The 1860 Presidential Election

Black and white photo of Lincoln Home with a crowd of Lincoln political supporters and admirers gathered on street out front and house steps
Republican Rally in front of the Lincoln Home, August 1860

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In the summer of 1860 the eyes of the nation turned to a Quaker Brown house on the corner of Eighth and Jackson streets in Springfield, Illinois. In May, Abraham Lincoln had been nominated as the Republican candidate for president. In the early 1800s custom dictated that presidential candidates did not do much formal campaigning, so Mr. Lincoln spent most of the time between his nomination and election in Springfield.

 
Portraits of Abraham Lincoln (thin face, sharp cheekbones), Stephen Douglas (thick, long hair and rounder younger face), John C. Breckinridge (middle aged, with dark hair parted to the right), and John Bell (older, short gray hair)
The 1860 Presidential Candidates (left to right): Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, John C. Breckinridge, and John Bell

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Candidates for President in 1860

There were four major candidates for president in the 1860 election. Abraham Lincoln received the Republican nomination on May 16th. John Bell had already been nominated as the presidential candidate for the Constitutional Union Party, a new party whose only platform was the Constitution of the United States.

Divided over the slavery issue, the Democratic Party failed to nominate a candidate at its first convention. Eventually the Northern Democrats nominated Stephen Douglas, Lincoln's long time rival, while the Southern Democrats nominated John C. Breckinridge for president.

 
Pie Chart with labels: Abraham Lincoln 40%, Stephen Douglas 29%, John C. Breckinridge 18%, John Bell 13%
Results of the 1860 Presidential Election popular vote

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Issues and Outcome

While the platforms of the various parties competing for the presidency in 1860 discussed issues such as a national tariff, the Homestead Act, and a transcontinental railroad, the main issue dominating the campaign was slavery.

The Democratic Party split over the issue of slavery. Northern Democrats believed in "popular sovereignty," or the right of new states and territories to decide if they wanted to include or exclude slavery from their borders. Southern Democrats endorsed a federal slave code, which would guarantee the right of people to own slaves in all federal territory. The Republican Party and Abraham Lincoln were morally opposed to slavery "if slavery is not wrong, nothing is" Lincoln said, and the party pledged to keep slavery out of the territories but leave it untouched where it already existed in the South. The Constitutional Union party took very few positions on anything, desperate to keep the country from tearing apart.

The split in the Democratic Party all but assured Lincoln's victory in November. Southerners ignored Lincoln's statements that he would leave slavery untouched in states where it already existed, and refused to even put his name on the ballot. In the election no candidate won a majority of the popular vote, but Lincoln won a solid majority of the Electoral College. Between his November election to the presidency and his leaving for the White House in February 1861, 7 Southern states seceded from the Union.

Last updated: October 24, 2022

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