Lincoln’s greatest challenge in Chicago was the U. S. senator from New York, William Seward. Experienced, and well financed by the nascent “machine” of Thurlow Weed, the leading New York political operative, Seward seemed to be the most qualified candidate in the field.
Seward had served as governor of New York for two terms and was in his second term as senator. He could have been the Republican Party’s first presidential candidate in 1856, but Weed and his moneyed support (hereafter referred to as WeedPAC) thought John C. Fremont should run first. This would guarantee Seward to be a “shoo-in” in 1860, when the chances of actually winning the election were much better.
The other two candidates were abolitionist Senator Salmon Chase and Judge Edward
Bates, but their chances were slim compared to Seward, with the open purse strings of the WeedPAC and his powerful political connections. Thurlow thought he had it in his pocket this time!
The Lincoln campaign team was new, working together on the national stage for the first time. Judge David Davis, a 300+ pound man of determination, grit, and creativity, ably headed this slightly unorthodox group. Davis had ridden the 8th circuit with Lincoln for many years, and knew Lincoln like a brother. Three more Lincoln associates filled out the main Chicago team: Stephen Logan (floor manager), Jesse Dubois, and Leonard Swett (both delegate operatives).
Lincoln’s selection of Davis as his campaign manager was, according to several writers including Jay Miner, “a masterstroke of political know-how.” The Judge innately knew that practical politics, seasoned with a touch of audacity, win nominations.
The second tier of the team included newspaperman Jesse Fell, who had already placed Lincoln in the public eye, and 8th circuit lawyer Ward Hill Lamon. Lamon was just thirty-two, but he and Lincoln had a warm, supportive friendship. Lamon was a character in the richest sense of the word. He was the younger man in the group, and could marshal the energy to get things done with flair. He was equally at home in the courtroom or the barroom. Lamon’s value had been vetted when he procured the rails for “The Rail Splitter.” And yes–the rails were coming to Chicago!
The men no one writes about-Lincoln’s Young Turks–were there as well. George Nicolay,
Lincoln’s twenty-eight year old secretary, held down the office in Springfield and babysat candidate Lincoln, who was fretting beyond belief because he was not in Chicago. Nicolay made countless trips across the square to the Western Union office, supplying Lincoln with T-mail updates all through those excruciating days in mid May. George Nicolay held Springfield together for Lincoln and Davis.
Coming from Springfield with his uncle, a Republican delegate, was twenty-two year old John Hay, also a Lincoln associate. His
uncle’s law office was where Hay worked “reading law” when he was not across the hall with his BFF Nicolay, politicking with Lincoln. Hay immediately left his uncle as soon as he arrived in Chicago and volunteered his services to Davis.
Already in Chicago was Elmer Ellsworth, a twenty-three year old law student, but better known as a drillmaster for the Chicago Cadets, a local militia group. Ellsworth had met Lincoln in Springfield, where he was hired for a summer to drill the local militia company, the Springfield Greys.
He was grooming the Chicago militia to become the U. S. Zouave Cadets. They were planning to tour the Northwest in July, presenting their exciting Zouave drill. Ellsworth had spoken to Lincoln at length about the need for the state militias to be uniformly prepared in case of a war, and Lincoln had been so impressed that he had asked Ellsworth to read law with him when the Zouave tour was over. Ellsworth, too, had volunteered his services to Davis.
From the top down, this campaign loved and believed in their man. They did not always get along with each other, but on the night of May 15, when Davis installed them in a suite of rooms at the Tremont House–the finest in Chicago!–they were ready to put aside their differences to elect a president.
Lincoln’s First Nomination, by Jay Miner