In 1864, Mary Emma Randolph and Walter G. Dunn corresponded about the 1864 election. Walter, a private in the 11th New Jersey but serving in the Invalid Corps during 1864, voted for Lincoln and generally supported the Republican Party. His fiancee also leaned Republican, and though she could not cast a vote, she took a keen interest in political happenings that autumn.
Here are some excerpts from their courtship letters and their discussion of politics:
Plainfield Union Co. N.J.
Oct. 25, 1864
My Own Dear Walt,
….I did not go out untill tuesday evening and thenn I went with the rest to the “grand meeting at the Wigwam.” I had the pleasure of standing the whole time from 7 P.M. untill about 11 A.M. and then had the exquisit pleasure of remaining in doors untill last Sabbath evening. I dressed with the intention of going up to the meeting as I was verry anxious to hear Eld Rogers political speech, but Ma spoke and said she would rather I would not go. It was such a long walk so I remained at home, took a couple of Pillows and struck a comfortable “posish” on the Sofa and dream of happiness….
Are you coming home to vote? All the rest of the Jersey boys are. So I understand. Things are verry livly here now indeed….
Oct. 30th 1864
My Dear Emma,
As to my coming home to vote, I do not expect to. Men are being sent home from nearly all the Northern states for that purpose but if a man belongs to New Jersey he cant go, as the state has made no provisions for her soldiers to vote. Her State Legislature would not pass a Bill, where her soldiers could be represented at the Ballot Box and of all that has been done for the soldiers, that little contemptible state has done the least. Nearly every state has their agents to visit the Hospitals and administer to the wants of the sick and wounded, but is there any one to enquire about Jersey men? No, nary an agent and whats more we dont care to see one, as long as our good old “Uncle Samuel” furnishes us with plenty of hardtack and Greenbacks. I lived in New York nearly one year and I shall claim that as the state in which I reside, I shall own New Jersey no longer for she is not in the Union, nor never has been. I think I have said sufficient on that subject and will therefor give vent to my feelings no longer….
Nov. 19th 1864
My Dear Emma
….Mr. Skinner, the writer of the letter that I read a portion of to you, called here on Tuesday on his return from a furlough home to vote. I asked him how he voted, he replied, “Through the influence of your letter I voted the right way, for Abe. Lincoln.” He was formerly a supporter of McClellan but now he says “I see where I was wrong and no ‘true soldier’ will endorse the principles of ‘G.B. McClellan’.” We had a hearty shake hands over the victory. My Democratic chum said that he did not vote at all….
Since the war still raged in the presidential election year of 1864, the political parties and states got creative—and helped to set an important precedent—that year: they allowed citizens away from home to vote, making provisions for the citizen-soldiers to cast their ballots in camp or with special furlough.
Of the Union soldiers who voted in this election, approximately 78% voted for Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Ticket. Some units worked with their homes states, permitting groups of soldiers to return home to vote.
There’s evidence that in some regiments only the soldiers who intended to vote for Lincoln were allowed to go home. Also, intimidation may have kept some from voting. The approximately 80% of the soldiers who voted for Lincoln must be remembered as the percentage from the number that actually voted. Ballots were not secret the way they are in the modern era and pressures from comrades may have changed votes or caused voters to abstain to avoid conflicts. Walter Dunn grumbled in his letters that his state — New Jersey — wasn’t anxious to have her soldiers home to vote and did not make provision for them to vote in camp. He also noted that his Democrat friend opted not to vote.
The autumn of 1864 was an intensely exciting political time in U.S. History. Though only 25 states would send electors to the electoral college (since 11 states were still considered in rebellion), the northern citizens who could vote turned out en masse hear political speeches and cast their ballots. Emma Randolph was particularly interested in politics, though she could not vote in that era; she recorded attending political rallies and she seemed to have opinions on the election.
Although the 1864 Election did little to advance women’s suffrage, it did open the door for male African Americans to vote. The right of soldiers to vote would play a role in the arguments for and the adoption of the 15th Amendment which guarantees a citizens right to vote regardless of race or any previous condition of enslavement or servitude.
Dunn, Walter G. and Emma Randolph, edited by Judith A. Bailey and Robert I Cottom, After Chancellorsville: Letters From The Heart – The Civil War Letters of Private Walter G. Dunn and Emma Randolph, Maryland Historical Society, 1998. Pages 120-131, 138.
Blog post adapted from an original post on Gazette665’s Blog. Used with permission.