1860 United States presidential election

United States presidential election, 1860

← 1856November 6, 18601864 →

All 303 electoral votes of the Electoral College
152 electoral votes needed to win
Turnout81.2%[1] Increase 2.3 pp

 Abraham Lincoln by Alexander Hesler.jpgJohn C Breckinridge-04775-restored.jpg
NomineeAbraham LincolnJohn C. Breckinridge
PartyRepublicanSouthern Democratic
Home stateIllinoisKentucky
Running mateHannibal HamlinJoseph Lane
Electoral vote18072
States carried1811
Popular vote1,865,908848,019
Percentage39.8%18.1%

 John-bell-brady-handy-cropped restored.jpgBradyHandy-StephenADouglas.jpg
NomineeJohn BellStephen A. Douglas
PartyConstitutional UnionNorthern Democratic
Home stateTennesseeIllinois
Running mateEdward EverettHerschel V. Johnson
Electoral vote3912
States carried31
Popular vote590,9011,380,202
Percentage12.6%29.5%

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About this image
Presidential Election 1860. Red shows states won by Lincoln/Hamlin, green by Breckinridge/Lane, orange by Bell/Everett, and blue by Douglas/Johnson
Numbers are Electoral College votes in each state by the 1850 Census.

President before election

James Buchanan
Democratic

Elected President

Abraham Lincoln
Republican

The United States Presidential Election of 1860 was the nineteenth quadrennial presidential election to select the President and Vice President of the United States. The election was held on Tuesday, November 6, 1860. In a four-way contest, the Republican Party ticket of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin emerged triumphant. The election of Lincoln served as the primary catalyst of the American Civil War.

The United States had become increasingly divided during the 1850s over sectional disagreements, especially regarding the extension of slavery into the territories. Incumbent President James Buchanan, like his predecessor Franklin Pierce, was a northern Democrat with sympathies for the South. During the mid-to-late 1850s, the anti-slavery Republican Party became a major political force in the wake of the Kansas–Nebraska Act and the Supreme Court's decision in the 1857 case of Dred Scott v. Sandford. By 1860, the Republican Party had replaced the defunct Whig Party as the major opposition to the Democrats. A group of former Whigs and Know Nothings formed the Constitutional Union Party, which sought to avoid secession by pushing aside the issue of slavery.

The 1860 Republican National Convention nominated Lincoln, a moderate former Congressman from Illinois, as its standard-bearer. The Republican Party platform promised not to interfere with slavery in the states, but opposed the further extension of slavery into the territories. The first 1860 Democratic National Convention adjourned without agreeing on a nominee, but a second convention nominated Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois for president. Douglas's support for the concept of popular sovereignty, which called for each individual territory to decide on the status of slavery, alienated many Southern Democrats. The Southern Democrats, with the support of President Buchanan, held their own convention and nominated Vice President John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky for president. The 1860 Constitutional Union Convention nominated a ticket led by former Senator John Bell of Tennessee.

Despite minimal support in the South, Lincoln won a plurality of the popular vote and a majority of the electoral vote. The divisions among the Republicans' opponents were not in themselves decisive in ensuring the Republican capture of the White House, as Lincoln received absolute majorities in states that combined for a majority of the electoral votes. Lincoln's main opponent in the North was Douglas, who finished second in several states but only won the slave state of Missouri and three electors from the free state of New Jersey. Bell won three Southern states, while Breckinridge swept the remainder of the South. The election of Lincoln led to the secession of several states in the South, and the Civil War would begin with the Battle of Fort Sumter. The election was the first of six consecutive victories for the Republican Party.

Nominations

The 1860 presidential election conventions were unusually tumultuous, due in particular to a split in the Democratic Party that led to rival conventions.

Democratic (Northern Democratic) Party nomination

Democratic Party (United States)
Democratic Party Ticket, 1860
Stephen A. Douglas Herschel V. Johnson
for President for Vice President
BradyHandy-StephenADouglas.jpg
HerschelVespasianJohnson.png
U.S. Senator from Illinois
(1847–1861)
41st
Governor of Georgia
(1853–1857)

Northern Democratic candidates:

  • Stephen Douglas, Senator from Illinois
  • James Guthrie, former Secretary Treasury from Kentucky
  • Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter, Senator from Virginia
  • Joseph Lane, Senator from Oregon
  • Daniel S. Dickinson, former Senator from New York
  • Andrew Johnson, Senator from Tennessee

Democratic Party candidates gallery

The South Carolina Institute located in Charleston. The Institute hosted the Democratic National Convention and December Secession Convention in 1860.[2]

At the Democratic National Convention held in Institute Hall in Charleston, South Carolina, in April 1860, 51 Southern Democrats walked out over a platform dispute. The extreme pro-slavery "Fire-Eater" William Lowndes Yancey and the Alabama delegation first left the hall, followed by the delegates of Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, three of the four delegates from Arkansas, and one of the three delegates from Delaware.

Six candidates were nominated: Stephen A. Douglas from Illinois, James Guthrie from Kentucky, Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter from Virginia, Joseph Lane from Oregon, Daniel S. Dickinson from New York, and Andrew Johnson from Tennessee. Three other candidates, Isaac Toucey from Connecticut, James Pearce from Maryland, and Jefferson Davis from Mississippi (the future president of the Confederate States) also received votes.

Douglas/Johnson campaign poster

Douglas, a moderate on the slavery issue who favored "popular sovereignty", was ahead on the first ballot, but needed 56.5 more votes to secure the nomination. On the 57th ballot, Douglas was still ahead, but 51.5 votes short of the nomination. In desperation, the delegates agreed on May 3 to stop voting and adjourn the convention.

The Democrats convened again at the Front Street Theater in Baltimore, Maryland, on June 18. This time, 110 Southern delegates (led by "Fire-Eaters") walked out when the convention would not adopt a resolution supporting extending slavery into territories whose voters did not want it. Some considered Horatio Seymour a compromise candidate for the National Democratic nomination at the reconvening convention in Baltimore. Seymour wrote a letter to the editor of his local newspaper declaring unreservedly that he was not a candidate for either spot on the ticket. After two ballots, the remaining Democrats nominated Stephen A. Douglas from Illinois for president.

Benjamin Fitzpatrick from Alabama was nominated for vice president, but he refused the nomination. That nomination ultimately went instead to Herschel Vespasian Johnson from Georgia.

Southern Democratic Party nomination

Southern Democratic Party Ticket, 1860
John C. Breckinridge Joseph Lane
for President for Vice President
John C Breckinridge-04775-restored.jpg
JosephLane.png
14th
Vice President of the United States
(1857–1861)
U.S. Senator from Oregon
(1859–1861)

Southern Democratic candidates:

  • John C. Breckinridge, Vice President of the United States
  • Daniel S. Dickinson, former Senator from New York
  • Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter, Senator from Virginia
  • Joseph Lane, Senator from Oregon
  • Jefferson Davis, Senator from Mississippi

Southern Democratic Party candidates gallery

Maryland Institute Hall, Baltimore. Here bolting delegates nominated Breckinridge before Richmond vote[3]

The Charleston bolters reconvened in Richmond, Virginia on June 11. When the Democrats reconvened in Baltimore, they rejoined (except South Carolina and Florida, who stayed in Richmond).

When the convention seated two replacement delegations on June 18, they bolted again, now accompanied by nearly all other Southern delegates, as well as erstwhile Convention chair Caleb Cushing, a New Englander and former member of Franklin Pierce's cabinet. This larger group met immediately in Baltimore's Institute Hall, with Cushing again presiding. They adopted the pro-slavery platform rejected at Charleston, and nominated Vice President John C. Breckinridge for President, and Senator Joseph Lane from Oregon for Vice President.[4]

Yancey and some (less than half) of the bolters, almost entirely from the Lower South, met on June 28 in Richmond, along with the South Carolina and Florida delegations. This convention affirmed the nominations of Breckinridge and Lane.[3]

Besides the Democratic Parties in the southern states, the Breckinridge/Lane ticket was also supported by the Buchanan administration. Buchanan's own continued prestige in his home state of Pennsylvania ensured that Breckinridge would be the principal Democratic candidate in that populous state. Breckinridge was the last sitting Vice President nominated for President until Richard Nixon in 1960.

Republican Party nomination

Republican Party (United States)
Republican Party Ticket, 1860
Abraham Lincoln Hannibal Hamlin
for President for Vice President
Abraham Lincoln by Alexander Hesler.jpg
Hannibal Hamlin, photo portrait seated, c1860-65-retouched-crop.jpg
Former U.S. Representative
for Illinois's 7th
(1847–1849)
U.S. Senator from Maine
(1848–1857 & 1857–1861)
Campaign

Republican candidates:

  • Abraham Lincoln, former representative from Illinois
  • William Seward, Senator from New York
  • Simon Cameron, Senator from Pennsylvania
  • Salmon P. Chase, Governor of Ohio
  • Edward Bates, former representative from Missouri
  • John McLean, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
  • Benjamin Wade, Senator from Ohio
  • William L. Dayton, former Senator from New Jersey

Republican Party candidates gallery

Chicago Wigwam, Republican Convention

The Republican National Convention met in mid-May 1860 after the Democrats had been forced to adjourn their convention in Charleston. With the Democrats in disarray and a sweep of the Northern states possible, the Republicans felt confident going into their convention in Chicago. William H. Seward from New York was considered the front-runner, followed by Abraham Lincoln from Illinois, Salmon P. Chase from Ohio, and Missouri's Edward Bates.

As the convention developed, however, it was revealed that Seward, Chase, and Bates had each alienated factions of the Republican Party. Delegates were concerned that Seward was too closely identified with the radical wing of the party, and his moves toward the center had alienated the radicals. Chase, a former Democrat, had alienated many of the former Whigs by his coalition with the Democrats in the late 1840s. He had also opposed tariffs demanded by Pennsylvania, and critically, had opposition from his own delegation from Ohio. Bates outlined his positions on the extension of slavery into the territories and equal constitutional rights for all citizens, positions that alienated his supporters in the border states and Southern conservatives. German Americans in the party opposed Bates because of his past association with the Know Nothings.

Since it was essential to carry the West, and because Lincoln had a national reputation from his debates and speeches as the most articulate moderate, he won the party's nomination for president on the third ballot on May 18, 1860. Senator Hannibal Hamlin from Maine was nominated for vice-president, defeating Cassius Clay from Kentucky.

The party platform[5] promised not to interfere with slavery in the states, but opposed slavery in the territories. The platform promised tariffs protecting industry and workers, a Homestead Act granting free farmland in the West to settlers, and the funding of a transcontinental railroad. There was no mention of Mormonism (which had been condemned in the Party's 1856 platform), the Fugitive Slave Act, personal liberty laws, or the Dred Scott decision.[6] While the Seward forces were disappointed at the nomination of a little-known western upstart, they rallied behind Lincoln. Abolitionists, however, were angry at the selection of a moderate and had little faith in Lincoln.[7][8]

Constitutional Union Party nomination

Constitutional Union Party Ticket, 1860
John Bell Edward Everett
for President for Vice President
John-bell-brady-handy-cropped restored.jpg
Edward Everett.jpg
Former U.S. Senator from Tennessee
(1847–1859)
Former U.S. Senator from Massachusetts
(1853–1854)
John Bell and Edward Everett, Constitutional Union Party.jpg

Constitutional Union candidates:

  • John Bell, former Senator from Tennessee
  • Sam Houston, Governor of Texas
  • John J. Crittenden, Senator from Kentucky
  • Edward Everett, former Senator from Massachusetts
  • William A. Graham, former Senator from North Carolina
  • William C. Rives, former Senator from Virginia
A Constitutional Union campaign poster, 1860, portraying John Bell and Edward Everett, respectively the candidates for President and Vice-President. Once Lincoln was inaugurated and called up the militia, Bell supported the secession of Tennessee. In 1863, Everett dedicated the new cemetery at Gettysburg.

The Constitutional Union Party was formed by remnants of both the defunct Know Nothing and Whig Parties who were unwilling to join either the Republicans or the Democrats. The new party's members hoped to stave off Southern secession by avoiding the slavery issue.[9] They met in the Eastside District Courthouse of Baltimore and nominated John Bell from Tennessee for president over Governor Sam Houston of Texas on the second ballot. Edward Everett was nominated for vice-president at the convention on May 9, 1860, one week before Lincoln.[10][11]

John Bell was a former Whig who had opposed the Kansas–Nebraska Act and the Lecompton Constitution. Edward Everett had been president of Harvard University and Secretary of State in the Fillmore administration. The party platform advocated compromise to save the Union with the slogan "The Union as it is, and the Constitution as it is."[12]

Liberty (Union) Party nomination

Liberty (Union) candidates:

  • Gerrit Smith, former representative from New York

Liberty Party (Radical Abolitionists, Union) candidates gallery

By 1860, very little remained of the Liberty Party, after most of its membership left to join the Free Soil Party in 1848 and nearly all of what remained of it joined the Republicans in 1854. The remaining party was also called the Radical Abolitionists.[13][14] A convention of one hundred delegates was held in Convention Hall, Syracuse, New York, on August 29, 1860. Delegates were in attendance from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, and Massachusetts. Several of the delegates were women.

Gerrit Smith, a prominent abolitionist and the 1848 presidential nominee of the original Liberty Party, had sent a letter in which he stated that his health had been so poor that he had not been able to be away from home since 1858. Nonetheless, he remained popular in the party because he had helped inspire some of John Brown's supporters at the Raid on Harpers Ferry. In his letter, Smith donated $50 to pay for the printing of ballots in the various states.

There was quite a spirited contest between the friends of Gerrit Smith and William Goodell in regard to the nomination for the presidency. In spite of his professed ill health, Gerrit Smith was nominated for president and Samuel McFarland from Pennsylvania was nominated for vice president.[14]

In Ohio, a slate of presidential electors pledged to Smith ran with the name of the Union Party.[15]

People's Party nomination

The People's Party was a loose association of the supporters of Governor Samuel Houston. On April 20, 1860, the party held what it termed a national convention to nominate Houston for president on the San Jacinto Battlefield in Texas. Houston's supporters at the gathering did not nominate a vice-presidential candidate, since they expected later gatherings to carry out that function. Later mass meetings were held in northern cities, such as New York City on May 30, 1860, but they too failed to nominate a vice-presidential candidate. Houston, never enthusiastic about running for the Presidency, soon became convinced that he had no chance of winning and that his candidacy would only make it easier for the Republican candidate to win. He withdrew from the race on August 16 and urged the formation of a Unified "Union" ticket in opposition to Lincoln.[16][17]

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