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.