The 1864 Elections: Aftermath

November 10, 1864 – President Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech to serenaders after his reelection was confirmed.

Although all returns had not yet been received on the 9th, word spread throughout North and South that Lincoln had most likely won a second presidential term. Republicans and National Unionists rejoiced; George Templeton Strong wrote in his diary:

Laus Deo! The crisis has been past, and the most momentous popular election ever held since ballots were invented has decided against treason and disunion… The American people can be trusted to take care of the national honor.”

Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac, wrote his wife that the army vote totaled 13,500 for Lincoln and 5,500 for the beloved former army commander George B. McClellan. Meade also stirred up a minor controversy when it was reported that he did not vote himself. He wrote:

“It is probable that some zealous partisan has watched to see what I did. I cannot but be flattered that so much importance is attached to my action, particularly as nearly all other general officers, including Grant, did the same–that is, not vote.”

News of the election reached the Confederacy on the 10th, with an article published in the Richmond Dispatch:

“A well-known citizen of Fredericksburg, who entered the enemy’s lines below Richmond yesterday under flag of truce, was informed by a Yankee officer that Lincoln’s re-election was, beyond a doubt, a fact accomplished… They said Lincoln had been re-elected, and that we might prepare ourselves for four more years of war. Few of our people will be disappointed by the result of this election, since it is only what we have all expected. Had Lincoln allowed himself to have been beaten, he must have been either a fool or a patriot, neither of which his warmest friend nor bitterest foe has ever suspected him of being.”

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit:

On the night of the 10th, Lincoln responded to a massive celebration on the White House lawn, speaking from a second floor window. Unlike the impromptu address that Lincoln delivered in the early hours after election night, this evening the president read from a manuscript. The president said:

“It has long been a grave question whether any government, not too strong for the liberties of its people, can be strong enough to maintain its own existence, in great emergencies…

“We can not have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forgo, or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us… Human-nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak, and as strong; as silly and as wise; as bad and good. Let us, therefore, study the incidents of this, as philosophy to learn wisdom from, and none of them as wrongs to be revenged.

“But the election, along with its incidental, and undesirable strife, has done good too. It has demonstrated that a people’s government can sustain a national election, in the midst of a great civil war. Until now it has not been known to the world that this was a possibility.

“But the rebellion continues; and now that the election is over, may not all, having a common interest, re-unite in a common effort, to save our common country? For my own part I have striven, and shall strive to avoid placing any obstacle in the way. So long as I have been here I have not willingly planted a thorn in any man’s bosom.

“While I am deeply sensible to the high compliment of a re-election; and duly grateful, as I trust, to Almighty God for having directed my countrymen to a right conclusion, as I think, for their own good, it adds nothing to my satisfaction that any other man may be disappointed or pained by the result… And now, let me close by asking three hearty cheers for our brave soldiers and seamen and their gallant and skillful commanders.”

As he turned from the window, Lincoln told his secretary John Hay, “Not very graceful, but I am growing old enough not to care much for the manner of doing things.”

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, congratulated Lincoln: “The election having passed off quietly, no bloodshed or riot throughout the land, is a victory worth more to the country than a battle won.” Grant later assured Lincoln, “All the troops now in the North will be hurried to the field.”

In his cabinet meeting, Lincoln revealed the sealed document he had asked his officers to sign without reading on August 23. This was Lincoln’s acknowledgement that he would likely lose the election, along with a pledge to help the new president-elect between the election and inauguration.

Lincoln’s victory did not stop Federal officials from persecuting political enemies. In Kentucky, a state that George B. McClellan easily won, authorities arrested three of his top supporters for alleged disloyalty. Among them was Lieutenant Governor Richard Jacob, who was banished to the Confederacy. An elector for McClellan and the editor of the Louisville Journal were also apprehended. Lincoln pardoned the latter two and lifted Jacob’s banishment in February 1865.

A Washington newspaper reported on the 17th that Lincoln told a Maryland committee that he was gratified at the election results, which confirmed “the policy he had pursued would be the best and the only one that could save the country.”


References; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 11632, 11640; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 13122-42; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 519; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 664-66; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 595-98; 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), Q464

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