The Election of 1860

The Democrats met in Charleston, South Carolina in April 1860 to select their candidate for president in the upcoming election. It was turmoil. Northern Democrats felt that Stephen Douglas had the best chance to defeat the Black Republicans. Southern Democrats supported slavery and regarded Douglas as a traitor because of his support of popular sovereignty, permitting territories to choose not to have slavery. Southern Democrats stormed out of the convention without choosing a candidate. Six weeks later, Douglas was chosen by the Northern Democrats. At a separate convention, the Southern Democrats selected a candidate that supported their desire to keep slavery legal in the south and the new territories—Vice President John C. Breckenridge.

The Republicans met and decided to capitalize on the Democrat’s turmoil to win the elections. They needed a candidate who could carry the North and win a majority of the Electoral College. They needed to win in New Jersey, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania. Abraham Lincoln emerged as the best choice. His debates with Douglas made him a national figure.

A group of aging politicians and citizens, calling themselves the Constitutional Union Party nominated John Bell of Tennessee, a wealthy slaveholder as their candidate for president. They decided the best way out of the present difficulties that faced the nation was to take no stand at all on the issues that divided the north and the south.

Lincoln received 40% of the popular vote and 180 electoral votes—enough to win the election. A few weeks after the election, South Carolina seceded from the Union.

Source: The Election of 1860
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