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In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was the least known of all of the contenders for the Republican Party’s nomination for president. Heading the list was former New York Governor William H. Seward, with the politically awkward Governor Salmon P. Chase of Ohio a distant second. Conservative Edward Bates of Missouri was considered too old, and many Republicans seemed uncomfortable with the popular but unpredictable Horace Greeley, founder and editor of the New York Tribune.

To overcome his disadvantage, Lincoln adopted an unobtrusive publicity campaign. The timely release of his published debates with Stephen A. Douglas and brief autobiographies and a carefully orchestrated speaking campaign in New York and parts of New England all worked to Lincoln’s advantage. The nomination and the subsequent campaign were left largely to trusted handlers, but even after his election was secure, Lincoln maintained a dogged silence on national issues prior to his inauguration.

Road to the Nomination

Lincoln’s remarkable performance in a series of seven debates with Senator Douglas drew the attention of Republican Party leaders in New York and New England. Invited East to speak, Lincoln delivered one of the best speeches of his career at Manhattan’s famous Cooper Union. Horace Greeley immediately reproduced the speech in his widely read New York Tribune, and Lincoln began to be thought of as a potential presidential candidate. With the help of able advisors, Lincoln orchestrated a successful campaign for the 1860 Republican nomination for president.

Lincoln as a Potential Presidential Candidate

William H. Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner and the man who perhaps knew him best, once described Lincoln’s ambition as “an engine that knew no rest.” After the grueling series of debates with Stephen A. Douglas, many Illinois Republicans, such as Thomas Pickett, viewed Lincoln as a possible candidate for president of the United States. In his response to this letter from Pickett, Lincoln stated that he did not consider himself fit for the presidency. However, he was quite aware of the swelling tide of support his candidacy would bring and may only have been attempting to avoid making himself an early target for the opposition party.

Thomas J. Pickett to Abraham Lincoln, April 13, 1859. Holograph letter. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (043.00.01) Digital ID # al0043p1, al0043p2

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Lincoln’s Cooper Union Address

Lincoln’s debates with Stephen A. Douglas brought him to national attention, including an invitation to speak at Cooper Union in New York City. In one of the most carefully prepared speeches of his career, Abraham Lincoln argued that twenty-one signers of the United States Constitution believed that the federal government should exercise control over slavery in the territories. Hence, the position of the Republican Party on the westward expansion of slavery was not revolutionary, but instead was consistent with the wishes of the Founding Fathers. The speech is significant because it won Lincoln the support of Republican Party leaders in the East and led to his nomination as the party’s presidential candidate.

Speech of Hon. Abraham Lincoln, in New York, in Vindication of the Policy of the Framers of the Constitution and the Principles of the Republican Party. Delivered in the Cooper Institute, Feb. 27th, 1860. Springfield, IL: Bailhache & Baker, 1860. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (047.00.00) Digital ID # al0047_1, al0047_2, al0047_3, al0047_4, al0047_5, al0047_6, al0047_7, al0047_8

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Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union Portrait

Photographer Mathew Brady took this portrait of Abraham Lincoln at his studio in New York City on the same day that Lincoln gave his now-famous Cooper Union address. Brady retouched the photograph, smoothing facial lines and straightening his subject’s “roving” left eye. The effect was striking, and what Lincoln jokingly referred to as his “shadow” later appeared on hundreds of campaign buttons, posters, and small printed cartes-de-visite.

Mathew B. Brady. Abraham Lincoln on the day of his speech at the Cooper Union, February, 27, 1860. Carte-de-visite photograph. James Wadsworth Family Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (046) Digital ID # al0046

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Abraham Lincoln to Mary Todd Lincoln

Inspired by newspaper accounts of Lincoln’s Cooper Union Address, New England Republicans asked Lincoln to speak in their states. He made a whirlwind tour, appearing in eleven cities in twelve days. Lincoln’s frustration at having to prepare at least nine different speeches during his tightly packed campaign through New England is clearly evident in this letter to Mary Todd. He was not accustomed to such sophisticated audiences who would have read his prior speeches in newspapers. His reputation with words preceded him and he worried that he might have little new to say.

Abraham Lincoln to Mary Todd Lincoln, March 4, 1860. Holograph letter. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (048.00.00) Digital ID # al0048p1, al0048p2

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The Republican Convention of 1860

The first national political convention held in Chicago, Illinois, took place at what was called the “Wigwam”—a nineteenth century colloquialism for the headquarters of a political campaign. In May 1860, some 12,000 Republican delegates and spectators crowded into the two-story rectangular structure, shown here, to select their candidate for president in the fall election. Music publisher Oliver Ditson and Company of Boston, Massachusetts, produced the “The ‘Wigwam’ Grand March” after Abraham Lincoln won the Republican Party nomination for president. During the Civil War, Ditson released a number of popular songs, including the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

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  • “The Republicans in Nominating Convention in Their Wigwam at Chicago, May 1860,” from Harper’s Weekly, May 19, 1860. On loan from Kimberli Curry (051) Digital ID # al0051

  • “The ‘Wigwam’ Grand March.” Boston: Oliver Ditson and Company, 1860. Sheet Music. Alfred Whital Stern Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (052) Digital ID # scsm0202/001

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David Davis to Abraham Lincoln

Judge David Davis served as Lincoln’s de facto manager in Chicago during the fight for the Republican Party nomination for president. Davis rented two rooms at the nearby Tremont House Hotel and launched a relentless lobbying campaign. He focused much of his energy on delegates from the states of Indiana and Pennsylvania, both of which were essential to a Republican victory in the fall election. Lincoln could not have missed the excitement reflected in this telegram Davis sent on the second day of the convention.

David Davis to Abraham Lincoln, May 17, 1860. Telegram. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (053) Digital ID # al0053

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Lincoln Accepts the Nomination

A former Whig, George Ashmun served with Lincoln in the 30th United States Congress. As president of the Republican National Convention of 1860, it was Ashmun’s responsibility to inform Lincoln that he was the party’s choice as candidate for president. The extreme formality of Lincoln’s letter of acceptance indicates that the news had a sobering effect on him.

Abraham Lincoln to George Ashmun, May 23, 1860. Holograph letter. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (054) Digital ID # vc6.6

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Front Porch Campaign

In the early- and mid-nineteenth century, tradition dictated that presidential candidates maintain a dignified silence in national elections because they supposedly were above the rough and tumble world of politics. Republican Party supporters delivered Lincoln’s message to the voters, and that message was to stop the spread of slavery in the Western territories. Great emphasis was also placed on Lincoln’s frontier experience, which showed that even the poorest citizen could work his way to the top. Republican Party offices throughout the North distributed thousands of campaign posters, leaflets, and newspaper editorials. They did virtually no campaigning in the South, where Lincoln’s name did not even appear on a majority of the ballots.

Abraham Lincoln Replies to a Political Rival

Cassius Clay, an enthusiastic but undisciplined Kentucky abolitionist, thought he should be the next president of the United States. Clay would have settled for vice president, but he accepted the fact that the party needed an Eastern Democrat to balance the ticket. Aware that Clay lacked the necessary judgment to manage either office effectively, Lincoln sidestepped Clay’s direct solicitation for a prominent place in the possible future Republican administration.

Abraham Lincoln to Cassius M. Clay May 26, 1860. Holograph letter. On loan from a private collector (057) Digital ID # al0057

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Wide-Awake Membership Certificate

Wide-Awakes were volunteer marching clubs that banded together throughout the North in support of the Republican Party during the 1860 presidential election. They served as a type of self-appointed “political police,” hence the membership certificate as a form of identification. They escorted visiting speakers to meeting places, guarded the polls, and attempted to keep order at political rallies.

Wide-Awake Club of Chicago membership certificate, June 1, 1860. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (059) Digital ID # al0059

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Presidential Hopes

In this letter to a trusted friend from Springfield, Lincoln expressed great optimism about his chances of success in the upcoming presidential election. However, the uncertain future of the nation weighed heavily upon his mind. One month later, Preston Butler took this photograph of Lincoln at his studio on Adams Street at the request of Philadelphia artist John Henry Brown. As others had before him, Brown observed that Lincoln’s sunken cheeks, deep-set eyes, and large ears and nose created a stern look, masking a warm and genial nature that quickly became evident in his lively conversation and story telling.

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Cartoon about the 1860 Election

In this pro-Lincoln political cartoon, published weeks before the 1860 election, artist Louis Maurer predicted Abraham Lincoln’s victory over his three opponents: John Bell, John C. Breckinridge, and Stephen A. Douglas. Surprisingly, the publishers considered their readers well enough informed about the intricacies of the relatively new game of baseball to grasp the meaning of the cartoon.

The National Game. Three “Outs” and One “Run.” New York: Currier & Ives, 1860. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (066) Digital ID # ppmsca-09311

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Lincoln Avoids Becoming a Target of Controversy

George Prentice, a staunch Whig and Unionist, edited the Louisville Journal. Anticipating Lincoln’s election as president, Prentice had earlier encouraged Lincoln to stem the tide of secession by publishing a letter “setting forth your conservative views and intentions.” Prentice hoped such a letter would take away from secessionists “every excuse or pretext for treason.” Convinced that anything further he might say on the subject would be deliberately misconstrued, Lincoln refused the request.

Abraham Lincoln to George D. Prentice, October 29, 1860. Holograph letter. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (067.00.00) Digital ID# al0067p1, al0067p2, al0067p3

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Abraham Lincoln to Former Rival William H. Seward

The fact that Lincoln and political rival William H. Seward closed ranks in the 1860 presidential campaign can be credited to the generosity of both men. When Seward campaigned in the West for the Republican ticket in late September and early October, Lincoln was among the crowd of well-wishers at the station in Springfield when Seward reached the Illinois capital. Republican victories in state elections in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana elicited Lincoln’s optimistic view of his party’s chances in the upcoming general election, which was scheduled for November 6, 1860.

Abraham Lincoln to William H. Seward, October 12, 1860. Holograph letter. (073.00.01) Digital ID # al0073_01, al0073_02

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Republican Nominee Shows Humility

William D. Kelley, a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, attorney and judge, served as a delegate to the 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago. Kelley joined Lincoln in Washington in 1861 as a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives, an office he continued to hold until his death in 1890. In responding to Kelley’s offer to inscribe his two-volume work on international law to Lincoln, the Republican nominee for president showed that he had not lost sight of his humble origins.

Abraham Lincoln to William Kelley, October 13, 1860. Holograph letter. On loan from the Benjamin Shapell Family Manuscript Foundation (074) Digital ID # al0074

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Lincoln for President

In the 1860 presidential campaign, brightly colored banners, outrageous political cartoons, sentimental sheet music covers, and patriotic portraits were printed to win the vote. This colorful banner was intended for use in parades and other political spectacles, so that Lincoln’s face, encircled by thirty-four stars, would be oriented vertically. The printer may have liberally changed the spelling of Lincoln’s first name (“Abram”) to accommodate his design.

For President Abram Lincoln. For Vice President Hannibal Hamlin. Philadelphia: H.C. Howard, 1860. Woodcut or lithograph on linen. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (065) Digital ID # pga-01637u

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The Wide Awakes

Loosely organized political clubs sprang up in numerous towns and cities across the nation during the 1850s. They adopted names like the Fremont “Bears,” the Douglas “Invincibles,” and the Lincoln “Rail Maulers” and “Wide-Awakes.” In their nocturnal marches, like the one shown above, Wide-Awakes holding lanterns and torches snaked through crowds of supporters. Tightly woven hats and oil cloth capes protected them from the flames, and a red sash tied at the waist provided a splash of color. A large eye emblazoned on their standard attested to their watchfulness over the nation.

Grand Procession of Wide-Awakes at New York on the Evening of October 3, 1860,” from Harper’s Weekly, October 13, 1860. Facsimile. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (058) Digital ID # cph-3b07146

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Lincoln/Hamlin Election Ticket

A major division in the Democratic Party, along with the establishment of a fourth party made up largely of former Whigs, helped assure a Republican victory in the presidential election of 1860. The contest was decided by the Electoral College, not on the strength of the popular vote—nearly forty percent of which went to Lincoln.

Lincoln & Hamlin. Ward 5 . . . Republican Ticket. Boston: Wright and Potter, [1860]. Broadside. Alfred Whital Stern Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (062) Digital ID # al0062

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Campaign Buttons from 1860

In 1860, after the invention of the economical tintype process, candidates’ images appeared on campaign buttons for the first time. The buttons shown here display a portrait of Lincoln on one side and an image of vice-presidential candidate Hannibal Hamlin on the reverse.

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Lincoln’s Autobiographical Notes

Abraham Lincoln was reluctant to speak or write about his childhood, and it was reportedly only out of gratitude for the support of John L. Scripps’s employer, the Chicago Press & Tribune, that he penned fourteen pages of autobiographical notes. Lincoln stressed his poor and humble beginnings, and he resisted all attempts at political glamorization. Scripps’s thirty-two-page campaign biography was published simultaneously in pamphlet form by the Press & Tribune and Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, under slightly different titles.

Abraham Lincoln. Autobiographical notes possibly written for John L. Scripps, June 1860. Holograph manuscript. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (068.00.00) Digital ID # al0068p1, al0068p2, al0068p3, al0068p4

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Election: Celebration and Trepidation

Lincoln’s 1860 election victory was marred by the quick secession of seven Southern states—South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas—which, in February 1861, declared themselves to be a new nation, the Confederate States of America. Although urged to address the growing crisis of Union, Lincoln declined, explaining that he had written and spoken often on the subject, and that further explanation of his position on slavery would only be misconstrued. He hoped that Southern Unionists would prevail as they had done in past crises and restore their states to the Union. However, with a few notable exceptions, Southerners united behind secession.

Chase Offers Congratulations

Governor and Senator Salmon P. Chase of Ohio undermined his pursuit of the Republican nomination for president in 1860 because of his radical abolitionist stance. Although Lincoln invited Chase into his Cabinet, he kept a wary eye on the overly ambitious Secretary of the Treasury. Chase’s congratulatory note to Lincoln as president-elect is as much a declaration of his personal agenda as an assurance of support.

Salmon P. Chase to Abraham Lincoln, November 7, 1860. Holograph letter. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (077) Digital ID # al0077

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The Death of Democracy

This Southern broadside declares the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln as president tantamount to the death of democracy. Personifying the situation, “Democracy” is said to leave an only son, “Slavery Extension.” Funeral services are scheduled for March 4, Inauguration Day.

Obituary. Broadside, ca. 1860. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (078) Digital ID # al0078

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Union Dissolved!

Propelled by such men as Robert Barnwell Rhett Sr., owner of the Charleston Mercury, who had long promoted secession, the South moved swiftly after Lincoln’s election. The South Carolina legislators authorized the appointment of delegates to a convention to consider whether the state should remain in the Union. That convention, which opened in Columbia before moving to Charleston, wasted little time in adopting an “Ordinance of Secession.” The ordinance was passed, 169 to 0. This announcement by the Charleston Mercury appeared on the city streets within minutes of the final vote. Four days later the South Carolina legislature passed a more formal “Declaration of Secession.”

Charleston Mercury Extra: Passed Unanimously at 1:15 o’clock p.m. December 20, 1860. . . . Broadside, 1860. Alfred Whital Stern Collection, Rare Book and Special Collection Division, Library of Congress (084) Digital ID # us0120

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Etching of President-Elect Lincoln

Artist Otto Schneider based his etching of Abraham Lincoln on a photograph taken by Alexander Hesler in Springfield, Illinois, on June 3, 1860. Lincoln’s law partner, William H. Herndon, wrote of the image: “There is the peculiar curve of the lower lip, the lone mole on the right cheek, and a pose of the head so essentially Lincolnian; no other artist has ever caught it.”

Otto Schneider. Portrait of Lincoln, between 1900 and 1920. Etching. Joseph Verner Reed Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (083) Digital ID # ppmsca-19246

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Fragment of Lincoln Speech to Kentuckians

A fragment of President Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address is attached to this speech intended for Kentuckians, indicating that it was prepared prior to his journey from Springfield to Washington. The assumption is that Lincoln either planned to receive a delegation from Kentucky during his stop in Cincinnati, or to make a quick excursion into his home state to deliver the speech. The speech itself confirms Lincoln’s belief that there was nothing he could say to appease the South without betraying the principles upon which he had been elected.

Abraham Lincoln. Speech intended for Kentuckians, February 1861. Holograph letter. Robert Todd Lincoln Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (082.00.01) Digital ID # al0082p1, al0082p2

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First Flag of Independence Raised in the South

In 1860, it was widely believed that the election of a Republican administration would cause widespread secession. News of the election of Abraham Lincoln prompted a public demonstration in Savannah’s Johnson Square, at which the first flag of Southern independence was flown and a resolution adopted for a state secession convention. A sketch of the scene by Belgium-born artist Henry Cleenewerck, who was in Savannah at the time, was used by R. H. Howell to create this lithograph. The flag is emblazoned with the image of a coiled rattlesnake and the words “Our Motto, Southern Rights, Equality of the States, Don’t Tread on Me.”

Henry Cleenewerck. The First Flag of Independence Raised in the South, by the Citizens of Savannah, GA. November 8th, 1860. Savannah: R.H. Howell, 1860. Lithograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (099) Digital ID # cph-3g04584

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