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[Detail] Lincoln Centennial Association

Election of 1860

Although he lost the election in 1858, publicity about the debates with Stephen Douglas made Abraham Lincoln a nationally known leader in the Republican Party. He became the presidential candidate because his views were seen as moderate in comparison to some other Republican leaders; in addition, he was from a new state and could thus appeal to voters in the West.

There were three prominent political parties in 1860 (Republican, Democratic, and the new Constitutional Union), but the presidential election became a four-way race when the Democrats split over slavery.

Read the information about the election in the Philadelphia Enquirer Supplement of June 21, 1860.

  • Make a chart showing the four parties, the candidate for each party, the strengths of each candidate from your point of view, and key points from the party platform.
  • Analyze the data from the previous elections provided in the supplement, looking particularly at how states in the North, South, and West voted. Based on your analysis of these elections and the candidates, which of the four candidates would you predict would win in each region? Use the data to support your conclusions.
  • Why did the newspaper editors include information about the make-up of the House of Representatives? If the election had gone into the House, who do you think would have won? Explain your answer.

Lincoln did not travel around the country campaigning, but local Republican parties throughout the North and West produced broadsides, posters, songs, and newspaper articles supporting him. Campaign materials advocated the party platform and described Lincoln as a hard-working and honest man who had risen from a childhood of poverty. Here are lyrics from one campaign song:

Come sons of freedom ‘ rouse ye all.
Move onward to the fight,
Fling out your banners to the breeze,
The foe is now in sight.
Your voices raise in notes of joy.
And spread from sea to sea
The gallant shout of freemen bold,
Old honest Abe for me.

From “Old Honest Abe for Me”

Read the rest of the lyrics for this song and for another, “Honest Old Abe,” and then think about these questions:

  • To what ideals and emotions do these songs appeal? Are they the same ideals and emotions that presidential campaigns appeal to today?
  • Who is the audience? What do the songs suggest about the issues and the campaign in 1860?
  • What metaphors are used to describe the campaign? What do they suggest?
  • How effective do you think these campaign songs were at spreading a message and persuading people? How effective would they be today?

Read the broadside “To the Citizens of Philadelphia,” which was published on election day.

  • What candidate do the writers of the broadside support?
  • What issues are they using to try to convince voters to support their candidate?
  • Why do they want a large turnout for their candidate?
  • What similarities and differences do you see between this appeal to voters and the appeals made today?

Lincoln narrowly won the election though he failed to carry any southern states.