Election of 1862 – Huge Republican Losses!

November 4, 1862 (Tuesday)

For the Federal government, the war wasn’t exactly going well. True, there were some victories in the West, but the failure of campaign after campaign in the East far overshadowed them. Just how much the public took notice, and just where they placed the blame became clear on this day – the last of the Election Days for 1862.

Several key states ousted Republican governors in favor of the Democrats. Most importantly, New York replaced Edwin D. Morgan with Horatio Seymour, who narrowly beat out General James Wadsworth, who commanded troops in Washington during the campaign leading up to the election. All five positions on the New York ticket went to the Democrats, with the party taking half the seats in the State Assembly.

A similar fate befell New Jersey, who, in a landslide, elected Democrat Joel Parker over the Republican candidate. The Democrats took control of the State Legislature, as well.

Other states, such as Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Illinois saw significant shifts in favor of the Democrats. Fortunately for the Republicans, none of those states held gubernatorial elections in 1862, and all retained their incumbents.

It seemed like the only way for the Republicans to win was through questionable means, such as those in Ohio. Clement Vallandigham, member of the U.S. House of Representatives, was a Democrat who spoke out in favor of states rights, believing that the Federal government had no business regulating slavery. Through a bit of underhanded redistricting, the Republicans ensured that Vallandigham couldn’t be re-elected. Adding to it were a flood of nasty lies about him, including the old stand by charge of treason. He was defeated, but the Democrats took all but five of the twenty-three seats anyway.

Clement Vallandigham

Republican Representatives to Washington from Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin also lost big. With New England still sticking with the Lincoln Administration, however, the Republicans were able to sucher the letting, and retained the majority in both the House and the Senate (85 to 72 in the House, 31 to 10 in the Senate).

The heavy Republican losses were often attributed to the lack of Republican voters. The election of 1860 saw the highest voter turnout thus far in American history (to this day, it remains the second highest, narrowly losing out to 1874 – 81.8% to 81.2%). The majority of those voters went with Lincoln and the other Republicans. Many of the Republican voters were now enlisted in the army. Only the regiments that remained in their home counties could vote.

For example, in Pennsylvania, only around 2,000 soldiers were allowed to cast their vote. The number of Pennsylvanians in uniform when the October election was held was probably around 250,000. This was, of course, not the only answer. Lincoln had rubbed many people the wrong way. First with the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, and then with all the emancipation talk, many moderate Republicans were not voting along party lines.

Many Democrats were in favor of the war, but only if it was to restore the Union. They saw what happened to Democratic generals, like Don Carlos Buell, and feared that the war was quickly turning into a contest, not only to decide the fate of the nation, but the fate of the slaves, as well. It was probably because of this that General McClellan still retained his job – Lincoln was too smart to fire the leading Democratic general on the eve of an election.

In the Cabinet meeting on this date, Lincoln explained that he was completely fine with removing McClellan any time General-in-Chief Henry Halleck wanted to do it. Of course, everyone knew that Halleck lacked the backbone for such a task. And so Lincoln decided that now, since the last of the elections were over, it was finally time to do something about McClellan.1

  1. Sources: Lincoln’s Darkest Year by William Marvel; The Tribune Almanac compiled by Horace Greeley; Diary by Gideon Welles; “The Impact of National Tides and District-Level Effects on
    Electoral Outcomes: The U.S. Congressional Elections of 1862” by Jamie L. Carson, Jeffery A. Jenkins, David W. Rohde, and Mark A. Souva. []
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One thought on “Election of 1862 – Huge Republican Losses!

  1. One interesting note: at this point U. S. Senators were not directly elected, but chosen by state legislatures. Because several states had essentially governments of occupation (e.g. Tennessee), the Republicans actually managed a gain of five seats in the Senate.

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