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Chapter 11.

  • Candidates and platforms
  • -- the political chances -- Decatur Lincoln resolution -- John Hanks and the Lincoln rails -- the Rail -- Splitter candidate -- the wide -- Awakes -- Douglas's Southern tour -- Jefferson Davis's address -- fusion -- Lincoln at the State House -- the election result
    The nomination of Lincoln at Chicago completed the preparations of the different parties of the country for the presidential contest of 1860; and presented the unusual occurrence of an appeal to the voters of the several States by four distinct political organizations. In the order of popular strength which they afterward developed, they were:

    I. The Republican party, whose platform declared in substance that slavery was wrong, and that its further extension should be prohibited by Congress. Its candidates were Abraham Lincoln of Illinois for President, and Hannibal Hamlin of Maine for Vice-President. 2. The Douglas wing of the Democratic party, which declared indifference whether slavery were right or wrong, extended or prohibited, and proposed to permit the people of a Territory to decide whether they would prevent or establish it. Its candidates were Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois for President, and Herschel V. Johnson of Georgia for Vice-President. 3. The Buchanan wing of the Democratic party, which declared that slavery was right and beneficial, [153] and whose policy was to extend the institution, and create new slave States. Its candidates were John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky for President, and Joseph Lane of Oregon for Vice-President. 4. The Constitutional Union party, which professed to ignore the question of slavery, and declared it would recognize no political principles other than “the Constitution of the country, the union of the States, and the enforcement of the laws.” Its candidates were John Bell of Tennessee for President, and Edward Everett of Massachusetts for Vice-President.

    In the array of these opposing candidates and their platforms, it could be easily calculated from the very beginning that neither Lincoln nor Douglas had any chance to carry a slave State, nor Breckinridge nor Bell to carry a free State; and that neither Douglas in the free States, nor Bell in either section could obtain electoral votes enough to succeed. Therefore, but two alternatives seemed probable. Either Lincoln would be chosen by electoral votes, or, upon his failure to obtain a sufficient number, the election would be thrown into the House of Representatives, in which case the course of combination, chance, or intrigue could not be foretold. The political situation and its possible results thus involved a degree of uncertainty sufficient to hold out a contingent hope to all the candidates, and to inspire the followers of each to active exertion. This hope and inspiration, added to the hot temper which the long discussion of antagonistic principles had engendered, served to infuse into the campaign enthusiasm, earnestness, and even bitterness, according to local conditions in the different sections.

    In campaign enthusiasm the Republican party easily took the lead. About a week before his nomination, Mr. Lincoln had been present at the Illinois State convention [154] at Decatur in Coles County, not far from the old Lincoln home, when, at a given signal, there marched into the convention old John Hanks, one of his boyhood companions, and another pioneer, who bore on their shoulders two long fence rails decorated with a banner inscribed: “Two rails from a lot made by Abraham Lincoln and John Hanks in the Sangamon Bottom in the year 1830.” They were greeted with a tremendous shout of applause from the whole convention, succeeded by a united call for Lincoln, who sat on the platform. The tumult would not subside until he rose to speak, when he said:

    Gentlemen: I suppose you want to know something about those things [pointing to old John and the rails]. Well, the truth is, John Hanks and I did make rails in the Sagamon Bottom. I don't know whether we made those rails or not; fact is, I don't think they are a credit to the makers [laughing as he spoke]. But I do know this: I made rails then, and I think I could make better ones than these now.

    Still louder cheering followed this short, but effective reply. But the convention was roused to its full warmth of enthusiasm when a resolution was immediately and unanimously adopted declaring that “Abraham Lincoln is the first choice of the Republican party of Illinois for the Presidency,” and directing the delegates to the Chicago convention “to use all honorable means to secure his nomination, and to cast the vote of the State as a unit for him.”

    It was this resolution which the Illinois delegation had so successfully carried out at Chicago. And, besides, they had carried with them the two fence rails, and set them up in state at the Lincoln headquarters at their hotel, where enthusiastic lady friends gaily trimmed them with flowers and ribbons and lighted [155] them up with tapers. These slight preliminaries, duly embellished in the newspapers, gave the key to the Republican campaign, which designated Lincoln as the Rail-splitter Candidate, and, added to his common Illinois sobriquet of “Honest old Abe,” furnished both country and city campaign orators a powerfully sympathetic appeal to the rural and laboring element of the United States.

    When these homely but picturesque appellations were fortified by the copious pamphlet and newspaper biographies in which people read the story of his humble beginnings, and how he had risen, by dint of simple, earnest work and native genius, through privation and difficulty, first to fame and leadership in his State, and now to fame and leadership in the nation, they grew quickly into symbols of a faith and trust destined to play no small part in a political revolution of which the people at large were not as yet even dreaming.

    Another feature of the campaign also quickly developed itself. On the preceding 5th of March, one of Mr. Lincoln's New England speeches had been made at Hartford, Connecticut; and at its close he was escorted to his hotel by a procession of the local Republican club, at the head of which marched a few of its members bearing torches and wearing caps and capes of glazed oilcloth, the primary purpose of which was to shield their clothes from the dripping oil of their torches. Both the simplicity and the efficiency of the uniform caught the popular eye, as did also the name, “Wide-Awakes,” applied to them by the “Hartford Courant.” The example found quick imitation in Hartford and adjoining towns, and when Mr. Lincoln was made candidate for President, every city, town, and nearly every village in the North, within a brief space, had its organized Wide-Awake club, with their [156] half-military uniform and drill; and these clubs were often, later in the campaign, gathered into imposing torch-light processions, miles in length, on occasions of important party meetings and speech-making. It was the revived spirit of the Harrison campaign of twenty years before; but now, shorn of its fun and frolic, it was strengthened by the power of organization and the tremendous impetus of earnest devotion to a high principle.

    It was a noteworthy feature of the campaign that the letters of acceptance of all the candidates, either in distinct words or unmistakable implication, declared devotion to the Union, while at the same time the adherents of each were charging disunion sentiments and intentions upon the other three parties. Douglas himself made a tour of speech-making through the Southern States, in which, while denouncing the political views of both Lincoln and Breckinridge, he nevertheless openly declared, in response to direct questions, that no grievance could justify disunion, and that he was ready “to put the hemp around the neck and hang any man who would raise the arm of resistance to the constituted authorities of the country.”

    During the early part of the campaign the more extreme Southern fire-eaters abated somewhat of their violent menaces of disunion. Between the Charleston and the Baltimore Democratic conventions an address published by Jefferson Davis and other prominent leaders had explained that the seventeen Democratic States which had voted at Charleston for the seceders' platform could, if united with Pennsylvania alone, elect the Democratic nominees against all opposition. This hope doubtless floated before their eyes like a willo‘--the-wisp until the October elections dispelled all possibility of securing Pennsylvania for Breckinridge. [157] From that time forward there began a renewal of disunion threats, which, by their constant increase throughout the South, prepared the public mind of that section for the coming secession.

    As the chances of Republican success gradually grew stronger, an undercurrent of combination developed itself among those politicians of the three opposing parties more devoted to patronage than principle, to bring about the fusion of Lincoln's opponents on some agreed ratio of a division of the spoils. Such a combination made considerable progress in the three Northern States of New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. It appears to have been engineered mainly by the Douglas faction, though, it must be said to his credit, against the open and earnest protest of Douglas himself. But the thrifty plotters cared little for his disapproval.

    By the secret manipulations of conventions and committees a fusion electoral ticket was formed in New York, made up of adherents of the three different factions in the following proportion: Douglas, eighteen; Bell, ten; Breckinridge, seven; and the whole opposition vote of the State of New York was cast for this fusion ticket. The same tactics were pursued in Pennsylvania, where, however, the agreement was not so openly avowed. One third of the Pennsylvania fusion electoral candidates were pledged to Douglas; the division of the remaining two thirds between Bell and Breckinridge was not made public. The bulk of the Pennsylvania opposition vote was cast for this fusion ticket, but a respectable percentage refused to be bargained away, and voted directly for Douglas or Bell. In New Jersey a definite agreement was reached by the managers, and an electoral ticket formed, composed of two adherents of Bell, two of Breckinridge, and three [158] of Douglas; and in this State a practical result was effected by the movement. A fraction of the Douglas voters formed a straight electoral ticket, adopting the three Douglas candidates on the fusion ticket, and by this action these three Douglas electors received a majority vote in New Jersey. On the whole, however, the fusion movement proved ineffectual to defeat Lincoln, and, indeed, it would not have done so even had the fusion electoral tickets received a majority in all three of the above-named States.

    The personal habits and surroundings of Mr. Lincoln were varied somewhat, though but slightly, during the whole of this election summer. Naturally, he withdrew at once from active work, leaving his law office and his whole law business to his partner, William H. Herndon; while his friends installed him in the governor's room in the State House at Springfield, which was not otherwise needed during the absence of the legislature. Here he spent the time during the usual business hours of the day, attended only by his private secretary, Mr. Nicolay. Friends and strangers alike were thus able to visit him freely and without ceremony, and they availed themselves largely of the opportunity. Few, if any, went away without being favorably impressed by his hearty Western greeting, and the frank sincerity of his manner and conversation, in which, naturally, all subjects of controversy were courteously and instinctively avoided by both the candidate and his visitors.

    By none was this free, neighborly intercourse enjoyed more than by the old-time settlers of Sangamon and the adjoining counties, who came to revive the incidents and memories of pioneer days with one who could give them such thorough and appreciative interest and sympathy. He employed no literary bureau, [159] wrote no public letters, made no set or impromptu speeches, except that once or twice during great political meetings at Springfield he uttered a few words of greeting and thanks to passing street processions. All these devices of propagandism he left to the leaders and committees of his adherents in their several States. Even the strictly confidential letters in which he indicated his advice on points in the progress of the campaign did not exceed a dozen in number; and when politicians came to interview him at Springfield, he received them in the privacy of his own home, and generally their presence created little or no public notice. Cautious politician as he was, he did not permit himself to indulge in any over-confidence, but then, as always before, showed unusual skill in estimating political chances. Thus he wrote about a week after the Chicago convention:

    So far as I can learn, the nominations start well everywhere; and, if they get no backset, it would seem as if they are going through.

    Again, on July 4:

    Long before this you have learned who was nominated at Chicago. We know not what a day may bring forth, but to-day it looks as if the Chicago ticket will be elected.

    And on September 22, to a friend in Oregon:

    No one on this side of the mountains pretends that any ticket can be elected by the people, unless it be ours. Hence, great efforts to combine against us are being made, which, however, as yet have not had much success. Besides what we see in the newspapers, I have a good deal of private correspondence; and, without giving details, I will only say it all looks very favorable to our success.

    His judgment was abundantly verified at the presidential [160] election, which occurred upon November 6, 1860. Lincoln electors were chosen in every one of the free States except New Jersey, where, as has already been stated, three Douglas electors received majorities because their names were on both the fusion ticket and the straight Douglas ticket; while the other four Republican electors in that State succeeded. Of the slave States, eleven chose Breckinridge electors, three of them Bell electors, and one of them-Missouri-Douglas electors. As provided by law, the electors met in their several States on December 5, to officially cast their votes, and on February 13, 1861, Congress in joint session of the two Houses made the official count as follows: for Lincoln, one hundred and eighty; for Breckinridge, seventy-two; for Bell, thirty-nine; and for Douglas, twelve; giving Lincoln a clear majority of fifty-seven in the whole electoral college. Thereupon Breckinridge, who presided over the joint session, officially declared that Abraham Lincoln was duly elected President of the United States for four years, beginning March 4, 1861.

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