1860’s Politics: Statistics & The Soldiers’ Vote

Emerging Civil War 1860's Politics Header

It’s Election Day in the U.S.A. (Don’t forget to vote).

As we watch the tally of popular and electoral votes this evening, remember that presidential elections and the electoral college have been in existence since 1787 (when the Constitution was signed). That means they were certainly in use during the 1864 Presidential Election during the Civil War.

We know very well who won and who lost that 1864 election, but how about the statistics of the winning candidate? And could Union soldiers vote?George B. McClellan and George Pendleton (Democrat Party)

Popular Vote:  1,809,445 or 44.9%

Electoral Vote: 21 or 9%

Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson (Republican Party)

Popular Vote: 2,220,846 or 55.1%

Electoral Vote: 212 or 90.6%

And here’s a map of the election results:

1864 election(Map and Statistics retrieved from The American Presidency Project)

I’d say it was a landslide victory for Mr. Lincoln!

The 1864 Presidential Election set an important precedent. Soldiers – absent from home and fighting a war – were allowed to vote. Realizing that many of the voters were in the army, provisions were made for absentee voting. Nineteen states passed provisions to allow their soldiers to vote in the field. The states who did not allow absentee voting were Democratic Party controlled and might have been worried about military support for Lincoln.

Twelve states counted the absentee ballots separately, giving historians insight into the political feelings of the Union armies. Seventy-eight percent of the soldier votes went to Lincoln, compared to the fifty-three percent of Republican votes from the civilian population in those same states. The Union soldier votes played a role in Lincoln’s re-election and revealed the military spirit in favor of finishing (winning) the war.

The 1864 Election set important precedent for the American voting system. It laid groundwork for military voting, and it introduced absentee ballots. Both innovations opened doors to improve “voting experience” and helped ensure that all citizens have a voice in their republic.

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, living history enthusiast, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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5 Responses to 1860’s Politics: Statistics & The Soldiers’ Vote

  1. Chris Kolakowski says:

    Excellent discussion. The USA and the Republic of Korea are the only two countries I know of to hold an election for the highest office while in the middle of a civil war. I don’t know if the ROK Army soldiers voted though.

  2. Great Post. Just another in a long line of examples where Lincoln the master politician was able to craft a strategy that would help assure him of re-election, while at the same time using his statesman-like side to employ a tool that could be seen as expanding the franchise. Brilliant.

  3. Don Kelly says:

    Chris –
    An interesting Kentucky sidelight on the 1864 election:
    Fayette County, KY (Lexington) & Mary Todd Lincoln’s home registered 5 votes for Abe!
    Hardin County, KY the County of Abe’s birth registered 3 votes for Abe!

  4. scott s. says:

    I note that in Jan 1845 Congress passed an Act that set a uniform day for voting for electors. This was after complaints of fraud in 1840 and 1844 elections. The date of the Tues after the first Monday in Nov was set to allow time to canvass the votes in time for the electoral colleges to meet on the the first Wed of December and provide the separate ballots for President and Vice President (per the XII amendment). There also had to be provision for S Carolina, which elected its electors in the legislature, not by popular vote. Nov election day was not set for the US Congress Representatives until the election of 1872 for the term beginning in Mar 1873.

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