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[Detail] Battle [drawing], Hillen

Election of 1860

At its national convention in Charleston, South Carolina, in April 1860, the Democratic Party was split by sectional conflicts over slavery. Stephen Douglas, a senator from Illinois and the leading candidate for the nomination, advocated a policy of popular sovereignty; this policy had angered Southern firebrands, who wanted the party’s platform to ensure the right of a minority in the Western territories to hold slave property despite the wishes of the majority. Delegates from eight Southern states withdrew from the convention and nominated Vice President John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky as their candidate for president. Stephen Douglas and Herschel Johnson (a former governor of Georgia) were nominated for president and vice president by a reconvened Democratic convention in Baltimore. The Republican National Convention meeting in Chicago nominated Abraham Lincoln of Illinois and Hannibal Hamlin, a senator from Maine. The Republicans opposed expansion of slavery into the territories. Former Whigs and Know Nothings, calling themselves the Constitutional Union Party, nominated John Bell of Tennessee and Edward Everett of Massachusetts as their candidates. The Constitutional Union Party’s platform was rather vague.

The split in the Democratic Party opened the way for Lincoln, who ran on a platform of non-extension of slavery, to win the election with just 39.9 percent of the popular vote. Douglas received 29.5 percent of the popular vote, Breckinridge 18.1 percent, and Bell 12.5 percent. The Republicans won the electoral votes of the Western and most of the Northern states, while Breckinridge won most of the South. Bell won Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia; Douglas won only New Jersey and Missouri.

Examine the envelopes shown above. Use the envelopes and your knowledge of the election of 1860 to answer the following questions:

  • What does the Douglas quotation on the envelope mean? How does it convey his position on slavery and the Union? What symbols were used on the envelope? What were they intended to convey?
  • What does the Lincoln quotation on the envelope mean? How does it convey his position on issues important in the election of 1860? What symbols were used on the envelope? What were they intended to convey?
  • What do the results of the election suggest about the divisions in the United States in 1860? What do you think would have happened if the Democratic Party had not split? Would the outcome of the election have been different? Justify your position.

Once the Civil War began, Breckinridge, the Southern Democratic candidate, and Bell, the Constitutional Union Party candidate, were considered traitors by Northerners. Edward Everett, Bell’s running mate, remained loyal to the Union. Browse the Name Index to find illustrated envelopes featuring these three men. How did the artists convey their support or disdain for the former candidates?