The 1860 Elections

November 6, 1860 – Abraham Lincoln’s victory in the 1860 presidential election ensured that the divisions between North and South would not be resolved.

The growing political, economic, and social differences in America essentially resulted in two separate presidential elections this year: Republican Abraham Lincoln versus Northern Democrat Stephen A. Douglas in the North, and Constitutional Unionist John Bell versus Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge in the South. The results:

  • Republicans Abraham Lincoln of Illinois and Hannibal Hamlin of Maine – 180 electoral votes and 1,866,452 popular votes
  • Democrats John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky and Joseph Lane of Oregon – 72 electoral votes and 849,781 popular votes
  • Constitutional Unionists John Bell of Tennessee and Edward Everett of Massachusetts – 39 electoral votes and 588,879 popular votes
  • Democrats Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and Herschel V. Johnson of Georgia – 12 electoral votes and 1,376,957 popular votes
Clockwise from top left: John Bell, Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, and John Breckinridge | Image Credit:

Clockwise from top left: John Bell, Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, and John Breckinridge | Image Credit:

No candidate appeared on the ballot in all 33 states. The Lincoln/Hamlin ticket received no votes from any slave state, and less than 40 percent of the popular vote. But the Republicans proved that the North had become so populous over the past decade that a pro-northern sectional candidate could win the presidency without any southern support.

The vast northern superiority in population was demonstrated by the northern candidates (Lincoln and Douglas) winning 69 percent of the popular vote. Douglas won the second-most popular votes but could only carry Missouri and part of New Jersey because the Republicans comprised their primary competition. In the South, Breckinridge carried 11 of the 15 slave states, with Bell winning the border states of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

Lincoln won enough northern states to garner more electoral votes than all his competitors combined. However, the popular vote against him was 2,824,874, meaning nearly a million more people voted against Lincoln than for him. And of the four candidates, Lincoln had the hardest task because if he did not win a majority of electoral votes, he would have no support in the House of Representatives to break a plurality or tie.

In the congressional elections, non-Republicans held a slight majority by winning 129 seats in the House of Representatives. Republicans won 108 seats, all in the northern states. Voters elected state legislators who eventually put 29 Republicans into the U.S. Senate versus 37 Democrats and other non-Republicans. Only the strong southern Democratic bloc prevented Republicans from enjoying large majorities in both chambers of Congress.

Republicans won the governorships of all northern states and thus would command all northern state militias. But the strong Republican influence did not extend into the upper slave states of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, or Missouri, where many refused to be listed on the ballots; Republicans appeared on ballots in only 23 of the 33 states.

Lincoln received telegraphic election returns from his Illinois State House office in Springfield. By 9 p.m., returns showed strong Republican victories in New England, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and the northwestern states. But nothing yet came from New York, a state Lincoln needed to win. Results finally arrived around midnight, showing that Democratic dominance of New York City and Brooklyn could not prevent the Republicans from winning the state and thus the election.

Lincoln and friends attended a midnight supper prepared by Republican ladies. At the Watson Saloon, 100 women sang, “Ain’t you glad you joined the Republicans? Joined the Republicans, ain’t you glad you joined the Republicans, down in Illinois?”

Douglas learned of his defeat in the office of the Mobile (Alabama) Register, when news arrived that Democrats had lost Pennsylvania and New York. He argued with the newspaper editor that Lincoln’s victory would not mean secession, but an early editorial in the Atlanta Confederacy warned that the election results would cause the Potomac River to be “crimsoned in human gore,” sweeping “the last vestige of liberty” from America.

This election shocked southerners because it broke several national assumptions: a southern slaveholder had been president for 49 of the country’s 72 years of existence; 24 of 36 House speakers and 25 of 36 Senate president pro temps had been southerners; and 20 of 35 Supreme Court justices had been southerners, giving them a majority on the Court since the nation’s founding. Now a candidate from a northern party espousing anti-southern policies would occupy the White House for the first time.



  • Crocker III, H. W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008) , p. 28
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 34
  • Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 277-78
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 2-3
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 40
  • Schlesinger, Jr., Arthur M., The Almanac of American History (Greenwich, CT: Brompton Books Corp., 1993), p. 277
  • Schweikart, Larry and Allen, Michael, A Patriot’s History of the United States (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), p. 297-98
  • White, Howard Ray (2012-12-18). Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition)

Tagged: , , , , , , ,

2 thoughts on “The 1860 Elections

  1. […] Abraham Lincoln was elected U.S. president. […]


  2. […] Abraham Lincoln was elected U.S. president. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: