The 1860 Elections: The Early Returns

October 1860 – Republicans won majorities in the state elections of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. This proved that the Republican campaign strategy worked:

  • Disavowing immigration restrictions boosted the foreign-born vote
  • Nominating Abraham Lincoln for president brought most Know-Nothings into the party’s fold
  • Endorsing the Wide-Awake clubs as they staged meetings, military drills, processions, and parades won support from younger voters, despite Lincoln’s lack of personal interest in the group

Democratic presidential candidate Stephen A. Douglas learned of the Republican victories while campaigning in Iowa. Knowing what these victories meant in the overall picture, he told his secretary, “Mr. Lincoln is the next President. We must try to save the Union. I will go south.” Douglas made a futile appeal to southerners to remain in the Union, even if Lincoln became the nation’s first anti-southern president.

Candidates Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas | Image Credit: TheModerateVoice.comLincoln, following the tradition in which presidential candidates did not campaign for themselves, remained quiet as the general election approached. He rejected requests to issue a statement to placate the South, asking, “What is it I could say which would quiet alarm? Is it that no interference by the government, with slaves or slavery within the states, is intended? I have said this so often already, that a repetition of it is but mockery, bearing an appearance of weakness.”

Lincoln expressed willingness to repeat his common refrain “if there were no danger of encouraging bold bad men… who are eager for something new upon which to base new misrepresentations—men who would like to frighten me, or, at least, to fix upon me the character of timidity and cowardice. They would seize upon almost any letter I could write, as being an ‘awful coming down.’”

While southerners intensified threats of leaving the Union if Lincoln won the election, many northerners expressed a wish that the South would carry out its threat. The Chicago Tribune, targeting South Carolina as the leader in secessionist agitation, opined that if that state would leave the Union, “let her go, and like a limb lopped from a healthy trunk, wilt and rot where she falls.”



  • Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 5329
  • Foote, Shelby. The Civil War: A Narrative – Fort Sumter to Perryville, p. 34
  • McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 231, 251

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