Event Leading Up to the American Civil War - 1860 Presidential Election
In 1860, it was time to elect a new president. Each party needed to meet and select a candidate to run for president.
The Democratic Convention met first. They could not agree on a candidate. Northern Democrats focused on states rights. They believed individual states and territories should decide important issues for themselves, issues such as whether or not slavery was legal in their state. Southern Democrats disagreed. They pointed out that the issue of slavery had already been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court just two years earlier. The Supreme Court had stated in the Dred Scott decision that slaves were property. So, who do we want to run for president who will protect our rights as property owners? The Committee could not agree. The delegates decided to meet again in six weeks, giving people time to calm down and meet behind the scenes.
The Republican Convention met next, in Illinois. Nicknamed "Honest Abe" by his supporters, Abraham Lincoln was known for his integrity. Lincoln had stated several times during his campaign that he had no intention of freeing the slaves if elected president. That was an issue for Congress. Lincoln was a lawyer. He believed in the law and in the U.S. Constitution. If Congress wanted to change the status of slavery in American, they would need to add an Amendment to the Constitution. His concern as president would be to keep the Union whole. In his opinion, foreign powers would be delighted to see America weakened. That would not be good for the country. He told his supporters not to crack any deals to gain votes because he would not honor those deals. He would be elected on his merit or not. His supporters did crack a few deals, but Lincoln ran a very clean campaign compared to other politicians. He needed 233 votes at the Convention to be selected. Lincoln ended up with 235 and 1/2 votes.
The Democrats, now knowing that their candidate would be running against Abraham Lincoln, met again. And again, no nominee received enough votes to be selected. Finally, in frustration, 110 Southern Democrats walked out and elected their own candidate. The remaining Democrats elected a candidate as well. And the old Whig party, which had been replaced in popularity by the Republican Party, nominated a candidate.
The Republican Party was united behind Lincoln. All other candidates were supported by splinter groups. In November, Lincoln won the 1860 presidential election by a landslide. In December, South Carolina seceded from the Union. Shortly thereafter, other Southern states also seceded. By 1861, the states were at war.