June 8, 1864 (Wednesday)
It had become almost common knowledge, at least among aficionados of the Civil War, that Abraham Lincoln was nominated by the Republican Party to run as an incumbent in the coming presidential election. According to John Hay, Lincoln’s personal secretary, “death alone could have prevented the choice of Mr. Lincoln by the Union Convention.”
The delegates had gathered the day previous in Baltimore, and there they would decided upon who to put forward for president and vice president. All through the 7th, 600 delegates from twenty-five states gathered in the Front Street Theatre to discuss their options. Even New Mexico, a far off territory, managed to send a delegate.
The meeting was called to order by Judge Edmond Morgan of New York, who reminded all that it was only eight years before that the Republican party first put forward a candidate for president. In that election, there was defeat (he blamed Pennsylvania), but ” in 1860 the party banner was again unfurled, with the names of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin inscribed thereon. This time it was successful; but with success came the rebellion, and with the rebellion, of course, war, and war, terrible and cruel war, has continued up to the present time, when it is necessary, under our Constitution, to prepare for another Presidential election.”
Continuing, Morgan asked the crowd, “Does any an doubt that this convention intends to say that ABRAHAM LINCOLN shall be the nominee?” His audience erupted in what the New York Times described as “Great applause.” However, he made no further mention of Hannibal Hamlin, the current vice president.
There were myriad speeches calling for no compromise with the Rebels, denouncing slavery, and in favor of arming more black soldiers. There were huzzahs for Lincoln, who had sent John Hay in his stead, and praise for numerous personalities. But Hannibal Hamlin was not among them.
On this date, the delegates spent their time voting and re-voting, mostly over which fringe delegates would be allowed to vote, and to establish an official platform, which included a constitutional amendment ending slavery, support for a railroad to the Pacific, and open and encouraged immigration.
When it came time for the vote, Lincoln’s nomination was approved by all states but Missouri, who nominated General Grant (though they later changed their vote to Lincoln). Next was the vote for the vice presidential nomination.
First, Andrew Johnson’s name was given. Johnson was well known and loved as a moderate Unionist from Tennessee. Then Simon Cameron spoke up, nominating Hannibal Hamlin. A third and fourth, L.H. Rousseau from Kentucky and Daniel S. Dickinson of New York, were also nominated.
During the voting, various delegates jumped up and made speeches for Johnson. States that had already voted for Hamlin, like Kentucky, actually changed their votes. In the end, Hamlin lost.
Almost immediately, people began to question how this was possible. While Lincoln was unanimously nominated, he wasn’t the favorite of many. Running another presidential candidate, however, was little more than asking to lose the election. And so, to drive home the point, the vice president was targeted.
There was some attempt to find a Democrat to fill the seat, which was how Daniel Dickinson’s name was pushed forward (and so with Johnson, though we’ll get to that). Also, there was intrigue against Secretary of State William Seward and Senator Charles Sumner. Here, the vice presidential seat was a pawn.
Additionally, it was hardly a secret that Hamlin was weary of the position. He was quoted by a friend as saying, “I am only a fifth wheel of a coach, and can do little for my friends.” To his son, he admitted that he would not campaign to be nominated.
But there was also Lincoln himself. The President knew that the Democrats would put forward a strong opponent (though nobody knew yet who it might be). He had to do everything in his power to pull as many votes from them as he could. And so running with a Democratic vice president might just do the trick.
In March, Lincoln had apparently sent Simon Cameron to talk to Benjamin Butler to see if he might be interested in the job. Though Lincoln fairly well hated the man, according to Cameron, he was disappointed when Butler turned down the offer. That is when he turned to Andrew Johnson, a southern “War Democrat.”
But in this, it is said, Lincoln had to be coy. Hamlin was from Maine, and if New England caught wind that the President was looking to dump their man, there might be hell of some sort or another to pay. Not to mention that if the Radical Republicans sniffed out that Lincoln was searching for a War Democrat for a running mate, they might jump ship completely.
Coy as he should have been, Lincoln hardly kept this to himself, discussing it with not only Simon Cameron, but Thaddeus Stevens, Governor William Stone of Iowa, bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon, Judge Newton Pettis of Pennsylvania, James Lane, Henry Haymond, and even Secretary Seward.
The two biggest movers in this small revolt turned out to be Alexander McClure and Simon Cameron from Pennsylvania, the latter of whom put forward Hamlin’s name at the Convention. So sly was Lincoln, however, that McClue and Cameron didn’t know they were together in Lincoln’s pocket until the night they arrived in Baltimore.
And so, somehow or another, Hamlin was out and Andrew Johnson was in.1
- Sources: New York Times, June 8 & 9, 1864; The Life and Times of Hannibal Hamlin by Charles Eugene Hamlin; Hannibal: The Life of Abraham Lincoln’s First Vice President by Mark Scroggins; Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume 9 by John George Nicolay and John Hay. [↩]