Lincoln and Liberty
DESCRIPTION: From Lincoln's 1860 presidential campaign, to the tune of Rosin the Beau: "Hurrah for the choice of the nation! Our chieftain so brave and so true, We'll go for the great reformation, For Lincoln and Liberty too."
EARLIEST DATE: 1860 (Hutchinson's Republican Songster for the Campaign of 1860, according to Silber-CivWarFull)
KEYWORDS: political derivative
1809 - Birth of Abraham Lincoln in Kentucky (hence the references to "the son of Kentucky")
1858 - Lincoln runs for Senator from Illinois against Stephen A. Douglas. Douglas won the election, but a series of debates between the two brought Lincoln to national attention
1860 - The Republicans, looking for a candidate who does not carry much baggage, nominate Lincoln for President. In a four-way race, Lincoln receives 40% of the popular votes and enough electoral votes to be elected President. The result is the Civil War
1864 - Lincoln re-elected President
1865 - Lincoln assassinated
FOUND IN: US
REFERENCES (9 citations):
Sandburg, p. 167, "Lincoln and Liberty" (1 text, 1 tune)
ThompsonNewYork, pp. 364-365, "Lincoln and Liberty" (1 text)
Silber-CivWarFull, pp. 96-97, "Lincoln and Liberty" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-CivWarAbbr, p. 75, "Lincoln and Liberty" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-FSNA 50, "Lincoln and Liberty" (1 text, 1 tune)
Spaeth-ReadWeep, pp. 40-41, "Lincoln and Libery" (1 text, filed under "Old Rosin, the Beau"; tune referenced)
Darling-NAS, pp. 345-346, "Lincoln and Liberty, Too" (1 text)
Silber-FSWB, p. 292, "Lincoln and Liberty" (1 text)
Pete Seeger, "Lincoln and Liberty" (on PeteSeeger28)
cf. "Rosin the Beau" (tune) and references there
cf. "Lincoln Hoss and Stephen A." (subject)
cf. "Adams and Liberty" (concept)
cf. "Jefferson and Liberty" (concept)
NOTES [11352 words]: I have seen several authors (F. A. Simkins, Jesse Hutchinson) listed as writing these words. I think the matter must be considered uncertain.
To explain the complicated situation behind it requires a lot of history. Assuming you want the background, bear with me if it's quite a few words before I even mention the name "Lincoln."
Most histories of the Civil War, quite properly, begin some time around the end of the Mexican War, because this is when the sectional conflicts over slavery started to really tear the country apart. But it wasn't sectional rivalry that elected Lincoln; it was party division. And that division was due largely to the fact that the parties of the mid-nineteenth century were still very fragile things.
It all really started with the War of 1812. This was, in some very real ways, almost a civil war as well as a foreign war. New England, with its economy built upon the sea, hated the war with Britain, even though it was the part of the country that suffered most of the insults inflicted by the British Navy.
The internal struggle in 1812 fell largely along party lines. The two factions which had existed since the passing of the Constitution were the Federalists, with a relatively strong concept of the power of the government, and the Jeffersonians ("Republicans," but not the same party as the current Repubican party) with a much more limited notion of government. And New England, which opposed the war, was almost entirely Federalist in politics.
But the country was governed by the Republicans, based in the South and with little reliance upon trade at sea. They were the ones who declared the war -- and nearly destroyed the young nation in the process, since they utterly bungled both finances and military strategy. By the end, so bitter was the conflict that Federalist New England was holding an event called the "Hartford Convention" which at least considered withdrawing from the Union (Hickey, pp. 270-281, with the results of the Convention itself occupying pp. 277-278).
But then the war ended. The Americans didn't win -- the two sides essentially called it all off on the basis of the status quo. The wreck of the government finances proved that the Federalists had in fact been mostly right. But Americans *felt* they had won -- and the Federalists were the party of the Hartford Convention, which in the wake of "victory" looked like near-treason. Plus the Jeffersonians had found themselves unable to manage the country on their strictly hands-off basis, and came to adopt more and more Federalist-type measures (Schlesinger, p. 19).
Between having little left to distinguish it from the Republicans and having the stain of lack of loyalty, the Federalist party died (Hickey, p. 308) -- died so fast that, five years after the war, James Monroe was re-elected with 231 out of 232 electoral votes, and I've heard that it would have been 232 out of 232 except that a New Hampshire elector disliked Monroe (Schlesinger, p. 19) and felt that no President except George Washington should be elected unanimously (for the electoral vote breakdown, see e.g. the Hammond Atlas, p. U-58). There was a feeble attempt to form a "Tertium Quid," or third party, in the original Jefferson mold, but it failed completely (Schlesinger, pp. 20-21).
For a dozen years, there were no real political parties as such; everyone was a Republican of one stripe or another. Then Andrew Jackson was elected in 1828 (he had nearly won in 1824; he led the popular vote but did not have a majority of the electoral votes, and the House made John Quincy Adams president), and *he* roused opposition (HoltWhig, p. 17, etc.; Schlesinger, pp. 3-7, describes the near-panic in Washington as Jackson prepared to assume the presidency). Indeed, the opposition party which formed in the years after that came to be called Whigs because the British Whigs were generally the anti-Monarchy party, and American Whigs opposed "King Andrew."
The Democratic (Jacksonian) party was never as united as it is sometimes portrayed; there were always factions such as "barnburners," "hunkers," and "locofocos" within it (see, e.g., Schlesinger, p. 398), and it was always possible that they would split off. What held the party together was that the government, inefficient in most other ways, was very good at patronage (see the sweeping indictment of the "spoils system" in Nevins1847, pp. 173-181, which demonstrates how government offices were handed out based on favors, not competence). What kept the nation together was the fact that these were not truly widespread movements; if New York barnburners, say, tried to separate from the United States, they could not take a block of states with them. The most they could do was hijack the party.
A hijack of "the Democracy," as the Democratic party came to be called, might have happened had the opposition been weaker -- or stronger. But the Whigs never really managed to produce a coherent ideology either. They had some common opinions -- support for internal improvements, e.g. -- but on most other issues they had contradictions. For example, although theoretically the anti-war party (Jackson had been elected in part based on his wars against various Indian tribes, including the Creeks and Cherokees, and the Mexican War was started by Democrats), the only two Presidents the Whigs elected (William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor) were both generals.
Meanwhile, the South's pro-slavery attitude was hardening. As late as 1830, there were still significant numbers of southerners who opposed slavery, or at least wanted to see it restricted. But then came Nat Turner's rising. The rising failed quickly, with the participants almost all killed (Vandiver, p. 5) -- but the brought home to southerners the truth that there *could* be a slave rebellion. Ever after, the great fear of southerners was another Santo Domingo, where slaves succeeded in overthrowing their masters.
There was also John C. Calhoun. Originally a strong nationalist with a desire for internal improvements, in the 1820s he started spending more time in his home of South Carolina, and he started beating the drums of sectionalism (Schlesinger, pp. 52-54). Later, for purely personal reasons, he came to resent the northern Democrats who had thwarted his presidential hopes and supported Martin Van Buren (Schlesinger, pp. 54-55, shows just how vicious Calhoun became in this vendetta). And he was so strong an intellect, and so widely respected, that his opinions swayed even those who did not agree with him.
He had also changed how leaders were selected: "With General Jackson, I put the Congressional caucus system under foot, but I did not expect to see this monstrous system of national conventions take its place" (Nevins1847, p. 194). National political conventions, and their platforms, have obviously survived, but at this time the rules were still fluid and the results highly unpredictable (HoltWhig, p. 293) -- except for the certainty of pandering. There was a sense that "party dictation meant slavery" (HoltWhig, p. 32), so the strongest leaders did little to bind the parties to themselves or themselves to the parties.
By the 1840s, the Whigs were discovering that they just didn't have any answers on the question of slavery. And that oh-so-Democratic war, the Mexican War, made the problem worse, because suddenly the United States gained a lot of southern land -- Texas, California, plus lands in between containing most of what is now Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and more -- that had to be opened to slavery or kept as free soil (Mexico, unlike the U.S., banned slavery categorically, though its peonage system looked very like slavery to some observers).
Theoretically, the problem shouldn't have arisen. President Polk, who started the Mexican War, had campaigned on the platform of annexing Texas *and* a large part of what is now western Canada ("Fifty four forty or fight!"). Had he gained all the territory he wanted, he would have added as much northern territory (that is, north of the 36 30' Missouri Compromise line -- land which clearly would not accomodate slavery) as southern.
But, not wanting to fight two wars at once, he had compromised on the Oregon/Canada business, meaning that he brought in less northern territory than expected -- but the Mexican War took over more southern territory. So Polk had supplied less free territory, and more slave territory, than anticipated. This led to charges of bad faith on the part of northwesterners (Nevins1847, p. 7).
The worst of it was that it potentially upset the balance of power in the Senate. California and New Mexico were thought to be mostly desert areas, which would always have small populations -- but they would have lots and lots of Senators (eight to ten, under the territorial arrangement envisioned at the time; Nevins1847, p. 21).
William Lowndes Yancey, who thirteen years later would be more responsible than anyone else for splitting the Union, made matters worse: His "Alabama Resolutions" called for repealing the Missouri Compromise of 1820 to open all the territories to slavery (Nevins1847, p. 12). Already he was threatening secession if he didn't get what he wanted.
It's interesting that, at this time, few called the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional; it had passed by a margin of three to one, with no questions about its legality (Nevins1847, pp. 26-27). It had generally been agreed that Congress could legislate slavery in the Territories -- until that started to threaten the Peculiar Institution.
Ironically, it was a Democrat, David Wilmot, who introduced the Wilmot Proviso, intended to bar slavery from the territories captured in the War (HoltWhig, p. 251); in this regard, it modelled itself on the great Northwest Ordinance of 1787 (Nevins1847, p. 9) -- something that, in theory, should have made it appeal to conservative Democrats. But it was anti-slavery Whigs who became devoted to it.
This proved an elaborate form of party suicide. The Whigs won the election of 1848 with Zachary Taylor as their candidate, but the process of electing him caused much damage to the party, which broke into "Cotton Whigs" and "Conscience Whigs" (the latter basically pro-Wilmot Proviso and anti-slavery; Nevins1847, pp. 201-202). In 1850, the Whigs lost ground in congress. And then they had to pick a presidential candidate for 1852. It took them 53 ballots to nominate someone, and the division was almost entirely sectional (McPherson, p. 116). They finally set aside sitting president Millard Fillmore (who had alienated the Free Soil forces by enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law) to endorse Winfield Scott (Nevins1852, pp. 28-30). He was, in a way, a compromise, but after the nomination, many southern Whigs abandoned the party (McPherson, p. 118).
(Perhaps the best way to demonstrate the Whig confusion is simply to look at their election record. The Whigs contested five elections, those of 1836-1852. In their worst election, that of 1852, four states gave their electoral votes to the Whigs. All four of those states had voted Whig in every presidential election involving a Whig. The four states? Kentucky, Tennessee, Massachusetts, and Vermont; Hammond Atlas, pp. U-58, U-59. Since the latter two were among the strongest against slavery, and the former two were slave states, the problem is evident.)
Even as the Whigs were struggling over a nominee, Democrats were uniting behind Franklin Pierce. (The Democratic convention of 1852 would how chaotic the convention system could be: The convention was deadlocked after many ballots, with Cass and Buchanan the clear favorites. The Buchanan forces then tried a strange strategy of putting up what they thought were straw men, to be quickly defeated. The idea apparently was to convince Cass delegates that there was no other alternative -- only Buchanan could draw wide support. Instead, on ballot #49, the convention precipitated around Pierce; Nevins1857, pp. 18-20; HoltPierce, pp. 41-32.)
This tendency for a deadlocked convention to crystalize around a dark horse is not unusual; it happened again, e.g., in 1880, when a deadlock between Grant and Blaine resulted in the nomination of James A. Garfield (PresElections, pp. 1492-1497), and something vaguely similar had happened in the case of the first "dark horse," James K. Polk, in 1844 (Siegenthaler, pp. 82-85). (Of course, the current system, in which the convention does nothing except use up a lot of fossil fuels ratifying what is already decided, is hardly better.) The problem was, Pierce was a non-entity -- "arguably the most handsome man ever to serve as president of the United States" (HoltPierce, p. 1), with a good memory for faces and facts, but short-sighted, possibly a drunkard, and very likely a man who put party unity ahead of the good of the country (HoltPierce, p. 3).
Nevins1852, p. 32, notes great glee on the Democratic side: "the main reason for Democratic exuberance was that the party had patched up its slavery quarrels, while the Whigs had not." And, indeed, though Scott picked up a respectable vote total, the election was a blowout. HoltWhig, p. 758, gives a table analyzing the election of that year; so bad was the rout that, in Alabama and Mississippi, the Whig percent of the vote dropped by more than half. It was "the most stunning defeat in the party's history" (HoltWhig, p. 754). They won only 44% of the popular vote, and only 42 out of 296 electoral votes, against the vacuous Pierce. Their representation in congress fell dramatically, too -- the Democrats gained two-thirds of the seats in the House, and nearly two-thirds of the Senate (McPherson, p. 119).
No wonder that Alexander Stephens declared, "The Whig party is dead" (McPherson, p. 118). By 1854, even the corpse was collapsing; battered not only by slavery, but by an anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant backlash prompted in part by the Irish famines, and even by the temperance movement (McPherson, p. 135), splinters broke off in all directions. HoltWhig, p. 838 says that the "congressional, state, and local elections between August 1854 and December 1855 were the most labyrinthine [and] chaotic... in all of American political history." They would be followed, two elections later, by the most labyrinthine presidential election.
Unfortunately, President Pierce was a failure. It's not that he was completely incompetent; had he been in a position such as the Queen of England, who at this time had an important role in forming governments though she did not rule directly (similar to the President of Israel today, say), he might have done good work. What he could not do was be a fair umpire between North and South. Nevins1852, p. 43, notes, "Pierce, taking up the reins of office in 1853, had a clear choice between two line of policy and unhesitantly took the weaker and more convenient." That is, he could have supported the Compromise of 1850 with all his might (or perhaps proposed a workable alternative) -- but instead he just tried to drift along.
Pierce's policies did nothing to endear him or his party to a broad base -- he alienated the west by opposing any and every form of internal improvement, plus he tried to avoid sectional conflict by giving in freely to Southern agitation (HoltPierce, pp. 53-54). As a result, even the most extreme Southerners viewed him as a friend (HoltPierce, p. 96) -- hardly something which would gain him northern support. As a result, his party refused to renominate him in 1856 (HoltPierce, pp. 102-105) -- a unique occurence in this period. He had turned so pro-Southern that the residents of his home town actually burned him in effigy (HoltPierce, p. 102).
HoltPierce, p. 122, comments that "Pierce understood southerners' temperament far better than Lincoln and most Republicans." This is undoubtedly true -- and, as a result, Pierce gave in to them. What Pierce clearly did *not* understand was northerners' temperament, even though he came from New Hampshire.
Pierce's cabinet was curious -- it was full of able men like Secretary of War Jefferson Davis and Secretary of State William L. Marcy, but they had no coherent policy; in effect, the Cabinet became a parliament of independent duchies rather than a government (Nevins1852, pp. 45-48). HoltPierce, p. 48, thinks he constructed the cabinet solely to balance sectional and factional interests. "And when a brilliant young Alcibiades grasped the leadership that Nicias did not exercise, Pierce had to fall in behind a chariot that was being driven headlong toward the ruin of the Administration" (Nevins1852, p. 44).
But at least the Democrats were still theoretically in charge in the 1850s, which allowed them to survive. By 1856, the prediction of Alexander Stephens was proved correct: the Whigs were dead (they held a convention of sorts in that year -- but instead of nominating a candidate, they simply endorsed Know-Nothing candidate Fillmore; RandallDonald, p. 104. It was their last act). With their party evaporated, former Whigs had to decide which way to go. Those who accepted slavery almost all turned Democratic.
But northern Whigs founded a new party, devoted to opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Pierce administration (HoltPierce, p. 99). It might have been called "Free Soil" (there was a "Free Soil" splinter party in 1852), or the "Liberty" party, or even "Wilmotite" party -- but the name they ended up with was "Republican."
The anti-immigrant Know-Nothings (who by now were calling themselves the "American" party) also started to fracture in 1856. Northern Know-Nothings nominated Nathaniel P. Banks (the Speaker of the divided House, and a future thoroughly inept Civil War general) even as the southerners nominated Millard Fillmore, and Banks then withdrew in favor of the Republican candidate John C. Fremont (who had gotten the spot mostly because he carried no political baggage). In 1856, this split in the Know-Nothings helped the Democrats -- but in the longer term, it cemented the Republicans as the "other" party (McPherson, pp. 153-155).
The Republicans stood for a number of things -- e.g. most of them, as former Whigs, believed in a strong program of internal improvements. But they stood for one thing unequivocally: An absolute prohibition on slavery in the territories (Nevins1857, pp. 410-411; he claims this as the moderate position of Lincoln, as opposed to the more radical Seward, who considered the party's dominant idea to be "the equality of men before human tribunals and laws." Lincoln and the moderate Republicans wanted to fence in slavery so that it could not grow; the more radical wing of the part was for more or less immediate abolition).
Even the moderate position -- no slavery in the Territories -- was unacceptible in the South. It threatened slavery twice. It threatened it politically because, if all those territories became free states, they would eventually become numerous and populous enough to amend slavery out of the Constitution.
But the real threat, as some realized at the time, was economic. The southern economy was built around "King Cotton" -- and cotton ruined the soil. (This apart from the fact that mass cotton production meant the Southerners were falling into the economic trap of putting all their eggs in one raw material. The South, even as the planters built their mansions, was growing poorer in both absolute and relative terms. The planters were forever in debt, and there was no capital for the non-planters to build decent farms or anything else. Really, by 1860, the South was a colony of the British and New England textile mills; cf. Catton-Coming, p. 84; also McPherson, p. 95, which notes that there were more cotton spindles in Lowell, Massachussetts alone than in *all eleven future Confederate states combined*.)
Even had the South wanted to change -- and some did; the well-respected DeBow's Review, e.g., was always calling for more industry (McPherson, p. 96) -- the economy was ill-structured for change. All the capital was absorbed in land and slaves (McPherson, p. 97; Vandiver, p. 4 says that slaves alone "represented no less than a third of the section's wealth"). But, somehow, the South failed to realize that they were turning their fate over to their perceived enemies. Cotton consumption was growing so fast that the South took to the golden treadmill (the same treadmill that today keeps Saudi Arabia what it is).
William H. Seward was not simply being an anti-slavery man when he wrote that southern territory consisted of "exhausted soil, old and decaying towns, wretchedly-neglected roads, and, in every respect, an absence of enterprise and improvement" (Foner, p. 41). The poverty of slave territory was clear to all who saw it.
Seward apparently thought this entirely a moral effect -- slavery causing the decay. Not really; it was the cotton itself. A sufficiently smart owner could mitigate this -- Edmund Ruffin, who would later fire the first shot at Fort Sumter, had shown that marl (consisting largely of old seashells, and rich in calcium and magnesium) could replenish soil fertility. It didn't matter. Most plantation owners were too foolish to engage in scientific farming (these are, after all, people who thought slaveholding a *desirable* state -- RandallDonald, p. 107, quotes Albert Gallatin Brown: "That slavery is a blessing to the masters is shown by simply contrasting a Southern gentleman with a Northern abolitionist. One is courageous, high-bred, and manly. The other is cowardly, low-flung, and sneaking." Nevins1859, p. 126, cites R. M. T. Hunter, "the very keystone of this arch [the Union] consists of the black marble cap of African slavery; knock that out, and the mighty fabric, with all that it upholds, topples and tumbles to its fall"). Since slavery ruined the land it was on, these upholders of the Peculiar Institution saw the only way slavery could survive was if new land was opened to the slaveholders.
Catton argues that there was another reason why the South clung to slavery: It meant they could avoid the issue of what to do with the former slaves (Catton-Coming, pp. 85-86). Certainly it was a problem we're still struggling with; at the time, even liberals like Lincoln thought the best solution was sending the slaves to found colonies outside the U.S. Many states, north and south, refused to let free Blacks live there. It was a time when racism was so ingrained that no one questioned it. Foner, indeed, argues that many Republicans were not against slavery in the territories because they upposed slavery but because the Whites in the north wanted to make sure plantation culture didn't take over the land -- these Republicans wanted it for themselves, not for the plantation-owners (Foner, p. 61).
The decline of slavery had, in fact, already taken place in many slave states. Delaware in 1860 had a population roughly 20% Black -- but 19,723 of those Blacks were free and only 1798 slaves; the number of slaves had significantly *declined* in the last decade (RandallDonald, pp. 4-5), and by 1860 there were only 111 households left with five or more slaves (RandallDonald, p. 68). Maryland's Blacks were almost half free (Nevins1859, p. 488). Virginia still had plenty of slaves, but relatively few real plantations; to a significant extent, slavery persisted there to breed slaves for the cotton states (McPherson, p. 102).
But the truly ridiculous situation was Kansas. The state had fought a low-grade civil war for half a dozen years over the issue of slavery, and had (with some conniving from Missouri and Federal authories) tried to join the Union as a slave state -- but the 1860 census showed exactly *two* slaves resident in the region (RandallDonald, p. 99).
It didn't help that, in the decade of the 1850s, there had been all sorts of irritants between the regions -- California, Kansas/Nebraska, the doctrine of Popular Sovereignty, John Brown, the filibusterers (southerners who took semi-private invading forces into places like Nicaragua or Cuba hoping to capture more territory for slavery), physical violence in the Senate (Senator Charles Sumner had made a speech attacking South Carolina's Andrew Butler. Butler's nephew Preston Brooks answered by entering the Senate and beating Sumner unconscious with his cane. Sumner needed four years to recover, but his state refused to replace him; Brooks was easily re-elected; Current/Williams/Freidel, p. 398).
None of these actually affected the electoral situation in the slightest, so I won't detail them. What mattered was that every one of them led to more distrust between South and North.
Plus people no longer trusted the Supreme Court. As early as the 1840s, during the debate over the Texas territories, there was an attempt (the "Clayton Compromise") to turn the whole issue over to the courts. This failed; too many people thought the courts unreliable. And then, right after the Election of 1856, came the infamous Dred Scott decision, in which the courts upheld the Southern position in almost every particular -- no compromise, and no limits on the right to slavery. The North was outraged. The reservoir of national goodwill built up since the end of the War of 1812 was completely used up.
You will sometimes hear people claim that secession was not about slavery; it was about States' Rights. This is entirely false, as the above information clearly shows. But this does not mean States' Rights was trivial. On the contrary, the belief in States' Rights was what allowed the South to secede: They felt they were *entitled* to secede -- that each state was sovereign and had the right to leave the Union. The Constitution was, one might say, a treaty which might be revoked at any time, not a binding contract (cf. Nevins1859, pp. 329-331). The distinction is subtle but real: The South did not secede *in defence of* States' Rights but *because they believed in* States' Rights.)
It should be noted that this principle was never properly tested. The Constitution does not mention secession. The principle could have been taken to the Supreme Court -- e.g. President Buchanan could have sought an opinion on the matter when South Carolina pulled out. With a southern-dominated court led by Roger B. Taney of Dred Scott infamy, it is hard to guess how they might have ruled. But no one did so -- in the thousand pages of Hall, there is no article on secession, no court case about it, not even a mention of it in the index. The whole thing reminds me a lot of the Book of Judges: "In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes" (21:25 and parallels).
This was the more so because the period had seen the passing of the last men who remembered the founding of the United States. Andrew Jackson died in 1845. John C. Calhoun followed in 1850, and Henry Clay and Daniel Webster in 1852. The leaders who had held the nation together for thirty years were all gone. So it was more or less accepted: If a Republican became President, the South would leave the Union.
In the place of the great leaders of the second generation there arose -- Stephen A. Douglas.
Catton-Coming, p. 6, sums up the man brilliantly: "Senator Douglas was a man about whom no one could be indifferent. He was either a remorseless scheming politician or a hero defending eternal truth, the appraisal depending partly on the observer's point of view and partly on what Douglas himself was up to at the moment. As a scheming politician he had opened the door for the great tempest in Kansas and now he was standing in the wind's path, defying the storm and those who had made it; a man who could miscalculate drastically but who would not under pressure run away from what he had done. Very few men either hated or admired him just a little. A passionate man himself, he evoked passion in others, in his friends and in his enemies."
Except for the Dred Scott decision, there was very little that happened in the 1850s that he had not influenced. First chosen for the Senate in 1847, he made a reputation for himself three years later. It was Henry Clay the Whig who put together the Compromise of 1850, but Clay was too old to put in the effort to push it through, and it was Douglas the Democrat who had gotten it passed (McPherson, p. 75; RandallDonald, p. 97). Yet, just a few years later, for reasons which seem completely inadequate, he in effect, ruined the Compromise -- and even the 1820 Missouri Compromite -- with his actions regarding Kansas (RandallDonald, pp. 94-95; Holt-Pierce, p. 79, believes the reason was that Douglas and President Pierce thought the Democratic Party needed an issue to rally around. They expected a party conflict; they got a sectional conflict.).
By 1858, he was the most important figure in the country, not excepting President Buchanan, but he was widely regarded as being in trouble in his run for re-election to the Senate (Nolan, p. 133). His attitudes had turned the administration against him to the extent that they tried to run another Democrat to make it a three-way contest (Nevins1857, p. 351), which would naturally have led to a Republican landslide. To this end, they were brutal to Douglas supporters in the state (Nevins1857, p. 372). In the view of Nevins, it made the 1858 Senate contest much more than an ordinary Senate race. Potentially it would decide the direction of the Democratic party -- and with it the nation.
Douglas managed to halt Buchanan insurgency (though naturally the administration never gave him any support), but found himself being trailed around the state by his Republican opponent Abraham Lincoln (Nolan, pp. 135-137). To stop the "stalking," he agree to a series of seven debates, organized by congressional districts.
Not all the debates were memorable or even particularly honest; Nevins1857, pp. 385-386, for instance, talks of the Charleston debate as almost a case of political trickery, and says that its "shadowboxing was unworthy of such men." But the Galesburg debate asked a question still worth asking today. Douglas, declaring Republicanism to be a sectional doctrine, declared that "no political creed is sound which cannot be proclaimed freely in every State of this Union." To which Lincoln wondered if the true test of the doctrine was whether people would not let it be proclaimed everywhere (Nevin1857, p. 387). This was the ultimate difference between the two: Lincoln had a much stronger belief in a higher law. Douglas held as his highest principle popular sovereignty: true democracy (as long as you were male and white and an American citizen and, probably, protestant); Nevins1857, p. 390.
The key was the second debate, at Freeport in northern Illinois. The Dred Scott decision, annulling the Missouri Compromise, allowed Lincoln to put Douglas on the spot: Was there *any* way the people of a territory could exclude slavery in the wake of the Supreme Court's action? Douglas, never one to dodge an issue, formally stated an opinion he had informally held for years (Nevins1857, p. 381). Now known as the Freeport Doctrine, his position was that the Federal government *could not* impose slavery on people, because they would simply not enforce it (Catton-Coming, p. 7; Current/Williams/Freidel, pp 402-403).
Historians -- most of them, of course, anti-slavery -- generally think that Lincoln won his "debates" with Douglas (McPherson, p. 187). Certainly it was the Republican party that distributed tens of thousands of copies (Nevins1859, p. 394).
But the debates and the Freeport Doctrine won "The Little Giant" re-election to the Senate -- just barely. RandallDonald, p. 120, implies that this was partly a result of out-of-date and perhaps gerrymandered district boundaries; Democratic parts of Illinois carried more legislative seats than they were due. (Recall that, at this time, Senators were elected by the state legislatures.)
Nevins1857, pp. 396-398, says that Republican legislative candidates won 125,275 votes; Douglas Democrats 121,090, with the Buchanan Democrats picking up a pitiful 5,071 votes. The map in Nevins1857, p. 397, shows county-by-county totals, with Lincoln taking every county north of roughly Peoria, Douglas winning all but three in the south (roughly below Effingham), and the east-central counties supporting Linoln while the west-central went mostly to Douglas. (It's an amazing map. Apart from those three Lincoln counties in the south, each candidate had one solid mass; there was no checkerboard border such as we usually see in sectional elections).
McPherson, pp. 187-188, has Democrats winning 51 of 54 southern Illinois districts and Republicans winning 42 of 48 in the northern part of the state. It added up to a legislature that gave Douglas 54 votes for the Senate seat and Lincoln 46.
It was, however, a rather pyrrhic victory: Douglas had won Illinois -- but 1858 was otherwise a devastating election for the Democrats. While Republicans had not won sole control of congress (resulting in a second many-month battle over who would be Speaker), they had become the largest party in the House: 109 Republicans, 101 Democrats (only 32 of them from the north, down from 56 in 1856; McPherson, p. 188), 26 Know-Nothings, and one stubbornly self-declared Whig (Catton-Coming, p. 13).
What's more, the cracks in the Democratic party were showing. While it was still officially a unity, it was divided into two factions: The Douglas faction and the Administration faction which followed Buchanan (and his several southern advisors). And the South hated Douglas. Intent on States' Rights when that meant slavery, Southerners would not accept States' Rights when that meant free soil.
Administration supporters were known as "Lecompton men," after the Lecompton Constitution fraudulently foisted on Kansas. Nevins1857, p. 402, notes that "It was significant that nearly all Northern Congressmen who had supported the bill at the Directory's [i.e. the Administration's] behest had run pell-mell for cover as soon as they faced the voters.... Wherever Lecompton was a direct issue, the popular vote was decisive. In Buchanan's own State, for example, ten Lecompton Representative went down; two beaten for renomination, eight for election." Pandering to the South meant defeat in the north -- but failing to give in to the South meant the threat of secession.
Even churches were splitting over the issue; Vandiver, p. 10, notes the formation of the Methodist Church, South and the Southern Presbyterian Church in this period.
Ironically, the pro-Douglas, anti-Lecompton Democrats were not worried; Nevins1857, p. 403, notes "exultant as the Republicans were [after the 1858 elections], the popular sovereignty Democrats were happier still." They thought that their success would bring the rest of the Democratic party in line behind them. In fact, all they had won was gridlock: "A feeble president, the captive of a self-willed faction of his party, now repudiated by the North; a divided Congress which faced a certain deadlock on any important legislation; a Supreme Court discredited in half the nation [by the Dred Scott decision] -- such would be the government of the next two years" (Nevins1857, p. 404). With the nation completely leaderless, is it any wonder that southern fire-eaters were maturing plans for secession?
Indeed, in some ways, the rebellion started even before the Civil War. Many Northerners had long resisted enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law (a behavior which, when you think about it, was largely an expression of the Freeport Doctrine. But no one -- not even Douglas -- seems to have looked at it that way).
The South was coming up with its own answer: In the good old days when everyone had wanted slavery to die out, North and South had agreed to pass a ban on further importation of African slaves; all future slaves would be the children of existing slaves. Now, with slavery regarded as a positive good rather than an evil to be tolerated, plantation owners wanted to re-start the importation of slaves. And there were plenty of vile sailors willing to do their bidding. Some slipped through the (obviously quite loose) blockade intended to prevent this. Some crews were caught by the American navy. But when brought to trial in the South, juries refused to convict them even when the slavers were clearly guilty of atrocities (Nevins1857, pp. 433-437). (There was also agitation to make the trade legal; it's hard to say which was more disgusting. But, of course, both inflamed anti-slavery sentiment in the North.)
President Buchanan also promoted an attempt to annex Cuba -- something Spain would never voluntarily allow; it was just another irritant to northern anti-slavery forces, since Cuba was already slave territory and would strengthen pro-slavery forces (Nevins1857, pp. 448-450).
And then came 1860, and its presidential election. Douglas was the great issue. He was too powerful to ignore and too hated to be generally acceptable. It showed in the run-up to the 1860 presidential conventions: Douglas was the only true candidate on the Democratic side (Catton-Coming, p. 6; Nevins1859, p. 209, notes that various anti-Douglas politicians supported vice president Breckinridge, or secretary Guthrie, or Senator Hunter, or even Andrew Johnson. Several of these men, ironically, would stay with the Union).
Even had they stayed united, the Democrats had other problems, as the election of 1856 had shown. It had looked like a blowout in the electoral college -- President Buchanan had earned 174 of 296 electoral votes, or 59%. But a glance at the actual results (see e.g. p. U-59 of the Hammond Atlas) shows a different picture: There had been three candidates: Buchanan, the Democrat; Fremont, the Republican; and Fillmore, the "American" (the official name for the Know-Nothings, but which actually translated as the anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic party). Buchanan had won only 45% of the popular vote (only 41% in the north, according to McPherson, p. 162), with Fremont taking 33% and Fillmore 22%. It was southern electoral votes which had put Buchanan in office, and Southerners, as it proved, would make sure Buchanan knew he owed them.
And the Republican party in 1856 was brand-new and had little national organization; only a few states had a significant apparatus. It had clearly grown stronger in the years since 1856, when a battle over the house speakership had forced its congressional delegation to cooperate (McPherson, p. 144).
Plus the election was followed by the Panic of 1857, which shattered the economy; the after-effects were still being felt in 1860. It was hardly Buchanan's fault -- Current/Williams/Freidel, p. 399, blame it mostly on a decline in demand for American products after the end of the Crimean War -- but of course Presidents and their party are always blamed for the state of the economy.
There was every expectation Republicans would improve their showing in 1860 (which incidentally pretty well ruined the idea of a running a split Democratic ticket, as the Whigs had tried in the 1830s: If no candidate won the electoral vote, resulting in the election going to the House of Representatives, the House would very likely elect the Republican. Indeed, Douglas himself declared that he would not allow such an outcome: "before it shall go into the House, I will throw it to Lincoln" -- CattonRoads, p. 232; Nevins1859, p. 285).
Then, too, there was the distribution of votes in 1856. Fremont has won New York, all of New England, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Only five free states -- California, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania (which was Buchanan's home state) -- had gone for Buchanan. Already it was a sectional contest: Buchanan versus the Republican candidate Fremont in the north and against the Know-Nothing Fillmore in the south (McPherson, p. 157). The Democrats won only by taking all of the South and a little in the North. If they lost ground in either section, they were doomed.
And the electoral balance continued to tilt northward. Two states (Oregon and Minnesota) had joined the Union since 1856; the latter was almost certain to go Republican, and they had at least a chance for the former. In 1860, if the Republicans could hold the states they had won in 1856, win the two new states, and take Pennsylvania plus any one of the other Democratic states, they would have at least 152 out of 303 electoral votes and would elect a President. The Democrats, to win, had to somehow to come up with a candidate who would run strong in the Northeast or Midwest. Problem was, there were no Democrats, except Douglas, who seemed likely to run strong there (Catton-Coming, p. 9).
It's a situation really quite reminiscent of the early twenty-first century: Two parties dominated by extremists. The Democrats still had a chance -- a very good chance -- if they could keep their party united and their voters in line.
But who could they nominate? The incumbent, James Buchanan, had been nominated in 1856 mostly because he had been an ambassador and so was not burdened with baggage about Kansas (Current/Williams/Freidel, p. 398). But by 1860 he was obviously no longer free of that taint -- and was so worn and worthless that not even the Democrats seriously considered re-nominating him.
The leading man in the party was Senator Douglas, the man who had beaten Abraham Lincoln in that 1858 Illinois Senate Race. But keep in mind what he had done in the last dexade: Douglas had (rather gratuitiously) created the infamous Kansas/Nebraska conflict. And, to win that 1858 election, he had supported the doctrine of "Popular Sovereignty" (in simplest terms, that the local [white male] residents always decide about Slavery), and added the "Freeport Doctrine" (not a law, simply an opinion: That locals would always end up making the decision about slavery, because only locals were in a position to enforce the law. If they didn't like a law, it would be ignored).
The centrist who would be easiest to elect nationally was almost impossible for the reactionary Democrats to stomach.
Douglas faced other handicaps. He had, in 1856, stepped aside to open the door for Buchanan's candidacy, at significant financial cost to himself (Nevins1847, p. 175), but gratitude is rare in politics. The Buchanan administration hated him, and they dominated several state delegations that might otherwise have gone for Douglas at least in part (Nevins1859, p. 211). The 1860 convention was held in Charleston -- a decision made four years earlier, when Democrats had seemed likely to dominate national politics for years; this was before Dred Scott and John Brown. But Charleston was probably the most reactionary, anti-Douglas city in the country (Catton-Roads, p. 201)
The Democrats were supposed to nominate their candidate before the Republicans; they were to meet in Charleston at the end of April 1860. But "[m]ost southern Democrats went to Charleston with one overriding goal: to destroy Douglas" (McPherson, p. 213). The southerners, according to Catton-Coming, p. 11, were clear: "There was going to be a showdown; once and for all the South would find out whether Northern Democrats would stand squarely with the South on true Constitutional principles [i.e. making people accept slavery whether they wanted it or not]. Both platform and candidate would have to be explicit; 'there must be no Douglas dodges -- no double constructions -- no janus-faced lyring resolutions -- no double-tongued and doubly damned trifling with the people.'" It was an attitude which hardly encouraged compromise.
The Southerners at least made this brutally clear, offering this platform language: "Resolved... First, that Congress has no power to abolish slavery in the Territories. Second, that the Territorial Legislature has no power to abolish slavery in any Territory, nor to prohibit the introduction of slaves therein, nor any power to exclude slavery therefrom, nor any right to destroy or impair the right of property in slaves by any legislation whatever" (Catton-Coming, p. 30; Nevins1859, p. 214, comments that, by the day before the platform was due, "everyone agreed that the platform committee must bring forward either a subterfuge or a bombshell").
Their choice was the bombshell. The platform committee had been stacked with anti-Douglas delegates, determined to produce a platform he couldn't accept (Nevins1859, p. 213; Catton-Roads, p. 203), and a majority of the committee adopted the southern position, with a vocal minority producing a more moderate document (Nevins1859, pp. 214-215). When the southern version of the platform was brought up, the Northern Democrats in effect said, "We've been suffering because of you for years, and now you want *this*?" (Catton-Coming, p. 32). The result was pandemonium, halted only by adjourning the day's session (Catton-Coming, p. 33; Nevins1859, p. 217).
When the delegates finally came back together, they rejected the proposed slavery-or-else language 165 to 138 (Catton-Coming, p. 34). This was no surprise; there were more northern than southern delegates. But the southerners were ready -- or had backed themselves into a corner. The delegations from the cotton states walked out (Catton-Coming, p. 34). Formally, the southern states were still part of the U.S. But they had, for practical purposes, already seceeded. According to Catton-Roads, p. 204, they were not committed to seccession; their goal was simply to get rid of Douglas. If he were gone, they were willing to come back on more moderate terms. But the Douglas supporters, thinking only a few delegates would withdraw, refused to give in at this time.
The seceeders totalled only about fifty delegates (Catton-Coming, 36). The convention tried to continue. But, it was ruled, any resolution must get a majority (for some sorts of motions, a two-thirds majority) of all delegates, including those who had walked out (Catton-Coming, p. 36). It wasn't going to happen. There were 303 total delegates, of whom 253 (give or take a few) were still in the convention. 202 were needed to nominate a candidate -- 80% of those still present.
Six candidates were nominated: Douglas; former treasury secretary James Guthrie; Senator R.M.T. Hunter; Daniel S. Dickinson; Andrew Johnson; and Joseph Lane (Nevins1859, p. 222). Douglas on the first ballot earned 145.5. His best total was 152.5, and that only briefly. Thus he barely reached even 50% of total delegates, and never came close to two-thirds. But no other candidate was even close to him; on the first ballot, Hunter had 42, Guthrie 36 and a half, and the others less.
Nor could anti-Douglas forces come together; the leading alternative, Guthrie, peaked at 64 and a half. After nearly sixty ballots, the convention gave up (Catton-Coming, pp. 37, 39). There would be no nomination at this time. It was decided to reconvene six weeks later (Catton-Coming, p. 39).
The Republicans, whose convention followed, were thrilled. Nevins1859 reports that the convention chairman's gavel was "made of oak from Commodore Perry's flagship at the Battle of Lake Erie" (for background on which, see the notes to "James Bird" [Laws A5]). The chairman, noting this, declared, "All the auguries are that we shall meet the enemy and they shall be ours."
It seemed pretty clear a Republican could win the Presidency -- as long as they convention produced a candidate who didn't alienate any segment of the North. The same arithmetic that said they needed to add only Pennsylvania plus one other state to their 1856 tally in order to win the presidency also meant that they could not spare many northern states -- e.g. the loss of New York would effectively doom them (Catton-Roads, p. 219). So they had to pick a candidate who wouldn't alienate any of their potential supporters.
(How sectional were the Republicans? Apart from what Nevins1859, p. 251, calls a "flagrantly bogus" Texas delegation, only five slave states -- Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Virginia -- were even represented at their convention; Catton-Coming, p. 51. Note that four of the five would stay in the Union, and the fifth, Virginia, would have West Virginia secede when the rest of the state went South. There were no representatives of the cotton-growing areas at all. And the only one of those five states they had any hope of winning was Missouri, and that only because of Saint Louis.)
So the Republicans gathered, in effect, to seek a dark horse who didn't have any record for people to run against. And they were meeting in Chicago, Illinois. William H. Seward was the party's leading man, but he had spoken of the "Irrepressible Conflict," and he was just a little too prominent. The largest block in the Republican convention supported him. The rest, almost to a man, were "anyone but Seward" types. On the first ballot, Seward had 173.5 votes (out of 233 needed to nominate), favorite son Lincoln 102, and there were rather more than a hundred scattered votes.
The Lincoln team had worked hard. They were everyone's second choice. On the second ballot, it was Seward 184.5, Lincoln 181. The third ballot saw Lincoln at 231.5, and several delegates then changed their votes and Lincoln was over the top. (Catton-Coming, p. 63).
Then it was the Democratic turn to try again. And fail again. They met in Baltimore in mid-June -- and found themselves in a fight over credentials; there were now multiple delegations (pro- and anti-Douglas) from some of the states (Catton-Coming, pp. 69-74). Douglas himself had stated in writing that he would withdraw from the race if it would help (Nevis1859, p. 270). His followers never even revealed the letters, because they saw no signs that the Southern delegates would compromise.
Once again there was a walkout. The rump, naturally, nominated Douglas -- but of course many Democrats did not consider him "their" candidate. Indeed, right there in Baltimore, supported by a meeting in Richmond, the seceders nominated Buchanan's vice president John C. Breckinridge, and he was nominated on the first ballot among those in this small meeting (Catton-Coming, p. 77 -- a rather amazing outcome for this conservative bunch of crotchety old men, since Breckinridge was not yet forty). The Democratic party was split, just as the Whigs had been two elections earlier. It would be oversimplified to say that Douglas was the northern Democrat and Breckinridge the Southern (as the election proved, Douglas earned votes everywhere) -- but still, there were two Democratic candidates, and the general feeling was that both were regional candidates (though Breckinrige, unlike most of his followers, was not committed to secession if he lost -- he was, after all, the vice president!). And, with the situation so messy, a fourth candidate, John Bell, was thrown into the game.
Bell was a last-minute draft, called in in response to the Democratic debacle. But so severe was the train wreck that he was technically was the first candidate nominated. On May 9, after the Democratic failure in Charleston but before the Republicans met in Chicago, a group of (mostly) doddering elders (McPherson, p. 221, reports that "few... were under sixty years of age) representing 24 states met in Baltimore with the express purpose of preserving the Union.
Their leading light was Kentuckian John J. Crittenden, who would later offer the "Crittenden Compromise" (and who had sons who were generals on both sides in the war). But he took himself out of the running on the grounds that he was too old. That left Bell and Texas's Sam Houston as the only significant contenders. Bell earned some two-thirds of the votes (Nevins-1859, pp. 161-162).
Calling themselves the "Constitutional Union" party, they nominated Edward Everett as Bell's running mate, passed a platform standing for Union, the Constitution, enforcement of laws (plus, presumably, motherhood and apple pie), refusing even to mention the word "Slavery" (Catton-Coming, pp. 47-48) -- though Bell himself was a slaveholder (McPherson, p. 221).
Bell had had a distinguished career -- Speaker of the House in 1834, Secretary of War under Harrison, many years in the Senate. An independent thinker, he had opposed the pro-Slavery extremists on many occasions, so he could be called a genuine moderate (Nevins1859, pp. 272-273). He would even have praise for Lincoln, saying that the congressman from Illinois had impressed him (Nevins1859, p. 275)
Distinguished or not, balanced or not, Bell's nomination was a forlorn attempt to find middle ground where there was none. And even though it happened before the Democrats finally split, it was largely in response to the Democratic disaster. (That' the opinion of most of my sources, anyway, though they also represented an attempt by the several dying parties to revive; RandallDonald, p. 131, considers them to be the last gasp of the Know-Nothings. Catton-Roads, p. 230, agrees in part, calling the party "Conservative in tone, largely old-line Whig and displaced Know-Nothing in composition, staffed principally by respectable, elderly citizens whose only formula for solving the sectional problem was to stop talking about it." McPherson, p. 221, considers it to be a remnant of the Whigs. Nevins1859, like Catton, thinks it included both Whigs and Know-Nothings; p. 161.)
In practice, not even the Constitutional Unionists could avoid the slavery issue; apparently a number of their supporters in the south promised a slave code for the territories. That cost them whatever support they might have had in the North. They ended up winning only 3% of the vote in northern states (McPherson, p. 222).
The election which followed was hardly a legitimate example of taking the issues to the voters. Of the four candidates, only Douglas really went out and campaigned (Catton-Coming, p. 100). Bell was less a candidate than a platform which people could accept or reject; his supporters' primary campaign technique was to ring bells (Catton-Roads, p. 231).
Lincoln was the quietest of all, staying at home and explicitly refusing to make campaign statements on the grounds that his opinions were well-known (Nevins1859, pp. 277-278. Doesn't that sort of campaign sound heavenly today?). The Republican organizantion did produce a campaign newsletter, The Railsplitter, but it did little except print falsehoods about Douglas (Catton-Coming, p. 92). What little the voters knew (apart from those who read the many speeches Lincoln had given earlier, and which were the basis for his statement that his views were known) came from parades (staged by Republican "Wide Awakes" and Douglasite "Minutemen"; Catton-Roads, p. 231) and word of mouth and songs such as this one and the much more negative "Lincoln Hoss and Stephen A."
The Bell campaign was the weakest in this department; as Nevins1859, p. 281, comments, "The conservative businessmen and planters who ought to have toiled amain for Bell were just the most prone to indifference and apathy. They would vote, but they would not take off their coats and go to work." Plus, of course, such well-known and venerable men as Bell and Everett had long "paper trails," and opponents could almost always dig up something to make them appear "unsound" on some issue or another.
Breckinridge to a large extent relied upon the Democratic machinery governened by the White House; president Buchanan hated Douglas, and so gave all possible aid to Breckinridge (Nevins1859, p. 284).
Indeed, the administration contributed greatly to the debacle which followed. President Buchanan's hate of Douglas, combined with a pro-southern attitude and a fatal weakness (he is regarded by many historians as the worst president in American history. And, yes, liberal folkies, that includes George W. Bush in the calculations) meant that he did absolutely nothing to try to control the nation's divisions or to try to bring together the anti-Lincoln forces (Nevins1859, pp. 289-290).
We should perhaps not blame Buchanan too much; Nevins1847, pp. 186-187, notes that "For twenty-five years after Jackson left the White House, no man of high abilities entered it. What was more, the country knew that no man of high abilities occupied it." The parties did not want great men, who were bound to alienate one or another faction. Polk, who served from 1845 to 1849, was at least forceful, but Zachary Taylor (1849-1850) was too inexperienced and died too soon; Millard Fillmore (1850-1853) was a non-entity, Franklin Pierce (1853-1857) quite literally a pretty face, and Buchanan (1857-1861) got the job as the only Democrat who didn't have a track record on Kansas!
Nevins1847, pp. 188, sums up the situation this way: "With a clumsily managed, hopelessly divided Congress and a series of weak chief magistrates, the country watched the national crisis grow to a point where even strong leadership could not control it. In 1860 all three parties selected strong men. Douglas, Breckinridge, and Lincoln were alike leaders of intellectual power and stalwart character. At last the country was certain of a President of statesmanlike parts -- but it was too late."
There were side issues: excessive corruption in the Buchanan administration, Pacific railroads, the need for a Homested Act, tariffs (Nevins1859, p. 301, 304-305). The Republicans, stung by Democratic charges that they were in favor of Black equality, used these issues in some areas. (To show the tenor of the times -- there was a ballot initiative in New York at this time to give Blacks the vote. New York voted 54% for Lincoln -- but only 37% of the citizens of the state supported the ballot proposal; McPherson, p. 225.) But in the South in particular, the issue was slavery. And, indeed, the Republicans had made it clear that it would be; at the Chicago convention, when someone had nominated David Wilmot (of the Wilmot Proviso, banning slavery in the territories) to be temporary chairman, the proposal was greeted by "a tempest of applause" (Nevins1859, p. 251).
Not even the presence of an official (but extremely minor) Abolitionist candidate, Gerrit Smith, could cover up the fact that Republicans were the party of controlling slavery (just as Breckinridge was the candidate of appeasing the South). Nor did the false rumors of slave revolts change anything (Nevins1847, p. 307) -- after all, no one in the South intended to vote for Lincoln anyway!
All four candidates, ironically, seem to have thought that they were the only one who could save the Union. Breckinridge wanted to save it by giving in to the South. Bell wanted to save it by pretending there was no problem. And the Republicans believed in standing firm -- in effect, telling the South that they had cried wolf too many times.
That was indeed the South's problem; they *had* cried seccession every election since 1848 (Catton-Coming, pp. 96-97), and the Republicans thought it was just noise. But, in fact, every previous cry for seccession had won some sort of compromise. Now, compromises there were none. The forces opposed to the Republicans couldn't even compromise on a candidate; Catton-Roads, p. 231 and Nevins1859, pp. 283-285 report that there were a few abortive attempts to combine the Bell, Breckinridge, and Douglas tickets, but the Douglas camp insisted (almost certainly correctly) that only he could win anything in the North, so nothing came of that. And, as noted above, Douglas was unequivocally opposed to having the election settled in the House.
Douglas -- alone among the candidates -- actually wanted to address the issues. (No wonder he didn't win. In addition, he found it very difficult to raise funds, crimping his campaign activities; Nevins1859, p. 292.) He knew the Southerners were serious; he just felt they were dead wrong -- and told them so to their faces: The election of Lincoln was not grounds for secession, and if they did seceed, he declared, "it is the duty of the President of the United States and all others in authority under him to enforce the laws of the United States.... In other words, I think the President of the United States... should treat all attempts to break up the Union by resistance to its laws as Old Hickory treated the Nullifiers in 1832" (Nevins1859, p. 294).
Elections at this time were conducted over an extended period; Pennsylvania and Indiana voted before the rest of the North. When Pennsylvania went Republican, a number of papers in other states changed their attitudes, turning from Douglas to Lincoln or, in a few cases, Breckinridge (Nevins1859, p. 311). Douglas declared, "Mr. Lincoln is the next President. We must try to save the Union. I will go south" (Nevins1859, p. 295).
Douglas was dead right. There had been four-way elections before, in 1824, 1832, and 1836 (in 1836, in fact, five different candidates won states. 1832 and 1836 were cases of parties in effect nominating local candidates, but 1824 had four national candidates). But none was like this: Those had been about the person the public wanted as a leader. This was about the very nature of the United States, with each candidate standing for something very different. The bottom line of the 1860 election was straightforward:
* Lincoln: 40% of the popular vote, 180 electoral votes (Lincoln won California, Oregon, Minnesota, Iowa, plus all states north of the Ohio River except New Jersey, where he won four of seven electoral votes)
* Douglas: 29%, 12 electoral votes (9 from Missouri, 3 from New Jersey)
* Breckinridge, 18%, 72 electoral votes (Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas)
* Bell, 13%, 39 electoral votes (Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, which at that time still included West Virginia)
The actual results weren't nearly as simple as the above would imply. Lincoln wasn't even a serious candidate in the southern states (Nevins1859, p. 312; Foote, p. 34, says that he earned no votes at all in five states; RandallDonald, p. 133, says he had no votes in ten of them. The footnote on that page shows that there is some uncertainty about the vote totals; McPherson, p. 223, says simply that the Republicans were not on the ballot in ten states. In the handful of slave states where Lincoln was on the ballot, he earned only 4% of the vote, with most of those from Saint Louis). Breckinridge had hardly more support in the northwest (e.g.he combined to only about 4500 votes in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa combined; Nevins1859, p. 313), though in total about a quarter of his votes came from free states (Catton-Coming, p. 113).
A look at the map in McPherson, p. 236, reveals an even more complicated situation. It shows the winners of the popular vote county-by-county. Only eight states had the same winner in every county: Connecticut, Maine (probably), Massachussetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont went for Lincoln, and Delaware and South Carolina went for Breckinridge (the latter meaning nothing, since onservative South Carolina didn't even conduct a popular vote in this period). The other states were split -- basically between Lincoln and Douglas in northern states, and between Bell and Breckinrige in the south, but several states divided three ways: In California and Oregon, various counties went for Lincoln, Douglas, and Breckinridge (the Breckinridge vote in the western states was just large enough to deny Douglas a win there); in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Virginia we see different parts supporting Bell, Breckinridge, and Douglas.
Missouri takes the prize. The state as a whole went for Douglas, but in terms of territory it was almost a perfect three-way split between Bell, Breckinridge, and Douglas, with Lincoln actually winning Saint Louis and one other county. (Missouri had earlier been the first Slave state to elect a Repubican representative; Nevins1859, p. 300. He would be very lonely.)
Looking at sectional totals, Lincoln won 54% of the vote in the North, while in the South (not counting the border states of Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and Virginia), Breckinridge won 45% of the vote and Bell 39% (MacPherson, p. 232) -- an interesting statistic, because it means that even in the South, the majority was still in favor of the Union. But the pro-Union group was a small majority, fragile and easily swayed. And in the deep South, Breckinridge had absolute majorities in most cases, though not in Georgia and Lousiana (Catton-Roads, p. 245).
Sliced one more way: Lincoln won more than 60% of the vote, and all but about two dozen counties, north of the 41st parallel (McPherson, p. 232) -- in other words, all points from a line passing south of Chicago, north of Pittsburg and Philadelphia, and just north of New York City. From that line to the Ohio River was won by Douglas (including, ironically, even Lincon's home county -- CattonComing, p. 110). Bell won from the Ohio River to roughly a line from Memphis, Tennessee to Norfolk, Virginia. And Breckinridge won south of the Memphis-Norfolk line. The United States had had elections divided by sectional interests before, and would have them again (just look at the 2004 electoral map) -- but never such a tiger-stripe based almost solely on north-south geography. It was, indeed, almost a tiger-scratch, ripping the nation apart.
To put that level of complication in another sort of a perspective: this was an election that could have had at least three different winners based on voting method. Lincoln won a plurality of the vote. He also won the Roman voting system vote (a.k.a. the Electoral College: Voting goes by tribes/states, with the winner of voting *within* the tribe earning all the tribe's votes). But if the current notion of Instant Runoff Voting had been in place, Douglas would probably have won. And if the other primary ranked voting method (assigned points, which is the voting method used by the Mathematical Association of America) had been used, my guess is that Bell would have won.
Some Democrats had hoped that, somehow, the three non-Lincoln candidates could combine to win an electoral majority, and a compromise could be worked out in the House. As it turned out, if Lincoln won a plurality in a state, he almost always won a majority; of the states he won, there were only three (California, Oregon, and New Jersey) where he did not win more votes than Bell, Breckinridge, and Douglas combined. (MacPherson, p. 232) The states he won outright had a total of 169 electoral votes, or 17 more than a majority. Nevins1859, p. 312, notes, "Had Douglas been nominated at Charleston, Lincoln might well -- in view of the different trend which the campaign would have taken -- have lost." But Charleston had not nominated Douglas.
Two things were clear. One was that the country opposed the Southern doctrine that Slavery could be imposed on territories even if they didn't want it. Two-thirds of the population had voted either for Lincoln, who expressly opposed Slavery in the territories, or Douglas, who would allow its implicit limitation (Nevins1859, p. 316)
The other point was even clearer: Lincoln, despite the split in the vote, had won the election. And, as a special extra prize, secession and civil war.
The song is mostly accurate in its details about Lincoln's life -- e.g. the lines "They'll find what by felling and mauling, Our railmaker statesman can do" is reminiscent of Lincoln's own words: "I am not ashamed to confess that twenty five years ago I was a hired laborer, mauling rails, at work on a flat-boat..." (McPherson, p. 28). Though this omits the fact that Lincoln, since then, had worked almost exclusively as a lawyer.
The song calls Lincoln "The pride of the Suckers so lucky." "Suckers" were inhabitants of Illinois. He was hardly their "pride," though, considering that he had won only one term in congress, and lost the 1858 Senate race. In 1860, Illinois hardly looked like the "Land of Lincoln." On the evidence, it was the "Land of Douglas." Until that November. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.0
- Boatner: Mark M. Boatner III, The Civil War Dictionary, 1959 (there are many editions of this very popular work; mine is a Knopf hardcover) (N.B. because this is a general reference, I have used it to look up quick facts rather than cite specific quotes).
- Catton-Coming: Bruce Catton, The Coming Fury, being volume I of The Centennial History of the Civil War(Pocket, 1961, 1967)
- Catton-Roads: William & Bruce Catton, Two Roads to Sumter: Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, and the March to Civil War (Phoenix, 1963, 1988)
- Current/Williams/Freidel, Richard N. Current, T. Harry Williams, Frank Freidel, American History: A Survey, second edition, Knopf, 1966
- Foner: Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War (Oxford, 1970)
- Foote: Shelby Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative (Volume I: Fort Sumter to Perryville) (Random House, 1958)
- Hall: Kermit L. Hall, editor, The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States, Oxford, 1992
- Hammond Atlas: (no author listed), The Atlas of United States History (Hammond; I'm using the edition copyrighted 1977 though I imagine there have been others)
- Hickey: Donald R. Hickey, The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict (University of Illinois Press, 1989, 1995)
- HoltPierce: Michael F. Holt, Franklin Pierce [a volume in the American Presidents series edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.], Times Books, 2010
- HoltWhig: Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (Oxford, 1999; I could probably have written this entire article based on this 1248 page tome, but it's so thick,I can't find references even just a few days after I read them!)
- McPherson: James M. McPherson, The Battle Cry of Freedom (The Oxford History of the United States: The Civil War Era; Oxford, 1988)
- Nevins1847: Allan Nevins, The Ordeal of the Union: Fruits of Manifest Destiny 1847-1852 [volume I of The Ordeal of the Union] (Scribners, 1947)
- Nevins1857: Allan Nevins, The Emergence of Lincoln:Douglas, Buchanan, and Party Chaos 1857-1859 [volume III of The Ordeal of the Union] (Scribners, 1950)
- Nevins1859: Allan Nevins, The Emergence of Lincoln: Prologue to Civil War 1859-1861 [volume IV of The Ordeal of the Union] (Scribners, 1950)
- Nolan: Jeannette Covert Nolan, The Little Giant: Stephen A. Douglas (Messner, 1964)
- PresElections: Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Fred L. Israel, and William P. Hansen, editors, History of American Presidential Elections, Volume II (1848-1896), Chelsea House, 1971
- RandallDonald: J. G. Randall (second edition revised by David Donald), The Civil War and Reconstruction, second edition (Heath, 1961)
- Siegenthaler: John Seigenthaler, James K. Polk [a volume in the American Presidents series edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.], Times Books, 2003
- Schlesinger: Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Jackson, Little Brown, 1945
- Vandiver: Frank E. Vandiver, Their Tattered Flags: The Epic of the Confederacy (Harper's, 1970)
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