followed the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska act. The disorders in Kansas, the Dred Scott decision, and the John Brown raid divided the people of the North and South beyond possible conciliation. The prelude of the great struggle came when the house elected in 1858 met in December, 1859, and sought to choose a speaker. John Sherman, of Ohio, had most of the republican votes but lacked several of an election. A Missouri member introduced a resolution that no man should be speaker who had indorsed Helper's " Impending Crisis of the South."

This book, by one from the small farmer class in North Carolina, was a severe indictment of slavery from the standpoint of the non-slaveholders of the South and called on them to support the republican party in order to liberate themselves from the leadership of the slaveholders. Its language was bitter, but its doctrine might well cause to tremble the men who held the upper hand in the slave states; for it was as plain as day that if the non-slave-holding Southerners were organized against slavery its doom was written. In 1859 the book was brought out as a campaign document with a recommendation by prominent republicans, among them Sherman and Grow, both candidates for speaker. The resolutions against " The Impending Crisis " precipitated a bitter discussion of the whole slavery situation, threats of secession were freely made, and more than once members were at the point of personal violence on the floor of the house. It was not until February 1 that the contest ended with the election of Pennington,, a conservative republican of New Jersey.

In these strenuous days the Southern members freely said that the election in the coming autumn of a "Black Republican" president would bring dissolution of the union, and the violent state of feeling in the South indicated that the utterance was not an idle threat.
Such was the spirit in which the country came to the election of 1860.

When this incident occurred the selection of delegates to the national nominating conventions was imminent. Douglas was now at the head of the Northern democracy. His opposition to the aggressive program of the republicans won for him the hatred of the antislavery men. It pleased the democrats in the free states and it was thought it would win the votes of many old Whigs, supporters of Fillmore in 1856. But Douglas would not go as far as most Southerners wished. Their views were expressed in a series of resolutions introduced into the senate by Jefferson Davis. February 2, 1860, demanding that congress guarantee slave property in the territories. As the day approached for the meeting of the convention it became clear that these resolutions were the Southern ultimatum, made as much to force the Northern democrats to show their position as to consolidate the South in support—of secession, if secession should be deemed necessary. Douglas parried the thrust, and was told pointedly that he could not get the Southern vote unless he accepted the ultimatum. He dared not yield, for no Northern state would tolerate forcing slavery into ,
a territory against the wishes of the inhabitants.

The convention met at Charleston, South Carolina, April 23. The extreme Southerners, "fire-eaters" they were called by their opponents", held a caucus and indorsed the Davis resolutions, while the Northern delegates decided to stand by Douglas. The platform committee reported in favor of the former. It was composed of one member from each state, and was thus in Southern control. A minority report held to the Douglas position and accepted the Dred Scott decision. Yancey, the most polished orator among the Southerners, spoke for his section. Reviewing the origin and progress of the great controversy, he came at last to describe the crisis before the country. Slavery, he said, was right: its existence was bound up with the prosperity of the South : and yet with the growth of the great Northwest the South had become a minority and was threatened with ruin through the proposed action of the republicans. The democrats of the North had not met the issue squarely. Accepting the proposition of the abolitionists that slavery was wrong, they had sought to palliate: they had asked the North to withhold their hands against the South because the wrong was not of Northern doing. This attitude Yancey regretted. Had the Northern democrats frankly declared that slavery was not a wrong, the abolitionists would long ago have been silenced, and harmony would now reign in the country.

Yancey's speech was not a new note in the South. Many times he had said the same thing, only to have it rejected as the counsel of an extremist. But in 1860 the Southern temper had changed. His bold words now received the tumultuous Disrupted, approval of his section, and the Northern democrats were made to see how grave was the situation. Pugh of Ohio, a friend of Douglas, spoke in their behalf. He thanked God, he said, that a brave man had at last spoken and the full demands of slaveholders were made known; but the ultimatum was an impossibility, and he declared with the utmost plainness that it would not be accepted. Next, the convention took up the platform. By a vote of 165 to 138 the Douglas position was adopted, the first time in years that the plea of the South on this question had been ignored in a democratic convention. Then rose the chairman of the Alabama delegation with a serious and fixed countenance. According to the instruction of the party in his state, he said, Alabama must withdraw from the convention. As he and his colleagues walked out they were followed by the delegates from seven other States, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Texas, Arkansas, and Georgia. North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Maryland were less radical than the Gulf states, and remained with the convention, although their delegates sympathized in the main with those who withdrew.

After balloting three days the diminished Charleston convention could not get a two-thirds majority for any candidate, and adjourned, to meet again in Baltimore, June 18. When it' reassembled it nominated Douglas for president and Herschel V. Johnson, of Georgia for vice-president. The secedes at Charleston effected an organization, adopted the Southern platform, and adjourned to meet in Richmond. Virginia, on June 10. On that day they again adjourned, this time to Baltimore, June 28, where they finally named J. C. Breckenridge, of Kentucky, for president and Joseph Lane, of Oregon, for vice-president. Thus came to inglorious failure the attempt, inaugurated by Clay in 1850 and renewed and fought for by Douglas from 1854 to 1860, to remove slavery from national politics.

Let us now turn to the republicans. After the defeat of Fremont in 1856 Seward was generally accepted as the leader of his party, and few doubted that he would be its candidate for president in 1860. Opposition existed at isolated points, but it was expected that he would be able to overcome it. The most patent danger was in New York, where Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, was at the head of a devoted band of abolitionists who considered him untrustworthy. Shrewd observers thought Greeley's chief grievance was that he was not consulted in the affairs of the party, and they were not surprised when in the spring of 1859 Seward dined with him at the Astor House, and the papers announced that a reconciliation had taken place. Simon Cameron, who controlled the party in Pennsylvania, was also in opposition, but Seward made a trip to Philadelphia, and the report went out that he had conciliated Cameron also. Seward himself thought he had now arranged things to his satisfaction, and seized the opportunity to make a journey to the Holy Land. While he was gone occurred the John Brown raid and the subsequent wrangle over the election of speaker; and on every hand Steward was proclaimed as the man who had planted the seed from which came the plant of insurrection. L.Q.C. Lamar expressed the Southern view in addressing the republicans of the house in these words: "I was on the floor of the senate when your great leader, William H. Seward, announced that startling program of antislavery sentiment and action against the South, . . . and, Sir, in his exultation he exclaimed — for I heard him myself — that he hoped to see the day when there would not be the footprint of a single slave upon this continent. And when he uttered this atrocious sentiment, his form seemed to dilate, his pale, thin face, furrowed by the lines of thought and evil passion, kindled with malignant triumph, and his eye glowed and glared upon Southern senators as though the fires of hell were burning in his heart!" In the midst of this commotion Seward returned.

In 1850, in opposing Clay's compromise, he had declared that "a higher law" than the constitution demanded the extinction of slavery ;and in 1858 he had said in a speech long remembered that the North was engaged in an "irrepressible conflict" which must make the nation all slave or all free. These two utterances made him seem to the South the very head of all their woes, and he sought to lessen their fears and reassure moderate Northerners in a mild speech which he delivered February 29. The compromising disposition it betokened was to reappear many times in his career.

There were several other candidates, Abraham Lincoln, whom the Illinois convention indorsed on May 9, 1860, Bates, of Missouri, Cameron, of Pennsylvania, no longer in accord with Seward, and seeking his own advantage in the prospect of making a combination with another candidate, and three Ohioans, Wade, Chase, and McLean, no one of whom was likely to be selected. Seward was believed to be stronger than any of these men, but all of them opposed him strongly and were willing to combine to defeat his nomination. Lincoln, whom events were soon to make so famous, had, before the convention met on May 16, the support of
Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, and a few other delegates, but he was little known east of the Alleghanies. Harper's Weekly was the only New York journal which considered him a possibility, and it placed his name last in a list of eleven.

Making a platform occupied the first and second days of the convention, and nominations were set for the third. Early indications Early indications pointed to Seward's success, and his opponents made preparations for a rapid concentration on Lincoln, whom they
found to be the most feasible candidate. Cabinet positions seem to have been promised to the other candidates in order to secure this cooperation, although Lincoln, who was not present, knew nothing of the offers. On the first ballot the vote was 123 ˝ for Seward, 102 for Lincoln, 50 ˝ for Cameron, 49 for Chase, 48 for Bates, and 42 for other men. Two hundred and thirty-three were necessary for a choice. On the second ballot Lincoln gained 79 and Seward 11.

On the third, the Illinois candidate received 235 ˝, and was nominated. Seward was defeated partly because it was thought unadvisable to nominate a man who had so many enemies, and partly because of the personal hostility of men who disliked him. Greeley, whose reconciliation was short-lived, was present, and worked hard against him. When Lincoln made up his cabinet in the succeeding March, four of the six members were men who had been candidates before the Chicago convention. Hannibal Hamlin, of Maine, was nominated for the vice-presidency.

May 9 all that was left of the Whig and know-nothing parties assembled in convention and nominated John Bell, of Tennessee, for president and Edward Everett, of Massachusetts, for vice-president. They called themselves the constitutional union party, and appealed to those who decried party rancor and sectionalism to help them save the country.

No one thought either Douglas, Breckinridge, or Bell could carry the country. The best their followers could hope for was to throw the election into the house. Everywhere they attacked the republicans and declared that Lincoln's election meant the disruption of the union. This argument the republicans derided. It was, said Lowell, "the old Mumbo-Jumbo" conjured up to frighten old women and stock speculators. Seward, who canvassed actively in behalf of his successful rival, said: "I do not doubt but that these Southern statesmen and politicians think they are going to dissolve the union, but I think they are going to do n o such thing." This assurance, reiterated in many forms, allayed the fears of the mass of voters in the free states, so that they were nowise prepared for the events the succeeding winter witnessed. In October Pennsylvania and Indiana elected republican governors, premonitions of the result in November, when Lincoln came triumphantly through with every elector from the free states except three of New Jersey's seven. He had in all 180 votes to 72 for Breckinridge, 39 for Bell, and 12 for Douglas. The popular vote was Lincoln 1,857,610, Douglas 1,291,574, Breckinridge 850,082, and Bell 646,124. Lincoln, therefore, received 930,170 votes less than his combined opponents. In each house of congress also the republicans were in a minority against the combined opposition.


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


BIBLIOGRAPHY: A Short History of the United States by John Spencer Bassett, Ph.D. The Macmillan Company 1913
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