Abraham Lincoln Elected President!

Tuesday, November 6, 1860

Over 4.6 million people voted in the 1860 election, it was the highest voter turnout ever reported in America (81.2%). This was known by all to be an incredibly important election.

The southern people “knew” that if Lincoln was elected, there was a good chance that their states would attempt to secede from the Union. The northern states likewise “knew” that the only way to save the Union was for Lincoln to be elected.

Lincoln ran against four candidates. His old rival for the Illinois senate, Stephen Douglas, a northern Democrat, the then-current vice-president under Buchanan, John Breckinridge, a southern Democrat, and John Bell for the Constitutional Union Party. The contest seemed to be up in the air between Lincoln and Douglas until the very end.

While three northern states (New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island) made “fusion tickets,” combining Douglas, Breckinridge and Bell against Lincoln, ten southern slave states didn’t even include Lincoln on their ballots.

The senator from Illinois, Douglas, spent election day evening in the office of the Mobile Register, an Alabamian newspaper friendly to him. This is where he heard the election returns come in by wire, and learned that he was defeated. The Register’s editor prepared an article urging Alabama to hold a secession convention and ran the article the next day, despite Douglas being against it.

Lincoln spent the morning and early afternoon with his wife, Mary, in Springfield, Illinois. At 3pm, he voted at the Springfield Courthouse (casting a straight Republican ticket). He spent the evening, after 9pm, in the Illinois & Mississippi telegraph office, receiving election updates as soon as they arrived. The contest seemed like it could go either way, but around 10pm, Simon Cameron from Pennsylvania reported via the wire: Lincoln took the state at 56.3% giving him the 27 electoral votes needed to become the next President of the United States.

News traveled fast through Springfield. At midnight he left the telegraph office with Mary and took a celebratory dinner at the Watson Saloon where they were serenaded by a choir of ladies singing “Ain’t you glad you joined the Republicans?”

The final results were:
Lincoln: 39.8% of the vote, with 180 electoral votes
Breckinridge: 18.1% of the vote, with 72 electoral votes
Bell: 12.6% of the vote, with 39 electoral votes
Douglas: 29.5% of the vote, with 12 electoral votes

Douglas, while capturing the second highest percentage of popular votes, was only able to secure 12 electoral votes (Missouri and three of New Jersey’s seven). He not only lost, but came in last.

While John Bell would fade into relative obscurity (mostly), Douglas was not through campaigning. And as for John Cabell Breckinridge, he’d remain the vice-president until Monday, March 4, 1861, the day of Lincoln’s inauguration. As we will no doubt see, his political and military career would change dramatically over the next year.

That night in South Carolina, the Charleston Mercury remained open, announcing the election results. By 4am, with dawn breaking over the harbor and the partially-completed Fort Sumter, the contest was clear. Abraham Lincoln, a northern “black” Republican, would be the next president of the United States.

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6 thoughts on “Abraham Lincoln Elected President!

  1. Over 80% voter turnout completely blows my mind. I’m guessing that’s close to the actual voters, since eligible voters would have mostly voted? Or did we have a large percentage of eligible but unregistered voters like we do now?

    1. According to The American Presidency Project, the percentage of “voting age population” that voted was 81.2%. They did not keep track of registered voters, it seems, until 100 years later.

      Keep in mind that only white males were eligible to vote.

      Data, etc is here.

      1. Wow that is amazing. Even in 2008, when there seemed to be a huge push to vote, it was 56%. What a different cultural environment it must have been.

        Honestly the 56% in 2008 surprised me. If it had been 81.2% I would have fainted. Of course it was obvious that the election would affect the country. Not to be too cynical, but now it really seems like voting for one corporate entity over another.

        (Nevermind. I’ll be cynical.)

        I’m really glad you’re including all the details about the politics. It’s interesting to see how it will be relevant to when we get to the military stuff.

        1. I could hardly include anything else at this point. Military build up, as we’ll see, was there a bit, but mostly on the already-established militia and state systems.

          And honestly, we all know that troops were built up. Otherwise there wouldn’t have been such a war. What we don’t know (or rather, what I didn’t know) was how the politics affected everything.

          So many people (myself included) like to compare today’s events with those in history, but in reality, they’re not at all comparable. We can learn from the past, of course, but comparing one election to another or one President to another in history is a bad idea with a long-standing tradition.

          I’m wordy today. Woo!

  2. It should also be noted that while these first handful of posts are not footnoted, the ensuing ones will clearly cite sources, many primary, but a good chunk readily-available secondary.

    Just thought that I’d put that out there.

    *Also, check out the political cartoon. You can click on the image to make it larger and thus readable. Good stuff!

  3. Another huge factor as was already mentioned is that only white males were able to vote, but a huge part of the Abolitionist push came from women. They had a belief that if the black slaves were given freedom, and later rights, that they would be given freedom and rights to within the confines of the government, their marriage etc. Even if you were to add in women and not taken into account the freed man’s vote, had they had this right in the northern states, the turnout would have been extremely different!

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