There are many notable presidential elections in the history of United States; some set a new direction for the republic while some proved to be crucial for the very existence of the country. Among such pivotal presidential elections, Presidential election of 1860 is considered as one of the most important and significant elections of American History because it was fought and won on the issue of slavery. It was the election which ultimately set the die for secession and the Civil war.
Election of 1860
United States was passing through a critical state before the election of 1860. Battles over the issue of slavery were fought throughout the decade of 1850s and the problem further heightened after Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which was authored by Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. This Act gave the right to the settlers to decide whether slavery would be allowed or not. Douglas thought that this Act would help to bridge the gulf between Southern and Northern States (Nichols, 1956). However, the plan backfired and the Act was opposed and denounced on the basis that it would help to expand slavery.
Abraham Lincoln who had given up politics returned back and started assailing the Act and its author Senator Douglas. Soon the issue of slavery became so hot that the Democratic Party was divided into two factions; the Southern Democrats and the Northern Democrats. The newly formed Republican Party took the full advantage of the situation. Republican Party knew that it would not win election by taking an extremist position at the issue of slavery. Thus it took a moderate position and stance to do nothing about slavery on such states where it already existed and flourished. However, it promised to defend the penetration of slavery into new territories.
With this stance, Republican Party considered Lincoln as their most appropriate candidate for 1860 Presidential election. On the contrary, Southern and Northern Democratic parties failed to produce a unanimous candidate and thus nominated John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky for Southern Democratic Party and Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois for Northern Democratic Party. The Constitutional Union Party nominated John Bell of Tennessee.
The voter’s turnout was proved to be the second highest in American history as 81.2 percent of the voters had used their right of vote. Lincoln had won the election easily as he acquired 180 electoral votes out of 303 and 1,865,593 popular votes (Carwardine, 2003). The results of other three candidates were as follows:
John C. Breckinridge acquired 72 electoral votes and 848,356 popular votes
John Bell got 39 electoral votes and 592,906 popular votes.
Stephen A. Douglas got 12 electoral votes and 1,382,713 popular votes.
It has been said by many scholars that Democratic Party was itself responsible for its defeat because their split into two factions gave an open field for Republican Party candidate to win the election (Carwardine, 2003). Slavery free states did play an important role in this election and jointly casted their vote in favor of Abraham Lincoln.
However, 15 out of 33 states did not consider Lincoln as their leader. They thought that slavery was their right and the lifestyle they maintained depended on slavery. Thus, immediately after the victory of Abraham Lincoln, South Carolina started a revolt which was the first step towards the Secession of States.
Secession of States
In 1861, before the inauguration of Lincoln, seven States, i.e. South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas, using their constitutional right, declared their independence from United States of America. After a month four more States, i.e. Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina joined them and established Confederate States of America. Neither Government of United States nor any other nation of the world recognized this confederation as an independent country (McPherson, 2007).
Lincoln waged a war against these States, which is popularly known as the Civil war. This war lasted till June 1865 when finally all the confederate States surrendered and Army took control of these States. Reconstruction started after Civil War and Lincoln played an important role and took aggressive steps to reintegrate all the States of America.
It can easily be concluded that the elections of 1860 was one of the most significant elections of American History as it held at a time when nation was ripped and divided over slavery issue. This was the election which brought Abraham Lincoln into prominence and made him the President of United States of America at a critical time.
The election of Abraham Lincoln further fanned the fire of separation issue which was already in discussion before the election among Southern States and finally before the inauguration of Lincoln as President Southern States declared their secession and formed Confederate States of America which ultimately led the nation towards Civil war.
Carwardine, Richard (2003). Lincoln. Pearson Education Ltd.
McPherson, James M. (2007). This mighty scourge: perspectives on the Civil War. Oxford University Press.
Nichols, Roy F. (1956). The Kansas-Nebraska Act: A Century of Historiography.
Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 43: 187-212