Tag Archives: Sectionalism

President Buchanan’s Annual Message to Congress

December 4, 1860 – The last annual message of James Buchanan’s presidency acknowledged that North and South were “now arrayed against each other.”

15th U.S. President James Buchanan | Image Credit: Familysearch.org

15th U.S. President James Buchanan | Image Credit: Familysearch.org

Buchanan placed much blame for the sectional conflict on the northern free states for their refusal to enforce fugitive slave laws within their borders. He stated, “The long-continued and intemperate interference of the Northern people with the question of slavery in the Southern States has at length produced its natural effects.” If the northern states did not “repeal their unconstitutional and obnoxious enactments… the injured States, after having first used all peaceful and constitutional means to obtain redress, would be justified in revolutionary resistance to the Government of the Union.”

On the other hand, Buchanan surprised southern allies by condemning secession because “the election of any one of our fellow-citizens to the office of President does not of itself afford just cause for dissolving the Union.” He asserted that the Union was not “a mere voluntary association of States, to be dissolved at pleasure by any one of the contracting parties.” Rather, the Constitution had been adopted to form “a more perfect Union” than that existing under the Articles of Confederation, which had proclaimed that “the Union shall be perpetual.”

Buchanan argued that the country’s founders “never intended to implant in its bosom the seeds of its own destruction, nor were they guilty of the absurdity of providing for its own dissolution.” If secession was legitimate, then the Union would become “a rope of sand,” and “our 33 States may resolve themselves into as many petty, jarring, and hostile republics… By such a dread catastrophe the hopes of the friends of freedom throughout the world would be destroyed… Our example for more than 80 years would not only be lost, but it would be quoted as a conclusive proof that man is unfit for self-government.”

He wrote, “The day of evil may never come unless we shall rashly bring it upon ourselves. Secession is neither more nor less than revolution.”

However, Buchanan followed up his condemnation of secession by declaring that the Federal government had no constitutional power “to coerce a State into submission which is attempting to withdraw.” He stated that “our Union rests upon public opinion, and can never be cemented by the blood of its citizens shed in civil war. If it can not live in the affections of the people, it must one day perish. Congress may possess many means of preserving it by conciliation, but the sword was not placed in their hand to preserve it by force.”

Buchanan called for moderation on both sides about slavery because it would eventually die a natural death anyway. He also addressed the mounting crisis in South Carolina between state officials and Federal troops garrisoning the Charleston Harbor forts; Buchanan declared that the Federals would defend the forts if South Carolinians tried using force to take them.

To resolve the sectional issue, Buchanan proposed “an exploratory amendment” to the Constitution that would 1) affirm the right of states to allow slavery where it already existed, 2) strengthen fugitive slave laws, and 3) allow slaveholders to bring their slaves into the territories until those territories decided whether to permit slavery upon becoming states. Republicans strongly opposed this proposal, and since they now enjoyed a majority in Congress, it was certain not to pass.

Northerners resented this message because Buchanan blamed them for the sectional tension and declared he had no power to stop secession. Southerners resented it for condemning the right of states to leave the Union. Few people expressed satisfaction with Buchanan’s handling of the mounting crisis.

—–

Sources

  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 1003
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 4
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 8-9
  • 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. 245-46, 248
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 45
  • Wikipedia: James Buchanan

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: Wikipedia.org

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

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.

—–

Sources

  • 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)

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)