The 1860 Republican National Convention

May 18, 1860 – Abraham Lincoln won the Republican presidential nomination after a series of backroom deals at the convention in Chicago.

When the convention began on May 16, most delegates considered William H. Seward, the former New York governor and current U.S. senator, the frontrunner for the nomination. However, Lincoln had gained attention for his debates with prominent U.S. Senator Stephen A. Douglas and a memorable speech at New York’s Cooper Union in February.[1]

Abraham Lincoln in 1860 | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Abraham Lincoln in 1860 | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Lincoln received further boosts when party members scheduled the convention to take place in his home state of Illinois, and the Illinois delegation approved a resolution: “That Abraham Lincoln is the choice of the Republican party of Illinois for the Presidency, and the delegates from this State are instructed to use all honorable means to secure his nomination by the Chicago Convention, and to vote as a unit for him.”[2]

After losing their first presidential election in 1856, the Republicans expressed optimism that they would win this time. If they retained all the states they won last time and added just Pennsylvania and one state among New Jersey, Indiana, and Illinois, they would gain the Electoral College majority needed for victory. In addition, the Democratic Party was splitting along sectional lines, and a new Constitutional Union Party would likely siphon Democratic votes in border states, thus increasing Republican chances to win even more.[3]

Most importantly, the Republicans calculated they could win without carrying a single southern state. So for the first time in American history, a candidate could be elected by only receiving votes from one section while facing nearly unanimous opposition from another. This could only exacerbate the tensions and resentments between North and South even further.[4]

Some 40,000 people came to Chicago for the convention. No delegates south of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri attended, and the Republicans did not acknowledge their lack of representation.[5]

At noon on Wednesday the 16th, New York Governor Edwin Morgan, chairman of the Republican National Convention, began proceedings by declaring that “no body of men of equal number was ever clothed with greater responsibility than those now within the hearing of my voice… Let me then invoke you to act in a spirit of harmony, that by the dignity, the wisdom and the patriotism displayed here you may be enabled to enlist the hearts of the people, and to strengthen them in (their) faith.”[6]

To garner support in the battleground states needed for victory, the delegates approved a less antagonistic party platform than that of four years before. This included de-emphasizing opposition to the “twin evils” of slavery in the South and Mormon polygamy in the Utah Territory and focusing more on:

  • Raising tariffs
  • Subsidizing favored businesses
  • Giving free homesteads to settlers
  • Supporting construction of a transcontinental railroad
  • Protecting naturalized citizens
  • Using taxpayer money to fund river and harbor improvements[7]

After adopting a more moderate platform, delegates began considering backing a more moderate candidate. Seward had gained prominence for attacking slavery, an unpopular stance in the Midwest. By the end of the convention’s second day, Seward remained the frontrunner, but he could not garner the majority of votes needed to win, and a committee formed to look for an alternate candidate.[8]

Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln’s team of managers infiltrated the committee and began making deals to get delegates to back him. They even printed thousands of counterfeit admission tickets to pack the convention hall with Lincoln supporters when the balloting began on the 18th. This may not have been necessary, as Lincoln’s team had received pledges of support from New Jersey, Indiana, and Illinois on the night of the 17th.[9]

David Davis, one of Lincoln’s managers, informed Lincoln that if he appointed unscrupulous politician Simon Cameron to his cabinet, he would garner Pennsylvania’s support. Lincoln answered via telegraph from Springfield, “Make no contracts that will bind me.” Davis told his team, “Lincoln ain’t here, and don’t know what we have to meet, so we will go ahead, as if we hadn’t heard from him, and he must ratify it.” Getting Pennsylvania secured his nomination.[10]

Seward led on the first ballot, but Lincoln established himself as Seward’s top rival by winning more New England votes than expected. Seward’s lead narrowed on the second ballot, and by the third, nearly all votes shifted to Lincoln. Opposing delegates switched their votes to Lincoln to make his nomination unanimous. Hannibal Hamlin of Maine was chosen for vice president. Thus the Republicans broke the unwritten tradition of keeping sectional harmony by nominating a northerner-southerner combination, instead choosing two northerners, both opposed to the southern agenda.[11]

The Republicans chose a presidential candidate with little political experience beyond the state level and no executive or administrative experience. He had served several terms in the Illinois legislature and one term in the U.S. House of Representatives, but he had not held public office for a decade and lost two bids for the U.S. Senate. His only military experience had been as a captain of volunteers during the brief Black Hawk War. Even more troubling, southerners resented that Lincoln owed his nomination to those who supported economic and political policies traditionally opposed in the South; this instantly made Lincoln an enemy in most southern eyes.[12]

A delegation arrived at Lincoln’s home in Springfield the next day to formally notify him of his nomination. Lincoln accepted on the 23rd, and he became the first sectional candidate with a legitimate chance to win. His candidacy would incite southerners into threatening extreme measures if he won the election.[13]

—–

[1] Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 236

[2] Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 236; Schweikart, Larry and Allen, Michael, A Patriot’s History of the United States (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), p. 296-97

[3] Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 921; Schweikart, Larry and Allen, Michael, A Patriot’s History of the United States (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), p. 296-97; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012)

[4] White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012)

[5] Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 921; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 237 | 239-40

[6] Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 237 | 239-40

[7] Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 237 | 239-40; Schweikart, Larry and Allen, Michael, A Patriot’s History of the United States (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), p. 296-97

[8] Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 237 | 239-40; Schweikart, Larry and Allen, Michael, A Patriot’s History of the United States (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), p. 296-97

[9] Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 237 | 239-40; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012)

[10] Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 242-43 | 245-46

[11] Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 921; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 248-49

[12] Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 39-41; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012)

[13] White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012)

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