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The Civil War and the 1860 Presidential Tickets

Posted on Friday, March 27, 2015 at 12:47 pm

The 1860 Presidential election was one of the few elections in American History which had four major parties running, instead of the usual two or occasionally three. Just as the Civil War divided even families, so the presidential tickets also split up in different ways after the election, when the Civil War was breaking out.

The Republican Party was a new major party, having been formed in the 1850s. Their ticket consisted of Abraham Lincoln of Illinois for President, and for Vice President, Senator Hannibal Hamlin of Maine. Both Illinois and Maine were free  states.

The Democratic Party nominated Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois for President. Douglas and Lincoln had been personal friends and political rivals for years. To give the ticket geographical balance, they chose Herschel Vespasian Johnson, a politician from the slave state of Georgia, whose only national office experience was one year in the U.S. Senate, from 1848 to 1849.

Although Douglas had helped the Southern leaders with his 1854 Popular Sovereignty proposal, which had opened territories north of the Missouri Compromise line to slavery, he was still not pro-Southern enough for the fire-eaters. They stormed out of the convention and held one of their own. For President, they nominated  John C. Breckinridge, from the slave state of Kentucky. At the time, Breckinridge was still serving as James Buchanan’s Vice-President. His running mate was from a northern state, again to give the ticket geographical balance – Senator Joseph Lane of the free state of Oregon.

Finally there was the Constitutional Union Party. This was a short-lived party that was deliberately vague about its intentions, with vague speeches about following the Constitution, and hoping to finesse the slavery issue. As with the Democrats, the ticket was geographically balanced. For President they chose John Bell of Tennessee, a slave state. The Vice-Presidential nominee was Edward Everett of the free state of Massachusetts.

Everett was one of those public figures who ended up holding almost every public office imaginable, although the Vice-Presidency would prove out of reach. He was also popular as a writer and orator. He is chiefly remembered today as the man who spoke before Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address.  Afterwards, Everett admitted to Lincoln that Lincoln’s speech had said more in two minutes than Everett’s had in two hours.

The 1860 election results were thoroughly sectional. The Lincoln ticket captured all the free states, except New Jersey. There, Lincoln split the electoral vote with Stephen Douglas. Breckinridge of the southern Democrats took most of the South. Bell carried three border slave states, namely Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky.  Apart from carrying part of New Jersey, Douglas ended up with just one full state, the border slave state of Missouri. Though Mr. Lincoln had a bit less than 40 percent of the popular vote, he had a solid lead in the electoral college, and easily won the election.

In the months after the election, the tickets themselves broke up, as the country itself was doing. After the March 4, 1861 Inauguration, Lincoln and Hamlin became President and Vice-President, serving the North. Douglas remained loyal to the Union,  but his running mate Johnson headed South and even served as a Senator from Georgia in the 2nd Confederate Congress, from 1862 to 1865.

John C.  Breckinridge eventually moved to the South as well. His running mate Lane had alienated Oregon voters with his pro-Southern stance, so after the election he returned to Oregon and retired from politics.

As for John Bell and Edward Everett, Bell eventually moved to the South, while Everett stayed with the North.  Bell may have had second thoughts, when it was way too late to change his mind. In a June 1864 letter to a friend, he wrote he would not have joined the Confederacy, if he had not been told that if a person of his stature joined the secessionist cause, he would be in a better position to help control it. There is no record of Everett regretting his decision.

So, out of eight men in the 1860 election, four remained loyal to the Union, and four did not, though one of the latter, Joseph Lane,  did not actually pack up and move down South.

The New York Times—May 11, 1860—pages 1 and 4.
The New York Times—June 4, 1860—page 5.
The New York Times—June 28, 1860—-page 1.
The New York Times—-June 30, 1860—page 5.
The New York Times—-June 9, 1861—-page 4.
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress (online).
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper—-July 16, 1864—page 259.

By John Lockwood