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Abraham Lincoln. Library of Congress, Words and Deeds in American History Collection Alternate: The first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation before the cabinet

[Detail] The first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation

Lincoln's 1860 Presidential Campaign

Although he lost the senatorial election to Douglas, Lincoln won national attention through the campaign and debates. A Search on Douglas debates provides a letter from Ohio politician, William Dennison Jr. to Illinois's Lyman Trumbull requesting information on the Lincoln-Douglas debates, showing that Lincoln's fame had spread beyond the borders of his home state.

As Lincoln's popularity within the Republican Party grew, he was invited to address members of his party throughout the nation. In September 1859 Lincoln gave several speeches to Ohio Republicans, and on February 27, 1860, he spoke at Cooper Union in New York City. A Search on Ohio speech provides the notes Lincoln used for his 1859 engagements. The notes articulate Lincoln's policy on slavery, and his positions on popular sovereignty and the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision.

"We must not disturb slavery in the states where it exists, because the Constitution, and the peace of the country both forbid us — We must not withhold an efficient fugitive slave law, because the constitution demands it —

But we must, by a national policy, prevent the spread of slavery into new territories, or free states, because the constitution does not forbid us, and the general welfare does demand such prevention — We must prevent the revival of the African slave trade, because the constitution does not forbid us, and the general welfare does require the prevention — We must prevent these things being done, by either congresses or courts — The people — the people — are the rightful masters of both Congresses, and courts — not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert it —"

From "Abraham Lincoln, [September 16-17, 1859] (Notes for Speech in Kansas and Ohio)," Page 2.

  • Why did Lincoln argue that slavery must not be disturbed in states where it exists?
  • Why did Lincoln call for the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act?
  • According to Lincoln, what is the reason for prohibiting slavery?
  • What distinction does Lincoln make between popular sovereignty and what he calls "Douglas popular sovereignty?"
  • Why does Lincoln argue that Douglas and his position present more danger to the Republican Party than Jefferson Davis and his position?
  • What techniques does Lincoln use to portray Douglas as a real danger?
  • How does Lincoln define the purpose of the Republican Party? What does Lincoln suggest should be the first priority of the Republican Party?
  • If you had been a Republican in Lincoln's audience, how would you have felt about Lincoln's speech? What opinion might you have formed of Lincoln?

Lincoln's speech at Cooper Union was received so well that he was recognized as a serious candidate for the presidency. Search on Cooper Union for reactions to Lincoln's speech, including remarks by James A. Hamilton, the son of Alexander Hamilton, who became an enthusiastic Lincoln supporter.

Despite Lincoln's growing fame, Lyman Trumbull, whom Lincoln had helped win the Illinois Senate seat in 1855, wrote Lincoln a discouraging assessment of his prospects of becoming the Republican nominee. He wrote, "...I am inclined to believe as between you and Gov. Seward, if the contest should assume that shape, that he would most likely succeed...."

Lincoln and his staunch supporters recognized the difficulty in winning the nomination but were not deterred by the challenge. As popular support for Lincoln grew, Wide Awake Clubs were formed to promote his nomination and election. Eventually, Republicans decided that Lincoln would be perceived as less radical than other contenders and nominated him for the presidency at the Republican National Convention in Chicago in May 1860. Search on wide awake, 1860 presidential nominee, and 1860 campaign for materials that reflect the major events and political landscape of the time. Explore the sheet music from The Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana to analyze campaign songs about Lincoln.

  • What do these letters reveal about the kinds of activities that were involved in campaigning in 1860?
  • Who were Lincoln's opponents in the race for president?
  • What factors did the Republicans consider in nominating their presidential candidate in 1860?
  • What were the most important issues of the 1860 presidential race?
  • What strategies were employed to gain support for Lincoln?

When the Democrats held their National Convention in April 1860, several delegates, mostly from the South, walked out and the convention adjourned without nominating a presidential candidate. Two months later, the two factions of Democrats held separate conventions in Baltimore, one nominating Stephen A. Douglas for president, and the other nominating Vice President John C. Breckinridge. This split in the Democratic Party virtually insured Lincoln's victory. Search on 1860 congratulations for the many letters Lincoln received for his election.