Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 in a one-room log cabin on the 348 acre Sinking Spring Farm, in Hardin County, Kentucky. His father was Thomas Lincoln and his mother was Nancy Hanks. Abraham was named after his grandfather, who was scalped during an Indian raid in 1786. Although his parents were illiterate, his father was a respected farmer and carpenter and the family was relatively well off. Abe was exposed to anti-slavery sentiment from an early age, as his parents belonged to a Baptist church that broke away from a larger pro-slavery congregation.
A land title dispute in 1811 that dragged on through the courts until 1815 (which Thomas Lincoln lost) forced the family to move. Further land claim problems resulted in the family relocating to Spencer County, Indiana. Indiana had been surveyed by the federal government and land claims were thought to be more secure. His mother died in 1818 of "milk sickness", a form of food poisoning afflicting someone who drank milk or ate meat from an animal that had eaten the poisonous White Snakeroot plant. A year later his father married Sarah Buston Johnston, who treated young Abraham as one of her own. Another land dispute saw the family leave Indiana for Illinois.
Lincoln was self-taught. He had perhaps 18 months of formal schooling, but was a voracious reader. His oratory style in later life differentiated him from other politicians in good part due to his form of education, which though common at the time was unusual for a politician.
He ran for office in the Illinois General Assembly as a member of the Whig Party in 1832, but failed. He served as a captain in the Illinois Militia during the Black Hawk War, but didn't see any action. Lincoln tried, and failed, at several business ventures.
His first success came in 1834 when he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives. He represented Sangamon County for four consecutive terms. He came across the second volume of Sir William Blackstone's four-volume Commentaries on the Laws of England and taught himself law. He was admitted to the bar in 1837. In 1841 he went into practice with William Herndon and in 1842 he married Mary Todd. Mary and Abraham had four children (only Robert Todd Lincoln would survive into adulthood).
In 1846, Lincoln was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. His tenure was relatively uneventful and he only served one term. He was outspoken in his support of Whig presidential nominee Zachary Taylor during the 1848 presidential campaign. When Taylor won the election he offered Lincoln the governorship of the Oregon Territory. Lincoln declined the offer and returned to his law practice in Illinois. In the next few years he earned acclaim as a lawyer. He was even granted a patent related to buoying vessels on the river.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 brought Lincoln back into politics. He spoke out against the act and helped found the Republican Party because of it. The Republicans took Illinois in 1854, which allowed them to name someone to the U.S. Senate. Lincoln was the obvious choice, but he deferred to Lyman Trumbull for party reasons.
Lincoln ran for the U.S. Senate as a Republican in the 1858 elections. This was before the 17th Amendment, so the Illinois General Assembly would choose who to send to the Senate. Even though Lincoln was a Republican and the General Assembly was dominated by Republicans, many Republicans favoured returning the influential Stephen Douglas to Washington. In spite of this, Lincoln campaigned hard against Douglas for the state's senate seat.
In Springfield on June 16, 1858, Lincoln gave his famous "House Divided" speech, where he said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other." This became a unifying rallying cry for all Republicans.
Lincoln's speeches forced Douglas into proposing his Freeport Doctrine (in Freeport, Illinois, on August 27). Douglas declared that while the Dred Scott decision prevented a new state from abolishing slavery, those states could stop the spread of slavery by proposing laws that would discourage slavery. This compromise position was good enough for the Illinois legislature, but it did not sit well with Southerners; the legislature returned Douglas to the Senate, but Douglas' popularity plumetted in the South.
Although he didn't win the Senate seat, Lincoln's performance during the debates made him popular with the people of Illinois. He was not an abolitionist. He did not come out in opposition to slavery on moral grounds, but came out against "Slave Power": the influence the slave states had within the Buchanan administration.
After the 1858 election, Abraham Lincoln went back to practicing law.
The Democratic Party met in Charleston, South Carolina on April 23, 1860 to nominate a presidential candidate for that year's presidential election. Six men ran for the presidential nomination: Stephen Douglas, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, Daniel S. Dickinson of New York, Joseph Lane of Oregon, James Guthrie of Kentucky, and Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter of Virginia. There was a rift in the party over its campaign platform. Southern Democrats, the so-called "fire-eaters", wanted to enact a federal "slave code" that made slavery legal in all territories and newly formed states. Stephen Douglas, the leading nominee, was against slave codes. He wanted territories to decide the slavery issue for themselves, as he had outlined in his Freeport Doctrine. The full delegation agreed to adopt Douglas' policy for their platform, provoking the delegates from Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Texas to leave the convention. They were joined by most of the delegates from Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia, and some of the delegates from Arkansas and Delaware.
Although most of the Southern delegates had left, the convention continued with the nomination process. After the first ballot, Stephen Douglas was the frontrunner. He needed just 57 more votes for the nomination. By the 54th ballot Douglas still needed 50 more votes. The delegates were deadlocked. The convention adjourned on May 3, to reconvene in Baltimore on June 15.
The Constitutional Union Party formed around a sizable group of ex-Whigs and a few former Know-Nothings. The nominees were all Southern moderates: Senator John Bell of Tennessee, Governor Sam Houston of Texas, Senator John Crittenden of Kentucky, and former Representative John Botts of Virginia. On May 9, on the second ballot, the party nominated John Bell for their presidential candidate. They chose Everett Edward, a famous orator, as his running mate. (Everett Edward is best remembered today as the man who spoke ahead of Lincoln on November 19, 1863 when Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address.)
On May 16, the Republican candidates were at their homes in their respective states while their representatives campaigned for them at the Republican National Convention in Chicago, Illinois. The three frontrunners were William H. Seward, an influential senator from New York; Salmon P. Chase, the governor of Ohio; and Judge Edward Bates, also from Ohio. Abraham Lincoln was the dark horse candidate; he was not expected to win the candidacy.
Although he was no one's favourite, Lincoln's representatives had managed to maneuver Lincoln into position as most delegates' second choice. This was a perfect strategy given that the other three men each carried political baggage into the convention. Chase was the most radical of the three. He vaulted from the Whigs in 1848 and helped form the Free Soil Party by joining the pro-Van Buren Democrats known as the Barnburners. This defection did not sit well with the former-Whigs who had now joined the Republican Party. Bates was a Whig and came to the Republican Party relatively late. He supported Millard Filmore and his anti-immigration American Party, so Bates angered the seizable German-American vote. Seward was the definite frontrunner. While he was a Radical Republican soon after joining the party in 1855, he had shifted to a centrist position by 1860. Some delegates remembered his past and thought he was too radical to be elected president; the radicals were angry at his shift in tone.
After the first nomination ballot it was clear that Seward and Lincoln were the men to beat. Chase and Bates split the Ohio vote, hurting either's chance of winning. The second ballot all but eliminated Chase and Bates. The front running Seward picked up votes, but not as many as Lincoln. Momentum was clearly on Lincoln's side, and he won a clear victory on the third ballot. Although he had little political experience, he had come to national attention through the Lincoln-Douglas debates. He was from the West, an area particularly important to the Republican Party. He was considered radical enough for the radicals and moderate enough for the moderates. The delegation chose Hannibal Hamlin of Maine, a senator and Radical Republican, as Lincoln's running mate.
The Republicans crafted their political platform at the convention. The majority of the platform called for a halt to the expansion of slavery, though it did not call for outright abolition. They were also in favour of imposing greater tariffs to help Northern industry, but they had to be careful with this position as high tariffs would alienate Westerners as well as Southerners. Not to be overlooked was the corruption in the current Buchanan administration. Even though most Republicans had been in politics for years and several would be caught in corruption charges later, the Republicans would present themselves as an honest alternative to the graft-ridden Buchanan Democrats.
The Democrats met on June 18 in Baltimore to finish voting for their nominees. The delegates who had stormed out of the Charleston meeting had planned to gather in Richmond, Virginia on June 11, but chose instead to show up at the convention in Baltimore. It was then that they discovered that they had been replaced with new, pro-Douglas delegates. A furor erupted over who would be seated at this reconvened convention, with the pro-Douglas side winning out. On June 23, Douglas became the Democratic party's nominee, with 181½ votes to 7½. The delegates chose Senator Benjamin Fitzpatrick of Alabama for vice president, but he declined. They then turned to former Georgia governor Herschel Johnson, who accepted.
The Southern Democratic delegates who bolted from the Charleston convention, along with other disgruntled Democrats, convened their own convention on June 28 in Richmond, Virginia. Southern Democrats would run their own presidential ticket. They chose the current Vice President, John Cabell Breckinridge, as their presidential nominee and picked Senator Joseph Lane of Oregon as his running mate.
All but one of the candidates held with American presidential tradition and stayed home while their supporters across the country "stumped" for them. It was seen as unseemly for the candidate to go across the country "begging" for votes. Stephen Douglas was the exception to this rule, becoming the first presidential candidate in American history to personally campaign across the country, speaking on his own behalf. The gruelling effort no doubt contributed to his death a year later. In October Douglas learned that the state election races — held before the presidential races — in three key Northern states had gone overwhelmingly to the Republicans. Though Douglas did not expect to win many votes in the South, he thought it was important to go South and campaign for unity.
A curious development was the creation of "fusion tickets". In New York, Rhode Island, and partially in New Jersey, voters did not get to choose between all four parties, but only between Lincoln and a combined ticket of all of his opponents. Lincoln's name was not even on the ballot in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, or Texas.
This was an era of partisan press and little in the way of journalistic ethics. Papers North and South distorted the words of candidates and outright lied. Lincoln and the Republicans were portrayed as radical abolitionists, who wouldn't be happy until all the slaves were freed en masse. That was not the official aim of the Republicans, nor even the private aim of Lincoln or a majority of his party. That fact did not stop the distortion, nor were they confined to the South, either. New York included in the election a vote on whether or not black men should have the right to vote. The New York Herald declared that the Republicans were in full support of the amendment, when in fact the party did not widely support it.
Secession rhetoric increased in the South throughout the campaign, fueled in large part by these distortions. Newspapers favouring Breckinridge wrote stories of slaves raping and poisoning whites, and of Northerners starting slave uprisings. They were baseless lies, but fear gave them the ring of truth. Mississippian R. S. Holt, brother to the U.S. Postmaster General, wrote, "We have constantly a foretaste of what Northern brother-hood means, in almost daily conflagrations & in discovery of poisons, knives & pistols distributed among our slaves by emissaries sent out for that purpose." That these stories were total fabrications was not widely known. They seemed plausible and Southerners believed them. Innocents were lynched as mass hysteria gripped the South. In Battle Cry of Freedom, James McPherson writes, "However irrational these fears, the response was real — vigilante lynch law that made the John Brown scare of the previous winter look like a Sunday School picnic."
The target of these fictitious assaults were the "Black Republicans". The sentiment was clear: a Republican win would result in murder and destruction of the white, Christian South. The only answer to a Republican victory was Southern secession. A man stumping for Bell in Alabama titled his speech, "The Election of Lincoln is Sufficient Cause for Secession". The Republicans did little to address the growing secession threat. In part ignoring the threat was a calculated tactic. They didn't want a fear of secession to scare people into voting for another candidate. In part, they didn't believe the secession threat was serious. The South had threatened to secede before but had never followed through with it. This looked to be more of the same. Besides, there was no room in the rhetoric for compromise. Nothing short of disbanding the Republican party could stop the move toward secession, and the Republicans were not about to disband themselves.
As the campaign closed a large portion of the South believed the lie that the Republicans were radical abolitionists intent on setting armed slaves free among their former masters, and a large portion of the North believed that Southern secession was a bluff. Both sides badly mis-perceived the motivations and resolve of the other side.
The election was held on November 6, 1860. Returns were transmitted via telegraph after the polls closed. New York's key 35 electoral votes were the last to come in after midnight. It was not until they came in that Abraham Lincoln he would become the next president of the United States.
Republicans Lincoln and Hamlin received 1,866,452 popular votes and 180 electoral votes in 17 of 33 states. Douglas and Johnson on the Democrat ticket received 1,376,957 popular votes, but only 12 electoral votes (9 from Missouri and 3 from New Jersey). Southern Democrats Breckinridge and Lane received 849,781 popular votes from 11 of the 15 slave states, giving them 72 electoral votes. Bell and Everett of the Constitutional Unionist party received 588,879 popular votes and 39 electoral votes (Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia). The fusion ticket drew almost 595,846 votes, more votes than Bell received in total, but even had all those votes gone to one candidate Lincoln would still have won the election with 169 electoral votes. (These numbers include South Carolina, even though that state's legislature chose the presidential electors regardless of the popular vote.)
Given that Lincoln wasn't on the ballot in most slave states his win was quite impressive, capturing 60% of the Northern vote. He won a majority of votes in all the states where he won the electoral college vote except for California and Oregon.
There was also an election for the House of Representatives, who hold two year terms, and for those U.S. senators whose six year terms had expired. After the election the Republicans held more seats than any other single party, but they did not have a majority of seats. In this period the state legislatures appointed senators. Like the House, the Republicans had more senators than any other party but they still lacked enough senators to form a majority.
Though the election was on November 6, the electoral college votes would not be cast until December 5, and they would not be counted until February 13. Lincoln's inauguration was scheduled for March 4, 1861.
After the election Lincoln became president-elect, a position that offered him no constitutional authority until his inauguration. Lincoln made it clear that he would not repeal slavery after his inauguration, he would just halt its expansion. The Republicans maintained a strong grip on the House and Senate, but they still did not have an outright majority. Even if the Republicans wanted to abolish slavery, they would need to pass a constitutional amendment to that effect in order to get past the Dred Scott decision. They did not have enough seats in the House and the Senate to pass an amendment to the states for ratification. Even if an amendment were to pass Congress, perhaps with the aid of Northern Democrats, there were not enough non-slave states ratify it. Realistically, slavery was not going to go away any time soon.
Reality did not stop the secession movement in the Southern states from gaining momentum, for the press' distortion of Lincoln and the Republicans — and the resulting fear the distortions inspired — did not end with the election, nor was it confined to the South. In one example William Smede — a wealthy gentleman from Mississippi and a correspondent for the New York Times — wrote about a group of free blacks in Cincinnati presenting Salmon Chase with a silver pitcher. Smede claimed that Lincoln was present and that Lincoln gave a speech where he "pledged to the ultimate extinction of slavery; holds the black man to be the equal of the white, & and stigmatizes our whole people as immoral & and unchristian." Lincoln responded to Henry Raymond of the Times in a private letter. "What a very mad-man your correspondent, Smede is." Lincoln stated he "was never in a meeting of negroes in [his] life; and never saw a pitcher presented to anybody... Mr. Lincoln is not pledged to the ultimate extinction of slavery; does not hold the black man the equal of the white, unqualifiedly as Mr. S. states it; and never did stigmatize their white people as immoral & unchristian."
Lincoln's views on race — racist as they are to modern readers — were in line with those of the average Northerner. His statement contained a theme he would repeat throughout his early presidency, that he was not in favour of an all-out abolition of slavery. He never responded in the papers, though. He didn't see the point. He believed they would just give the press more statements to distort and give his detractors more ammunition. Instead, he confined his rebuttals to personal letters. Lincoln was probably right. Nothing he could have said would have stopped the progression toward secession. The fear and suspicion infecting the South during the election campaign did not subside after the election was over. Instead, political talk in the South swung from the election to secession.
Not surprisingly, leading the charge toward secession was South Carolina. The best hope for secession seemed to lie in the secession of individual states. In 1850 the secession movement tried to gain a consensus between states, and failed. A decade later secessionists in South Carolina would not make the same mistake. On December 6, 1860 — a day after the presidential electors cast their votes — South Carolina elected a secessionist state convention, which would convene on December 20.
Because of the threat of secession — which was quickly becoming a promise — Congress met in a "lame duck" session that would last from December 3, 1860 to March 3, 1861. The House created the Committee of Thirty-Three to come up with a compromise that would keep the South in the Union. Likewise, the Senate formed the Committee of Thirteen.
After much debate, the Committee of Thirty-Three presented a resolution. New Mexico would be admitted to the Union as a state, and its people would be allowed to decide whether or not it would be a slave state. The Fugitive Slave Act would be strictly enforced, and the Northern states would repeal laws negatively affecting the Fugitive Slave Act's enforcement. Most importantly, a Constitutional amendment would be adopted preventing interference in the institution of slavery.
The Committee of Thirteen could not decide on a single proposal. Senators Stephen Douglas, William Seward, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, and Robert Toombs of Georgia all put forth proposals of their own. On December 18, Senator John Crittenden of Kentucky proposed the most promising measure in either the House or the Senate. Crittenden's measure would reestablish the Missouri Compromise line, prohibiting slavery above the line and allowing slavery below it; make slavery permanent within slave states; and address Southern demands for the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act and slavery within Washington, D.C. This measure would result in a constitutional amendment. A clause would be added to the amendment so that it could not be repealed or amended.
The Crittenden Compromise, as it came to be called, was popular with Southern senators. It was also approved by William Seward, whom Lincoln had already tapped to be his Secretary of State. It was not popular with Republicans, who saw it as giving too much to the South. The compromise was pretty much doomed when Lincoln spoke out against it. It failed to clear the House or the Senate.
On December 20 the convention in South Carolina voted 169 to 0 to enact an "ordinance of secession". The Ordinance was as follows:
AN ORDINANCE to dissolve the union between the State of South Carolina and other States united with her under the compact entitled "The Constitution of the United States of America."
We, the people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, That the ordinance adopted by us in Convention on the twenty-third day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and also all acts and parts of acts of the General Assembly of this State ratifying amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed; and that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of the "United States of America," is hereby dissolved.
Done at Charleston the twentieth day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty.
The Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union was issued on December 24, explaining why the state seceded and formally declaring that secession. The specific reason for leaving the Union was the failure of some states to enforce the Fugitive Slaves Act, and other laws preserving slavery. The Declaration did not mention tariffs. It was not in favour of states rights. In fact, it opposed the rights of states to pass laws making slavery illegal. The Republic of South Carolina was formed.
The full text of the declaration can be found on the Avalon Project web site of the Yale Law School: http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/csa/scarsec.htm
The move toward disunity had resulted in a state seceding from the Union. Before Abraham Lincoln would be sworn in as president, six more states would leave the Union.