Electing A President–1860

The 1860 Presidential Candidates

With the upcoming series of national conventions, it occurred to me to take to my keyboard and tell the tale of the Presidential Election of 1860. Never has an election embodied all the fun and foibles, fanaticism and foulness of politics like the one that put Republican Abraham Lincoln in the White House! My posts will be short, and will initially follow Abraham Lincoln’s journey to his candidacy.

Because this year the Democrats hold their convention after the Republicans, I shall then attempt to shed a little light on the three 1860 Democratic candidates, although when it was all shaken out, names were changed and new parties were created.

Hold on–it is a wild ride!

Abraham Lincoln had served his home state of Illinois in the House of Representatives

A young Abraham Lincoln

for two years as a Whig. Elected in 1946, he voted on almost every bill, and co-authored (with Congressman Joshua Giddings) a bill to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia.

Political winds blew in a different direction in the 1848 Presidential Election, and Lincoln returned to Illinois to practice law on the 8th Circuit, with his base in Springfield. He kept his fingers in the political pie until Stephen Douglas, another Illinoisian, broke with several Democratic Party members in Washington. A nationally acknowledged political power, Stephen Douglas decided to renew

An equally young Stephen Douglas

his Senate seat in 1858.

The Illinois Republican Party decided to run Abraham Lincoln against Douglas. At his nominating convention, Lincoln drew upon the words of Mark 3:25 when he gave his famous “House Divided” speech, setting the stage for his meteoric political rise. The Illinois legislature selected both Lincoln and Douglas to run for the vacant Senate seat.

Both candidates travelled the state, engaging in seven debates. The Lincoln-Douglas¬†debates are probably the most famous debates in American history, and they made Lincoln’s case very clearly. Lincoln and Douglas presented a stark contrast with each other, both physically and politically. Though the Republican legislative candidates won more popular votes, the Democrats won more seats, and the legislature re-elected Douglas to the Senate. Despite the bitterness of the defeat for Lincoln, his articulation of the issues gave him a national political reputation.

Jesse Fell, an early Lincoln supporter with newspaper connections, asked Lincoln to write his autobiography. On December 20, 1859 Lincoln sent this:

I was born Feb. 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky. My parents were both born in Virginia, of undistinguished families– second families, perhaps I should say. My mother, who died in my tenth year, was of a family of the name of Hanks, some of whom now reside in Adams, and others in Macon Counties, Illinois. My paternal grandfather, Abraham Lincoln, emigrated from Rockingham County, Virginia, to Kentucky, about 1781 or 2, where, a year or two later, he was killed by indians, not in battle, but by stealth, when he was laboring to open a farm in the forest. His ancestors, who were Quakers, went to Virginia from Berks County, Pennsylvania. An effort to identify them with the New-England family of the same name ended in nothing more definite, than a similarity of Christian names in both families, such as Enoch, Levi, Mordecai, Solomon, Abraham, and the like.

My father, at the death of his father, was but six years of age; and he grew up, litterally [sic] without education. He removed from Kentucky to what is now Spencer County, Indiana, in my eighth year. We reached our new home about the time the State came into the Union. It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals, still in the woods. There I grew up. There were some schools, so called; but no qualification was ever required of a teacher beyond “readin, writin, and cipherin” to the Rule of Three. If a straggler supposed to understand latin happened to sojourn in the neighborhood, he was looked upon as a wizzard [sic]. There was absolutely nothing to excite ambition for education. Of course when I came of age I did not know much. Still somehow, I could read, write, and cipher to the Rule of Three; but that was all. I have not been to school since. The little advance I now have upon this store of education, I have picked up from time to time under the pressure of necessity.

I was raised to farm work, which I continued till I was twenty-two. At twenty one I came to Illinois, and passed the first year in Macon County. Then I got to New-Salem (at that time in Sangamon, now in Menard County), where I remained a year as a sort of Clerk in a store. Then came the Black-Hawk war; and I was elected a Captain of Volunteers–a success which gave me more pleasure than any I have had since. I went the campaign, was elated, ran for the Legislature the same year (1832) and was beaten–the only time I ever have been beaten by the people. The next, and three succeeding biennial elections, I was elected to the Legislature. I was not a candidate afterwards. During this Legislative period I had studied law, and removed to Springfield to practise it. In 1846 I was once elected to the lower House of Congress. Was not a candidate for re-election. From 1849 to 1854, both inclusive, practiced law more assiduously than ever before. Always a whig in politics, and generally on the whig electoral tickets, making active canvasses–I was losing interest in politics, when the repeal of the Missouri Compromise aroused me again. What I have done since then is pretty well known.

If any personal description of me is thought desirable, it may be said, I am, in height, six feet, four inches, nearly; lean in flesh, weighing on an average one hundred and eighty pounds; dark complexion, with coarse black hair, and grey eyes–no other marks or brands recollected.

 Recommended Sources:


Lincoln’s First Nomination: Champagne Deals & Dirty Tricks, by Jay C. Miner

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