Chapter 9: The Nomination of 1860

Posted by on February 19, 2010 in Life of Lincoln | Comments Off

The subject of this chapter is the Republican convention that nominated Lincoln for the presidency. Up to this point, at least, Lincoln had no thought about the presidency. But he did want to be in the United States Senate. He accepted his defeat by Douglas in 1858 as only temporary. He knew there would be another senatorial election in four years. But as to anything higher, he declared, “I must in all candor say that I do not think myself fit for the presidency.”

Thus, at the beginning of 1860, Lincoln was really not in the race for the presidential nomination. In Illinois, his candidacy developed in February and came to a head at the Republican state convention at Decatur. Lincoln’s name had been prominent in the local conventions, and the enthusiasm was growing. Decatur was very near to the place where Thomas Lincoln had first settled when he came into the state. When Abraham Lincoln came into this convention, he was greeted with an outburst of enthusiasm.

After order had been restored, a banner was raised up, attached to two old fence rails in the hall. It was brightly decorated and it read:


Two rails from a lot of 3,000 made in 1830 by Thos. Hanks and Abe Lincoln – whose father was the first pioneer of Macon County.”

The enthusiasm over the rails spread far and wide. That Lincoln had split rails, and that he even had done it well, was no test of his statesmanship or his ability to be president. But it was a reminder of his simple and humble beginnings, and it attached him to the common people, between whom and himself there had always been a warm feeling of sympathy.

Meanwhile, the Democratic convention nominated Douglas for president.

The second Republican national convention met in Chicago, May 16, 1860. At this point, there came in a political trick which has been often used in later years. One of the hopeful candidates, William Seward, had friends who had brought a huge number of noisemakers with them. These were given out to the audience, whose members were under orders to shout and make noise whenever Seward’s name was mentioned. This gave the appearance of spontaneous applause and seemed to arouse great enthusiasm for that candidate.

Lincoln’s friends soon came to understand the situation and planned to beat their rivals at their own game. They sent out into the country and secured two men with phenomenal voices. It was said, with playful exaggeration, that these two men could shout so as to be heard across Lake Michigan. They were made captains of two bands of followers. These were placed on opposite sides of the auditorium and were instructed to raise the shout supporting Lincoln at a signal and keep it up as long as desired. The plan worked.

During the convention, Lincoln remained in Springfield, where he was in communication via telegraph with his friends at the Chicago convention. At the time of his nomination, he had gone from his office to that of the newspaper, The Sangamon Journal. A messenger boy came rushing up to him, carrying a telegram and exclaiming, “You are nominated.”

With never-before-seen enthusiasm, the Republican Party started on this campaign, which led to its first victory in the election of Abraham Lincoln of Illinois.

One story that circulated about this time is that shortly after his nomination, Lincoln was at a party in Chicago. A little girl approached and asked for his autograph. Lincoln looked about and seeing that there were other little girls there, decided to write an autograph for each one so that none would be disappointed.

The campaign was one of great excitement. Lincoln showed his wisdom in his refusing to be diverted, or allowing his party to be diverted, from the one important question of preventing the further extension of slavery. People were not allowed to lose sight of the fact that this was the real issue.

The election took place on the sixth day of November. The vote was as follows: Lincoln received 1,866,452 popular votes, and 180 electoral votes. Douglas received 1,375,157 popular votes, and twelve electoral votes. John Breckinridge received 847,953 popular votes, and seventy-two electoral votes. John Bell received 590,631 popular votes, and thirty-nine electoral votes.

The morning of March 4, 1861, the day of the inauguration was clear, mild, and beautiful. Shortly after twelve o’clock noon, James Buchanan the outgoing president, called to escort Lincoln to the Capitol. The retiring president and the president-elect rode side by side through the streets. Reaching the grounds of the Capitol, they walked arm in arm through a tunnel to the building. This tunnel had been built to guard against assassination, of which there had recently been many threats. They passed through the Senate chamber and through the building to the large platform that had been put up. The procession was headed by the justices of the Supreme Court clothed in cap and gown.

Based on the book by Henry Ketcham
Edited by Deborah Carroll

In today’s chapter, a little girl approaches Abraham Lincoln and asks him for his autograph. Who’s autograph would you like to get and why?

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