1860 Republican Convention

This year’s election is a very important one for our country. Depending on which candidate is elected our country will either start on the road to recovery or else it will cease to exist as we grew up knowing it. Since this is Civil War Wednesday I thought that I would enlighten you about another election that ended up changing the course of our country’s future. We all know that Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 presidential election, but do you know how he got there? After all, today in order to be able to win an election you need to have millions of dollars to spend on campaigning. If Lincoln was alive today he would not be able to afford to run for president. Is that a sad fact or what?

In 1859 Lincoln had lost the election for the US Senate to Stephen Douglas, despite his good showing at the Lincoln-Douglas debates that had taken place all over Illinois. Even though he had lost the election, that series of debates helped to make Lincoln a recognizable name and face to the rest of the nation. As Lincoln returned to his law practice people would ask him about running for president. One of his many replies was, “I shall labor faithfully in the ranks, unless, as I think not probable, the judgment of the party shall assign me a different position.” After John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, Lincoln became even better known because Senator Douglas blamed this type of lawlessness was due to Lincoln’s ‘House Divided’ speech. Lincoln traveled to Cooper Union in New York City where he gave a speech regarding our moral, social and political responsibilities in regards to dealing with slavery. This brought the audience to their feet and surging to shake his hand. He then gave another series of addresses in New England which were received just as well. Names were beginning to be nominated for the presidential ticket, and it was finally decided that perhaps Lincoln would allow somebody to enter his name.

The 1860 Republican Convention was held in Chicago, due to some forward-thinking political wrangling by one of Lincoln’s supporters, in a building that was referred to as ‘The Wigwam’ and could accommodate a crowd of 10,000. None of the actual candidates attended the convention because at this time only the delegates attended. However, the other candidates who were on the ballot were William H Seward of New York (Lincoln’s future Secretary of State), Salmon P. Chase of Ohio (Lincoln’s future Treasury Secretary), Edward Bates of Missouri (Lincoln’s future Attorney General), and Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania (Lincoln’s future Secretary of War).

Going into the voting, Seward was the favored candidate. He only needed 233 votes to secure the presidential nomination, and he had a large portion of that in the delegates that he had from New York. It would just take some wrangling to gain votes from the other states, but Seward and his campaign manager felt that this would be possible by offering Lincoln the Vice-President spot on the Republican ticket. Little did Seward know that the Illinois delegation was doing their own bit of wrangling and promising.

Lincoln’s managers were busy making deals, promising positions, and scratching the backs of the delegates in order to secure their votes. They were lining up the numbers that would be needed in order to steal the nomination away from Seward. There was one little problem, though. In a wire that Lincoln sent from Springfield, where he was holed up and waiting for the ballot results, he told his managers, “I authorize no bargains and will be bound by none.” This statement was ignored by his people, who continued to press the flesh and make promises in his stead. Lincoln’s managers also did a couple other things in order to make his support seem stronger than Seward’s. It was arranged for the New Yorkers to be placed far away from other delegations with which they could collaborate and make deals for votes; Lincoln’s managers printed up counterfeit tickets for the convention and gave them out to Lincoln supporters with instructions to show up early so that they could displace Seward’s supporters. Finally, they planted a few men in the crowd with big voices in order to lead the cheering for Lincoln.

The day of the voting arrived finally and there was excitement of all kinds. Seward’s supporters wound their way through the streets of Chicago, led by a brass band, singing and celebrating. They arrived at The Wigwam only to find themselves locked out! All of the Lincoln supporters with their counterfeit tickets had taken the New Yorkers’ seats.

On the first ballot Seward swept the ticket with 173 of the votes, as compared to Lincoln’s 102 and Cameron’s 51. On the second ballot Lincoln gathered more votes from other States that were happy to have a candidate to rally behind on the ‘Stop Seward’ train. The second ballot brought things up tight for Seward and Lincoln. Seward won, but barely, with 185 votes as compared to Lincoln’s 181.

As the third ballot was cast Lincoln began picking up more votes, and Seward was losing them just as fast. As the last vote was cast everybody realized that Lincoln had 231.5 votes, just a vote and a half short of securing the nomination. As the hall became hushed, Mr. D. K. Cartter of Ohio stood up and announced, with a stutter, that he would like to change four votes from Chase to Lincoln. With that Lincoln had secured the nomination!

Dirty politics is definitely not a new invention. Games have been played to sway elections from the very beginning of time. Thankfully, in 1860, these games nominated the man who would go on to win the presidency during one of the bloodiest and horrible periods of our nation’s history.


“How Lincoln Won the 1860 Republican Nomination” by Gordon Leidner

Wikipedia – 1860 Republican National Convention

The Civil War: A Narrative by Shelby Foote

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