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How the Union Pulled Off a Presidential Election During the Civil War

How the Union Pulled Off a Presidential Election During the Civil War

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The United States has never delayed a presidential election. But there was one instance in which some wondered if the country should: when the nation was embroiled in the Civil War.

The 1864 election was the second U.S. presidential election to take place during wartime (the first was during the War of 1812). Still, it wasn’t the logistics of carrying out a wartime election that made some people want to postpone it. Rather, it was the fact that by the spring of 1864, the Union had no clear path to victory, and many feared President Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t win reelection.

Three Years of War, And No End in Sight

Today, conventional wisdom holds that incumbent presidential candidates are more likely to win reelection, especially during wartime. Franklin Delano Roosevelt won an unprecedented fourth term during World War II, and Richard Nixon delayed Vietnam peace talks because he thought prolonging the Vietnam War would help his reelection chances in 1972 (and indeed, he won a second term). Yet in 1864, this wasn’t a common assumption—the eight presidents directly preceding Lincoln had each served one term or less.

Lincoln’s main weakness as a candidate was that the Union’s war against the Confederacy wasn’t going well. By the spring of 1864, the Civil War had been going on for three years with no end in sight, and many voters (i.e., white men ages 21 and up) were starting to get war-weary. Lincoln agreed with his advisors that his chances for winning reelection looked grim, but he disagreed with those who suggested he delay the election.

“Lincoln always felt that the Civil War was, number one, about democracy,” says Eric Foner, a professor emeritus of history at Columbia University and author of The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution.

“[Lincoln thought] if you suspend democracy in the middle of the war, you are basically undercutting the whole purpose of the war,” he continues. “So even when he thought he was going to lose, he never really contemplated suspending the presidential election.” (Lincoln did, however, suspend the writ of habeas corpus and ignore a ruling by the Supreme Court’s chief justice that he didn’t have the authority to do so.)

Abraham Lincoln's Wartime Run

When Lincoln first ran for president in 1860, it was his Republican Party that had a stronghold in the north, and the Democratic Party that had found popularity in the south. When 11 southern states seceded to join the Confederacy, the Republican Party became the Union’s dominant political party. Even so, for the 1864 election, the Republican Party decided to join forces with some Democrats to form the National Union Party.

Despite concerns about Lincoln’s electability, the National Union backed him as its presidential candidate. Yet notably, Lincoln ditched his current Republican vice president to run with Andrew Johnson, a Democrat who had previously supported slavery, in an attempt to “balance the ticket.”

Meanwhile, a divided Democratic Party nominated George McClellan, a popular general who’d served in the Union Army. Lincoln’s campaign position was that there would be no ceasefire until the south rejoined the north and ended slavery. In contrast, McClellan said his only condition for ending the war would be that the Confederate states rejoined the Union.

Lincoln's Opponents Launched Racist Campaign

Whether or not slavery continued—as well as the fate of black Americans—was not a priority for McClellan or the Democratic Party. And in the party’s attempt to win the votes of war-weary white northerners, it launched “probably the most racist presidential campaign in American history,” says David Goldfield, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and author of America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation.

For example, one Democratic political cartoon exploited white Americans’ fears about interracial sex by depicting a fictional “Miscegenation Ball at the Headquarters of the Lincoln Central Campaign Club.” Another Democratic campaign pamphlet referred to Lincoln as “Abraham Africanus the First” and declared that the first commandment of the Republican Party was “Thou shalt have no other God but the negro.”

Ultimately, what helped Lincoln win over McClellan wasn’t the fact that he wanted to end slavery. It was the fact that in the two months before the election, the Union achieved major military victories by capturing Atlanta and winning a major battle in the Shenandoah Valley. These military victories boosted morale among both civilian and military voters. Soldiers in particular seemed to agree with Lincoln’s campaign slogan: “Don’t change horses in the middle of a stream.”

Getting Out the Vote Amid War

In order to pull off the 1864 election, the Union needed a way for soldiers stationed far from their homes to vote. To this end, most northern states passed new laws allowing soldiers to cast absentee votes from military camps. However, because soldiers were more likely to vote for their current commander-in-chief, there were some partisan attempts to suppress their votes.

“In states where the Democrats controlled the state legislature, like Indiana, they did not allow soldiers to vote in their army camps,” Foner says. “But the War Department kind of encouraged commanders to let these soldiers go home for a week or something in order that they could vote.”

The election also included three new states: Kansas, West Virginia and Nevada. Kansas had joined the Union as a free state in 1861, just after Lincoln’s first presidential election and before the Civil War started. West Virginia joined in 1863 after breaking off from the Confederate state of Virginia. And Nevada actually became a state on October 31, 1864, just a week before the election, in part because Congress thought it might give Lincoln an electoral edge, Foner says.

On November 8, Lincoln won in a landslide. He received 54 percent of the civilian vote, 78 percent of the military vote and 212 electoral votes across 22 states. In comparison, McClellan took 21 electoral votes in only three states: Delaware, Kentucky and his home state of New Jersey. The victory meant Lincoln continued leading the war with the goal of reuniting the country and abolishing slavery.

“I think it was one of the most critical elections in our history,” says John C. Waugh, a historical reporter and author of Reelecting Lincoln: The Battle for the 1864 Presidency. “And thank god that Lincoln won.”

Civil War

2. The government was a union of people and not of states.

3. The Southern States did not permit their people to vote on secession.

2. developed significant popular support

3. achieved their goals without government action

1. As an abolitionist, President Lincoln wanted to end slavery in the United States.

2. President Lincoln wanted to keep the South economically dependent on the industrial North.

3. President Lincoln's oath of office required him to defend and preserve the Union.

1. economic system of the South came to dominate the United States economy

2. Federal Government's power over the States was strengthened

3. members of Congress from Southern States gained control of the legislative branch

1. the Federal Government adopted a policy of neutrality

2. economic conditions and interests in each region varied

3. only northerners were represented at the Constitutional Convention

This quotation suggests that

1. vast differences of opinion existed over the issue of States rights

2. the Federal Government had become more interested in foreign affairs than in domestic problems

Pauline Cushman, now featured in a Smithsonian photography exhibition, unexpectedly found herself spying for the Union after accepting a dare

In a photograph no bigger than a playing card, a woman dressed in military costume cradles a sword, staring confidently beyond the frame. Her name is Pauline Cushman, an actress turned Civil War spy whose story dances between the boundary dividing history and fiction.

Born Harriet Wood in 1833, Cushman changed her name when she moved to New York City to pursue acting at age 18. There, she met her first husband, who joined the Union army as a musician, but tragically died in 1862. (Like much of Cushman’s story, the specifics of her husband’s death are unclear, with reported causes varying from dysentery to a head injury). Leaving her two children behind with her in-laws, Cushman relocated to Louisville, a Union-controlled hotbed of contention, to try her hand at acting in Wood’s Theater.

Louisville is where Cushman’s story becomes history, but not as an actress. She was “not necessarily of the first rank,” says the Smithsonian’s Ann Shumard, senior curator of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery. Working as a spy for the Union Army, Louisville is also where the facts of Cushman’s story become entangled with myth as dramatic accounts of her exploits are later romanticized.

“The career of the subject of this work, the beautiful and accomplished Miss Pauline Cushman, or ‘Major’ Cushman, as she is entitled to be called…is one so varied by patriotic incident and stirring adventure, that the ear of young or old can never become satiated by its recital,” states the Life of Pauline Cushman: Celebrated Union Spy and Scout, a biography written by one of Cushman’s acquaintances in 1865. “Since the days of the Maid of Saragossa, no woman has ever lived who has so completely come up to the ideal of a heroine, as Miss Pauline Cushman.”

In a new exhibition, titled “Storied Women of the Civil War Era,” and on view at the National Portrait Gallery, the image of Cushman, dressed in military uniform, is joined by those of 13 other women, with occupations ranging from actresses like Mrs. J.H. Allen, Kate Bateman and Laura Keene, performers like singer Clara Louise Kellogg and pianist Teresa Carreño to First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and Queen Emma of Hawaii. The show illustrates the variety of spheres that women occupied and influenced during this tense time in America’s past.

Jessie Benton Fremont (1824-1902) was a staunch defender of her husband, the explorer John C. Frémont, and took an active role in his campaign for president in 1856. (NPG, Mathew Brady Studio, c. 1863) Harriet Lane (1830-1903), the niece of President James Buchanan, assumed the role of First Lady and took a lively interest in the cultural arts of the Capital City. (NPG, Mathew Brady Studio, c. 1860)

“There’s so much history that we’re not always aware of,” says Shumard. “One of the specialties of the Portrait Gallery is using the images in its collections to convey the stories of these fascinating people—some of them very well-known, and others less familiar, but whose stories are certainly worth knowing.”

Shumard hand-picked the subjects from the Frederick Hill Meserve Collection, an archive of more than 5,400 negatives produced in Mathew Brady's studio, which the museum acquired in 1981. The current exhibition displays modern prints that were made from the original negatives, each measuring about 2.5 x 4.5 inches.

English-born actress Laura Keene (1820/26-1873) was performing in the play at Ford's Theatre on the night that John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln. (NPG, Mathew Brady Studio, c. 1865) American soprano Clara Louise Kellogg (1842-1916) was triumphant with her performance as Marguerite in Charles Gounod's opera, "Faust." (NPG, Mathew Brady Studio, c. 1863)

Known as cartes de visite, or “calling cards” in French, the small prints gained enormous popularity in the United States during the 1860 presidential election just prior to the start of the Civil War. For the first time, people could acquire multiple images of their own likeness, or those of their friends and family at minimal cost. For only 20 cents per card, one could also buy the portraits of celebrities including theatrical personalities, politicians, or military officers, setting off a card collecting craze that spurred Oliver Wendell Holmes to call these prints the “social currency, the sentimental ‘Green-backs’ of civilization.”

To create a carte de visite, a photographer would insert a glass plate negative into a camera that had four separate lenses, securing a total of eight images if both halves of the plate were exposed. The negatives were turned into prints using paper that was coated with ammonium and fermented egg white, or albumen, and sensitized with silver nitrate. The result was a set of vivid, almost eggplant-toned photographs.

“Of course, in this era there are still a number of women who are principally known to the public because of their careers on the stage,” Shumard explains. Among several actresses, the exhibition displays the photograph of Laura Keene, best known for performing at Ford’s Theatre the night that Abraham Lincoln was shot. Keene, however, also broke boundaries as the first woman to manage a major theater in New York City, and as a result was subject to verbal abuse, vandalism, and the loss of her lease. “But she roared back the next year and was able to open a newly built theater and continued very successfully,” Shumard says. “So, while we might think of her as an actress, there is a richer dimension to her story.”

Actress Pauline Cushman (1833-1893) was a Union spy and became a major celebrity. (NPG, Mathew Brady Studio, 1864) Kate Bateman (1842-1917) made her acting debut at age 4. In New York City in 1863, she met with wild acclaim in the lead role of "Leah, the Forsaken." (NPG, Mathew Brady Studio, 1863)

Cushman’s story is equally rich, although perhaps with muddier details.

As the legend goes, Cushman was set to perform a scene in the play The Seven Sisters in which she proposes a toast. Two rebel officers, Colonel Spear and Captain J. H. Blincoe, offered her money to drink to the Southern Confederacy. After confessing this dare to Union authorities, she was directed to take the bet in order to ingratiate herself with Southern sympathizers and feed information back to the Union.

On the night of her performance, Cushman raised her glass and shouted, “Here’s to Jefferson Davis and the Southern Confederacy. May the South always maintain her honor and her rights!” The audience fell silent, before chaos ensued and Cushman was swiftly fired from the production.

What Cushman lost in roles she gained in Southern approval. According to the 1865 biography, Cushman was embraced by Confederate circles and began spying for the Union, with storied escapades like wearing men’s clothing to intermingle with rebels. One account even reports that she discovered her landlady mixing poison in the coffee of wounded Union soldiers and had her arrested.

First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882) sat for this portrait wearing the elegant gown created for her by the talented African-American dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley. (NPG, Mathew Brady Studio, 1862) Political operative Kate Chase Sprague (1840-1899), the daughter of Salmon P. Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury, established her home as a glittering salon and became the belle of Washington, D.C. society. (NPG, Mathew Brady Studio, 1863)

Soon after, Cushman moved to Nashville to seek work at a new theater, and was hired by the espionage chief for the commander of the Army of the Cumberland. He asked Cushman to gather information about the confederate General Braxton Bragg, with strict orders not to steal any physical documents. Her alibi was to be that she was searching for her brother, who was a rebel in the Mississippi regiment.

The plot quickly fell apart. While trying to cross back over into Union territory, Cushman was caught with battle plans hidden in the soles of her boots that she had stolen from Bragg’s camp. She was tried in military court and sentenced to death by hanging.

But fate was in Cushman’s favor. After her execution was delayed as a result of her sudden illness, the Union army invaded Shelbyville, Tennessee, where she was being held, and the Confederate forces abandoned her.

Cushman was saved, and soon soared to fame on the nation’s stage.

“She was honored by President Lincoln and given an honorary rank of Major,” says Shumard. “And then P.T. Barnum, who of course was great at capitalizing on any opportunity to exploit fame, enlisted Pauline to appear at his American Museum.” Afterwards, “Miss Major Cushman” (her newly earned nickname) toured the country, giving lectures about her adventures while dressed in a major’s uniform.

Actress Mrs. J.H. Allen (1840-1911) performed only under her married name and was hailed by the The New York Times as "the most beautiful woman on the New York Stage." (NPG, Mathew Brady Studio, c. 1861) Born in Caracas, Venezuela, pianist Teresa Carreño (1853-1917) played her first recital in New York City in 1862, when she was just 8-years-old. She later performed at Lincoln's White House. (NPG, Mathew Brady Studio, c. 1862) When entertainer Lavinia Warren (1841-1919) married Charles Stratton, known as "Tom Thumb," their lavish wedding, publicized by P.T. Barnum, was called the "Fairy Wedding." (NPG, Mathew Brady Studio, 1863)

Like the cartes de visite of celebrities, Cushman’s story was collected and passed around by the public, thrilling them with tales of risk and patriotic duty. A Nashville Dispatch article from August 1864 reports the arrest of one woman who was particularly inspired: “Fanny Wilson, aged 19 years, and an actress in the Memphis Theatre, was arrested a few days since while attempting to be a soldier…She had heard of major Pauline Cushman and panted for military glory and the romance of a Southern prison.”

Cushman’s notoriety would not last for long. Enthusiasm for wartime stories waned as the country struggled to heal and put itself back together. Cartes de visite, which had been especially popular as mementos for soldiers and their loved ones, also declined in demand as men and women were no longer headed to the battlefield, and a new larger-format print called a cabinet card became the dominant trend.

In 1872, Cushman moved to California in an unsuccessful attempt to rekindle her acting career. She married again and was widowed less than a year later. After working in logging camps in Santa Cruz, she met her third husband and relocated to Arizona to run a hotel. They separated in 1890 after the death of her adopted daughter, forcing her to move back to California, where while suffering from arthritis and rheumatism, she became addicted to pain medication.

Julia Dent Grant (1826-1902) was a constant companion to her husband Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and joined him at his encampments in Jackson, Memphis, Nashville, Vicksburg and City Point. She narrowly avoided capture by the Confederates in 1862. (NPG, Mathew Brady Studio, c. 1864) Abolitionist and women's rights advocate Anna Elizabeth Dickinson (1842-1932) became the first woman to speak before the U.S. House of Representatives and spoke to the contributions of African-Americans during the war effort. (NPG, Mathew Brady Studio, 1863) On August 6, 1865, Hawai'i's recently widowed Queen Emma (1836-1885) became the first queen of any nation to visit the United States and she was welcomed with a 13-gun salute. (NPG, Mathew Brady Studio, 1866)

Cushman died impoverished and from an opium overdose in 1893 in San Francisco, where she had been working as a seamstress.

She was buried with military honors in the Golden Gate National Cemetery, but her grave is marked with only her name and the label “Union Spy.” At that time, carte de visite portraits were nearing obscurity with the introduction of the Kodak camera in 1888 and the cheaper Brownie camera in 1900, which enabled home photography on an unprecedented scale and reduced the need to visit a professional studio.

“Yes, the deeds of the ‘Scout of Cumberland’…will live as long as American hearts beat, and be related by future historians of our land as the most romantic and most remarkable episode of this fearful rebellion,” Cushman’s 1865 biography prophesized.

Now more than 150 years later, Cushman and the tradition of cartes de visite are preserved behind glass, cast in egg white for contemporary eyes to fall on and to wonder at the stories behind them.

First presidential election took one month

There are many historical examples of an election period as opposed to an election day.

At the founding, there was no set national election day. The first presidential election started on Dec. 15, 1788, and ended almost a month later, on Jan. 10, 1789.

In 1792, Congress passed a law that permitted each state to choose presidential electors any time within a 34-day period before the first Wednesday in December. During this period, states determined what day to hold their presidential elections, resulting in a patchwork of election days. Most states had their election on a single day, but some had elections over the course of two days.

From 1789 to 1840, states gradually converged on early November as the time to hold their presidential elections, laying the groundwork for congressional adoption of a uniform presidential election day.

President Calvin Coolidge filling out his absentee ballot on Oct. 30, 1924. That year’s election was held on Nov. 4, and Coolidge won. PhotoQuest/Getty Images

The 1840 presidential electoral season began on Friday, Oct. 30, in Ohio and Pennsylvania and ended on Thursday, Nov. 12, in North Carolina, except for South Carolina, whose state Legislature still chose its electors.

The election of 1864 and the last temptation of Abraham Lincoln

"This reminds me of a little joke," 1864, a pro-Lincoln cartoon showing the president holding a tiny McClellan, as published in the Sept. 17, 1864, edition of Harper's Weekly. (Courtesy of Library of Congress)

In the grim summer of 1864, with the Civil War in its fourth year and seemingly stalemated, the smartest minds in American politics came to the realization that there was no chance that President Abraham Lincoln would be reelected.

Even Lincoln had lost all hope.

“You think I don’t know I am going to be beaten, but I do, and unless some great change takes place, beaten badly,” he told a fellow Republican.

On Aug. 23, he committed his pessimism to paper.

“This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President-elect as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.”

Lincoln folded the memorandum and elaborately sealed it, then asked the members of his Cabinet to sign the back of the paper without reading it. This oddly theatrical gesture would forever remain a bit enigmatic. One plausible interpretation is that he thought the memorandum would be politically useful after the election, but he didn’t want word to get out that he already was making contingency plans for his defeat.

The astounding duration and carnage of the war had made the Northern citizenry “wild for peace,” declared Thurlow Weed, a prominent Republican who, had he lived in a later age, surely would have been a ubiquitous pundit on Sunday morning talk shows.

Weed informed Secretary of State William Seward that Lincoln’s reelection was “an impossibility.”

Political allies of Lincoln began plotting to force him to withdraw so they could nominate a candidate with better prospects. Radical Republicans, who despised Lincoln for his political moderation, were poised to back Gen. John C. Fremont’s third-party candidacy. Lincoln’s political enemies in the Capitol were on the verge of calling for his impeachment.

And those were just his fellow Republicans. The Democrats hated him more. As the telegraph wires hummed with woeful bulletins from the battlefields, the pro-slavery, white-supremacist “peace” wing of the Democratic Party — the “Copperheads,” as their critics called them — gained strength.

The presidential election Nov. 8 would serve as a referendum on the war. At stake was not merely Lincoln’s continued occupation of the White House, but the fate of millions of African Americans held in Southern bondage.

Slavery was, as Lincoln said later, “somehow the cause of the war,” but to forge an alliance of Republicans and northern Democrats, he initially had insisted that his only goal in prosecuting the war was to restore the Union.

When Lincoln drafted the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, he made the argument that it was a military necessity first and foremost. Abolition would drain strength from the Rebels as blacks escaped to freedom or as Union forces conquered Rebel territory. Lincoln’s emancipation order applied only to the rebellious states, leaving slavery intact in the loyal border states.

By the summer of 1864, the Union war machine included, by Lincoln’s estimate, close to 150,000 black soldiers, sailors and laborers.

“There have been men who have proposed to me to return to slavery the black warriors of Port Hudson and Olustee to their masters to conciliate the South,” Lincoln told two visitors to the White House. “I should be damned in time and in eternity for so doing.”

In a later letter that he decided not to send, he said the Union military needed the might of its black fighters, and added, “Nor is it possible for any administration to retain the service of these people with the express or implied understanding that upon the first convenient occasion they are to be re-enslaved. It can not be, and it ought not to be.”

But even his allies questioned whether he had gone too far in making the war about abolition rather than simply the restoration of the Union. Lincoln faced pressure to cut a deal.

In July, he had given a letter to Horace Greeley, an opponent of slavery who planned to meet with Confederate agents, listing as the conditions for any peace “the integrity of the whole Union, and the abandonment of Slavery.” Then in mid-August, after a northern politician questioned the president’s insistence on abolition as a condition for peace, Lincoln drafted a letter that suggested that he remained flexible on the issue, and that ended with a sentence that would remain the subject of historical debate a century and a half later:

“If Jefferson Davis wishes, for himself, or for the benefit of his friends at the North, to know what I would do if he were to offer peace and re-union, saying nothing about slavery, let him try me.”

But Lincoln did not mail the letter yet. He knew it would be published in newspapers and widely discussed. He wanted to talk it over with Frederick Douglass.

Douglass, an abolitionist and former slave, came to the White House and, after reviewing the letter, persuaded the president not to send it.

Historian Jonathan White, author of “Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln,” says Lincoln knew that Davis would never agree to restoring the Union. Davis and the Southern leaders wanted permanent independence. There was never a deal to be had.

Thus Lincoln probably was being characteristically crafty: His suggestion of flexibility would not have been aimed at the Rebel leaders, but at his allies in the North who threatened to pull their support from the war effort.

Lincoln understood that peace would be reached only on the far side of the battlefield. He sought an unconditional surrender by the Rebels.

“It is an issue which can only be tried by war, and decided by victory,” Lincoln said.

The election of 1864 — taking place in the middle of a civil war — would be the most consequential presidential election in American history to that point — and perhaps to this day.

“It is remarkable that there was even an election held,” says historian Joan Waugh of the University of California at Los Angeles.

The political fortunes of Lincoln — who had been nominated in Baltimore in June, with the Republicans rebranding themselves the National Union Party — suddenly improved when the Democrats gathered Aug. 29 in Chicago to nominate their candidate.

The Democrats were deeply split by their pro-war and Copperhead factions. They reached a compromise: They nominated a war candidate and adopted a peace platform.

That candidate was, as long expected, Gen. George B. McClellan, a handsome young officer who had risen to the command of all the Union armies only to be shelved by Lincoln after he repeatedly overestimated the enemy’s strength and hesitated to attack the Rebels.

The peace platform said Lincoln had been unable to restore the Union by “the experiment of war,” and called for “a cessation of hostilities, with a view to an ultimate convention of the States, or other peaceable means, to the end that at the earliest practicable moment peace may be restored on the basis of the Federal Union of the States.”

McClellan registered that the restoration of the Union was not a precondition of such an armistice, and said, in his letter accepting the nomination, that he could not face his “gallant comrades” in the Army and the Navy and tell them that “we had abandoned that Union for which we had so often periled our lives.”

Although he had, in effect, repudiated a key element of the platform, the damage had been done. Many rank-and-file Democrats, including legions of troops in the field who were going to cast absentee ballots, saw the Democratic platform as treasonous. Lincoln would win the military vote overwhelmingly.

The Democrats also suffered a case of exquisitely bad timing. Even as news of the peace platform spread, another bulletin came from the Deep South: “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won.”

Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s telegram, received in Washington on Sept. 3, a day after his forces had taken Atlanta, signaled another turning point of the war.

Lincoln ordered 100-gun salutes across the country and a national day of thanksgiving.

He then maneuvered to neutralize Fremont’s third-party threat. By firing the conservative postmaster general, Montgomery Blair, a bitter enemy of Fremont, Lincoln appeased the Radical Republicans and won their support.

On Nov. 8, Lincoln won 55 percent of the popular vote to McClellan’s 45 percent — a margin of about 400,000 votes — and enjoyed an Electoral College landslide, winning 22 states and 212 electoral votes to McClellan’s three states and 21 electoral votes.

The enemies of human liberties, Douglass said after the election, had hoped to see “this country commit suicide.” It had been a contest, he said, between the advocates of freedom and “the advocates of caste, of aristocratic pretensions, of despotic Government, of limiting the power of the people, all who are for King-craft and priest-craft.”

Lincoln convened his Cabinet and finally read out loud the “blind memorandum” of Aug. 23. He told members what he had planned to say to president-elect McClellan:

“You raise as many troops as you possibly can for this final trial, and I will devote all my energies to assist and finish the war.”

And then Seward observed, “And the general would have answered you, ‘Yes, yes,’ and the next day when you saw him again and pressed these views upon him, he would have said ‘Yes, yes,’ and so on forever, and would have done nothing at all.”

Lincoln replied, “At least I should have done my duty and have stood clear before my own conscience.”

We cannot know what Lincoln actually would have done had he lost, but a close reading of the blind memorandum offers a hint. Lincoln wrote that “it will be my duty to so cooperate with the President-elect as to save the Union,” and the word “so” looms large there. He is not going to let the election results destroy the Union and perpetuate slavery.

Lincoln’s term would not end until the inauguration of the new president March 4. He had work to do, and a war to win, and no one was going to stop him.


During the Civil War, 256,297 people from Illinois served in the Union army, more than any other northern state except for New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Beginning with Illinois resident President Lincoln's first call for troops and continuing throughout the war, the state mustered 150 infantry regiments, which were numbered from the 7th Illinois to the 156th Illinois. Seventeen cavalry regiments were also mustered, as well as two light artillery regiments. [6] Due to enthusiastic recruiting rallies and high response to voluntary calls to arms, the military draft was little used in Chicago and environs, but was a factor in supplying manpower to Illinois regiments late in the war in other regions of the state. Camp Douglas, located near Chicago, was one of the largest training camps for these troops, as well as Camp Butler near Springfield. Both served as leading prisoner-of-war camps for captive Confederates. Another significant POW camp was located at Rock Island. Several thousand Confederates died while in custody in Illinois prison camps and are buried in a series of nearby cemeteries. There were no Civil War battles fought in Illinois, but Cairo, at the juncture of the Ohio River with the Mississippi River, became an important Union supply base, protected by Camp Defiance. Other major supply depots were located at Mound City and across the Ohio river at Fort Anderson in Paducah, Kentucky, along with sprawling facilities for the United States Navy gunboats and associated river fleets. One of which would take part in the nearby Battle of Lucas Bend. Leading major generals with Illinois ties included Ulysses S. Grant, John Buford, John Pope, John M. Schofield, John A. Logan, John A. McClernand, Benjamin Prentiss and Stephen Hurlbut. Brigadier General Elon J. Farnsworth, who began his career in the 8th Illinois Cavalry, died at the Battle of Gettysburg. President Lincoln maintained his home in Springfield, Illinois, where he is buried. Over 100 soldiers from Illinois units would win the Medal of Honor during the conflict.

The Chicago city government and voluntary societies gave generous support to soldiers during the war. [7] Composer and music publisher George Frederick Root gained fame and fortune from a number of well-received war songs, including The Battle Cry of Freedom and others. A pair of Chicago-based women, Mary Livermore and Jane Hoge, organized a pair of large expositions, the Northwest Sanitary Fairs, where cash generated from the sale of donated items was later used to purchase medical supplies for the soldiers. Their activities helped spark the postbellum women's rights movement in Illinois. Mary Ann Bickerdyke, a resident of Galesburg, was a noted nurse for the Western armies. Workers in various factories and mills, as well as the port and stockyards, helped provide a steady source of materiel, food, and clothing to Illinois troops, as well as to the general Union army. Mound City foundry workers converted river steamboats into armored gunboats for Federal service. With traditional Southern markets cut off by the war, the port of Chicago rose in prominence as Illinois expanded trade with the Great Lakes region. Chicago meatpackers earned venture capital during the war that was reinvested in 1865, as the war ended, to create the Northern city's Union Stock Yards.

During the 1860 Presidential Election, two men from Illinois were among the four major candidates. Illinois voted in favor of Springfield resident Abraham Lincoln (172,171 votes or 50.7% of the ballots cast) over Chicagoan Stephen Douglas (160,215 47.2%). Of minor consequence in the statewide results were Southern candidates John C. Breckinridge (2,331 0.7%), and John Bell (4,914 1.5%). [8] Throughout the war, Illinois politics were dominated by Republicans under the energetic leadership of Governor Richard Yates and Senators Lyman Trumbull and Orville H. Browning. Democrats scored major gains in the 1862 election by attacking Lincoln's emancipation plan as danger to the state since it would bring in thousands of freed slaves. [9] As a result, the Democrats had a majority in the legislature and in 1863, Browning's Senate seat, formerly held by Douglas prior to the war, was filled by the Democrats with the election of William Alexander Richardson. In the 1864 presidential election, Illinois residents supported Lincoln's re-election, giving the president 189,512 votes (54.4% of the total) to General George McClellan's 158,724 votes (45.6%). [10] Within a year, Lincoln was dead and his remains had been returned to Springfield for burial.

Copperheads Edit

Opposition views of the Peace Democrats (or "Copperheads") filled the columns of The Chicago Times, the mouthpiece of the rival Democratic Party. It was the nation's loudest and most persistent critic of Lincoln and emancipation. At one point early in the Gettysburg Campaign in June 1863, Union troops forcibly closed the newspaper at bayonet point. It was only reopened when Democratic mobs threatened to destroy the rival Republican paper and President Lincoln intervened. [11] Barry shows that Amos Green (1826–1911) from Paris, Illinois, was a leading lawyer and Peace Democrat (Copperhead). Green saw the War as unjust and Lincoln as a despot who had to be stopped. He wrote vicious denunciations of the administration in local newspapers. He was arrested for sedition in 1862. After his release in August 1862, he became the grand commander of the secret Order of American Knights in Illinois, which fought restrictions on civil liberties. It was also called the Knights of the Golden Circle and later the Sons of Liberty. Green was funded by the Confederate government to arrange riots at the Democratic National Convention in 1864. Although the riots never materialized, he continued giving antigovernment speeches until he was again arrested in November 1864. After this arrest, he agreed to testify for the government about the activities of the Knights his testimony implicated others but ignored his own deep involvement in antigovernment plots. [12]


“Buck and Breck”: Nickname referring to Buchanan and Breckenridge.

“The Railsplitter”: This was President Abraham Lincoln’s nickname, used most often during the 1860 Presidential Election. It refers to the manual labor he completed for wages as a young man living on the frontier. The nickname was given to him to help his political appeal with workingmen.

“The Tennessee Tailor”: Nickname for President Andrew Johnson because he worked as a tailor prior to going into politics.

Andrew Jackson: President of the United States from 1829-1837. He was known as a strong leader against issues that arose within his cabinet. Rather than appeasing them, he discharged those he felt were hurting his administration.

Andrew Johnson: President of the United States from 1865-1869. He was Abraham Lincoln’s Vice President, and he became President after Lincoln’s assassination. He was known as a Southern sympathizer during Reconstruction because he vetoed several bills, including one that excluded representatives from states with Black Codes to serve, and he openly opposed the Fourteenth Amendment.

Confederacy: Refers to the Southern States that seceded and became the Confederate States of America.

Draft or Conscription: Compulsory enlistment of armed forces in a time of war.

Foul ball: In baseball, if you hit the ball outside the parameters of the base lines it is considered a foul.

George McClellan: Nicknamed Little Mac. He was a general during the Civil War and a presidential candidate during the 1864 election. He ran under the pretense of preserving the Union at all costs,and he attempted to appease both Northerners and Southerners.

James Buchanan: President of the United States from 1857-1861. He is generally remembered as one of the worst presidents.

Jefferson Davis: President of the Confederate States of America. After the surrender of the South and Lincoln’s assassination, there was a 100,000 dollar reward put out by President Andrew Johnson.for Davis' capture. There was a rumor that he wore his wife’s overcoat while fleeing.

John Bell: Ran in the 1860 election under the Constitutional Union party.

John Breckenridge: Vice President from 1857-1861 and then a presidential candidate in the 1860 election. He was the Southern Democratic candidate, and Buchanan openly endorsed him.

Ku Klux Klan: Also known as the KKK. It began in the South during Reconstruction and took extremely violent actions against African Americans. The original KKK was started by six Confederate Army Veterans.

Short Stop: A position in baseball located on the infield.

Skunk Rule: In baseball, a team is skunked when there is no way they can win so the game ends before the other team can run up the score even more. Also known as the “Mercy Rule.”

Stephen Douglas: Political adversary to President Lincoln and a presidential candidate in the 1860 election. He campaigned hard for an union between northern and southern Democrats, yet it did not work and Abraham Lincoln was elected President.

Slavery and geography in 1860

In the lead-up to the 1860 election, the nation was splintered by the question of slavery and by geography, with sectional conflicts between the more industrial northern states from the more agrarian South.

A third party,the Constitutional Union Party, nominated John Bell. It was a splinter party composed of disillusioned Democrats and former members of the Whig party (a major political party in the mid-19th century which stood for protective tariffs, national banking, and federal aid for internal improvements). The Constitutional Union Party wanted to avoid secession over slavery. Bell’s

Abraham Lincoln, an opponent of slavery, was the Republican candidate. Yet he promised to let the South hold onto its slaves so long as slavery was not extended to any new territories.

“Wrong as we think slavery is,” Lincoln said, “we can yet afford to let it alone where it is… but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the National Territories, and to overrun us here in these Free States? If our sense of duty forbids this, then let us stand by our duty, fearlessly and effectively.”

Despite winning the election, whites allied with the Southern Democratic Party did not see Lincoln as a legitimate president because of his opposition to the expansion of slavery and perceived hostility to the beliefs and values of Southerners.

Seven Southern states seceded between Lincoln’s election and inauguration: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas.

Rather than waiting for Lincoln’s Union troops to act, the newly named Confederate States attacked Fort Sumter, a Union fort in Charleston, South Carolina. Thus began the Civil War, in which an estimated 620,000 soldiers were killed, nearly 2% of the U.S. population.

States Which Seceded

On November 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected the sixteenth President of the United States. His election to the presidency was the final blow to the South and led directly to the break up of the Union. Five months after his election, the North and South were engrossed in a bloody civil war. This was the culmination over thirty years of debate about the slavery and extension of slavery into new territories.

The first state to secede from the Union was South Carolina. Significantly, this was not the first time that the people of South Carolina had discussed secession. During the debate over tariffs in the 1830s, South Carolina seriously considered secession. Fortunately, John C. Calhoun helped to solve the problem and South Carolina remained in the Union. But on December 20th, 1860, South Carolina held a secession convention in Charleston. The debate was quick and short. Representatives voted unanimously, 169 to 0 for secession. The rupture of the Union had finally occurred, and the secession of South Carolina opened the floodgates as four more states from the Deep South quickly joined her.

In early January 1861, Mississippi held a convention in Jackson to consider secession. Delegates voted 84 to 15 to secede from the Union. On January 9th, 1861, Mississippi joined South Carolina. Florida joined the secession ranks the next day on January 10th. Her convention had met in Tallahassee and had voted 62 to 7 for secession. On January 11th, Alabama passed her secession resolution. The Alabama delegation had met in Montgomery and had voted 61 to 39 for secession. On January 19th, Georgia called delegates to Milledgeville and voted 209 to 89 for secession. A weeks later Louisiana became the sixth state to leave the Union. Her convention met in Baton Rouge on January 26th and voted 113 to 17 for secession. Ironically, as Louisiana was leaving the Union, Kansas was admitted on January 29th.

Texas was the seventh state to leave the Union. On, February 1st, Texans met in Austin and voted 166 to 7 for secession. Interestingly, the Union commander of the Department of Texas was Brigadier General David Twiggs, a Georgian. Upon secession, he ordered all military forces and stores under his command turned over to Texas authorities. On March 1st, the United States dismissed Twiggs from the Regular Army. Two months later in May 1861, the Confederate States appointed him Major General in the Provisional Army of the Confederacy.

By early February, three months after Lincoln&rsquos election, and a month before his inauguration, seven states had left the Union. These states agreed to send representatives to Montgomery, Alabama, to form a new government. These delegates elected Howell Cobb of Georgia President of the convention. On February 8th, the delegates adopted a Provisional Constitution and the Confederate States of America were born. On February 9th, the delegates elected Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as Provisional President. Alexander Stephens of Georgia was chosen as the Confederate Vice President. On February 18th, Davis and Stephens were inaugurated as the first and last President and Vice President of the Confederacy.

On March 4th, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as President of the United States. Two days later, the Confederacy called for 100,000 volunteers for its provisional army. On March 11th, delegates adopted the Confederate Constitution.

Meanwhile, in Charleston, South Carolina, officials demanded the surrender of Fort Sumter. Major Robert Anderson commanded the small garrison and refused to surrender. With supplies running out, Lincoln informed South Carolina authorities that he planned to send supplies and reinforcements to the fort. On April 12th, 1861, at about 4:30 AM, South Carolina militia forces in Charleston opened fire on Fort Sumter. Thirty-four hours later, Anderson surrendered his command.

Two days after the surrender of Fort Sumter, President Lincoln declared a state of insurrection and called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion. The Northern states quickly answered the call, but the remaining Southern states that had not seceded refused to comply with Lincoln&rsquos request. Instead, four more Southern states left the Union. The first was Virginia. On April 17th, Virginia, the traditional leader of the South, passed a succession bill 88 to 55. Significantly, Virginians had voted down a similar bill on April 4th, by a vote of 89 to 45.

Lincoln followed Virginia&rsquos succession with an order to blockade all Southern ports. On May 3rd, Lincoln called for 42,000 three-year volunteers. Arkansas then joined the Confederacy on May 6th. The state convention had met at Little Rock and had voted 69 to 1 for secession. Tennessee seceded the same day. Earlier, on February 9th, Tennessee had held a statewide election and had rejected secession by a vote of 68,282 to 59,449. But with Lincoln&rsquos call for more volunteers, the Tennessee State Convention met at Jackson. Delegates voted 66 to 25 for secession.

A week later, on May 13th, Great Britain declared its neutrality. On May 16th, the Confederate Congress authorized the recruiting of 400,000 volunteers. Four days later, on May 20th, 1861, North Carolina became the last state to join the new Confederacy. State delegates met in Raleigh and voted unanimously for secession. All of the states of the Deep South had now left the Union. That same day, the Confederate Congress voted to move the capital to Richmond, Virginia. On May 23rd, citizens from eastern Virginia voted to join the Confederacy. Western Virginians wanted to remain in the Union.

Four slave states -- Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky -- did not secede from the Union. On April 29th, Maryland held a secession convention and delegates voted secession down 53 to 13. On May 20th, Governor Beriah Magoffin of Kentucky had declared that state&rsquos neutrality. Missouri held a secession convention in February at Jefferson City, but did not vote for secession. Delaware had all but abolished slavery by 1861. Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri became buffer zones between the North and the South. All three of these states provided troops to the Confederacy.

Harry McCarthy wrote a song that chronicled the birth of the Confederate States of America. This was "The Bonnie Blue Flag" and follows:

How the Union Pulled Off a Presidential Election During the Civil War - HISTORY

The Union’s advantages as a large industrial power and its leaders’ political skills contributed to decisive wins on the battlefield and ultimately victory against the Confederates in the American Civil War.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the reasons the Union won, and identify crucial turning points in the Civil War

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Some historians believe that the Confederacy would have had a chance at victory had they attempted to outlast the Union by maintaining a defensive, rather than an offensive, overall strategy.
  • Abraham Lincoln ’s reelection as president in 1864 and his eloquence as a wartime leader killed any Southern hopes of winning over Northerners to the Confederacy’s political cause on a large scale.
  • The Union’s long-term advantages as an industrial power with a large population to draw upon rivaled the strength of the Southern plantation-centered, agricultural economy.
  • The Battle of Gettysburg, often considered the war’s turning point, caused the Confederate Army to retreat following a bold campaign that had the Confederates advancing further north than they had ventured previously in the war.
  • The fall and occupation of Atlanta and Sherman’s March that followed wore down Confederate psychological, economic, and strategic resolve.
  • General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox on April 9, 1865.

Key Terms

  • Sherman’s March: The name commonly given to the Savannah Campaign conducted through Georgia from November 15, 1864, to December 21, 1864, by Major General William Tecumseh Sherman of the Union Army in the American Civil War. The campaign began with Sherman’s troops leaving the captured city of Atlanta on November 16 and ended with the capture of the port of Savannah on December 21. It inflicted significant damage, particularly to industry and infrastructure (per the doctrine of total war), and also to civilian property.
  • The Battle of Gettysburg: A battle fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, resulting in the largest number of casualties in the American Civil War and often described as the war’s turning point.
  • scorched earth: A military strategy or operational method that involves destroying anything that might be useful to the enemy while advancing through or withdrawing from an area.

Historians have long debated whether there was ever a chance of Confederate victory in the American Civil War. Northern public opinion would not have supported a long or costly war, so it follows that if the Confederate Army had managed to outlast its opponents in defensive battles rather than invade Union territory, the Confederacy might have had a chance at overall victory. However, there are various reasons the Union prevailed, including a handful of turning points during the war at which point the Confederate cause seemed practically unsalvageable.

Political Victories

1864 was a watershed year for President Abraham Lincoln and the Union war effort. During that year, Lincoln defeated George McClellan to secure reelection in the presidential election, signaling approval and support from Republicans, War Democrats, border states, and newly emancipated slaves. That, combined with the stated neutrality of Britain and France, all but silenced opposing perspectives from Democrats and Copperheads in the North, reducing overall Northern political support for the Confederate cause. Lincoln’s eloquence went a long way toward securing these political victories. He was skilled at rationalizing the Union’s national purpose in fighting against the Confederate rebels to keep the country together and deftly managed to keep the border states committed to that purpose. Lincoln also utilized his war powers appropriately in releasing the Emancipation Proclamation at a time when it would have the most long-lasting effects against Confederates while also being received favorably within the Union and around the world.

Military Advantages and Victories

The reality of the Union’s many long-term military advantages was also significant in creating a Union victory. Though the Confederates believed that their agricultural (especially cotton) production was crucial to wartime success and ultimately diplomatic recognition from the outside world, the Union’s industrial strength and much larger population proved to be just as, if not more, central. Historian Shelby Foote has even compared the Union war effort, given its greater store of resources, to a fight in which an opponent has one hand tied behind its back: Had the South been more victorious on the battlefield, the North still would have had resources to draw upon to squash the rebellion, whereas the South fought with all it had to offer and still could not exact a decisive victory against its opponent.

The Battle of Gettysburg, fought July 1–3, 1863, is often considered the turning point of the war itself. During the Gettysburg Campaign, General Robert E. Lee’s troops were advancing further north than they had ventured previously during the war, but the Union Army was able to reverse their advance after defeating the Confederates in the Battle of Gettysburg. President Lincoln and his advisors at the time believed that had the Union been successful in completely destroying Lee’s forces, the war could have been ended then and there. That didn’t happen, however, and the Battle of Gettysburg proved to be the bloodiest battle of the war, resulting in 51,000 casualties out of the 160,000 soldiers who fought. As such, it captured the imaginations of Northerners and Southerners alike, highlighting the popular importance of the eastern theater of the American Civil War in any future cessation of hostilities.

The fall and occupation of Atlanta in the autumn of 1864, and Sherman’s March to the Sea that followed, were also turning points in the war, breaking the Confederacy’s strategic, economic, and psychological capacity for further warfare. Sherman’s scorched earth policies throughout the Atlanta Campaign traumatized the South. Union troops burned crops, killed livestock, and took supplies, leaving a desolate path of destruction in their wake. That, combined with years of a successful naval blockade leveled against the South, took a heavy psychological and economic toll that was not easily reversed, even after the war ended.

Watch the video: Η Ευρωπαϊκή Ένωση απάντηση στον παραλογισμό του πολέμου (August 2022).