President Abraham Lincoln: Election and First Term

About the election and first term of President Abraham Lincoln in the United States, South Carolina seceeds and the Civil War begins.


Election: November 6, 1860 . . .

Even before the general election campaign was fairly under way, Lincoln's victory was a foregone conclusion. The Democratic party was hopelessly split. When Northern Democrats persisted in their intention to nominate Stephen Douglas, the Southern proslavery wing of the party, which distrusted Douglas because of his equivocal position, pulled out to nominate their own candidate: Vice-President John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky. The situation was further complicated by the presence of a 4th party--the Constitutional Unionists, represented by a distinguished ticket featuring John Bell of Tennessee and Edward Everett of Massachusetts. The Bell campaign was a last forlorn attempt to breath new life into the remnants of the old Whig party, and to avoid civil war by a renewed drive for sectional compromise. Except for the nervous border States, which seemed to have the most to lose from sectional conflict, the Constitutional Union party attracted little support. Throughout the campaign, Southerners announced that if Lincoln were elected they would secede from the Union, even while their continued support for Breckinridge made Lincoln's victory inevitable.

The final outcome of this 4-way contest offered few surprises. Lincoln won with only 39.8% of the vote (1,865,593), but carried all 18 of the Northern States for an electoral vote of 180, a comfortable majority.

Douglas finished 2nd in the popular balloting with 29.5% (1,382,713) but despite his vigorous campaign, he carried only Missouri and 3 out of 7 New Jersey electors, for a total of 12 electoral votes.

Breckinridge swept the Solid South for 72 electoral votes, but won only 18% of the popular vote; Bell carried Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia for a total of 39 electoral votes, and only 12.6% of the national popular ballots.

As soon as Lincoln was formally elected, the South began to make good on its promises to secede, as South Carolina led the other Southern States out of the Union.

First Term: March 4, 1861 . . .

The mood of the capital was tense as Lincoln was sworn in by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney. Seven Southern States had already seceded from the Union and for the 1st time the new President's military escort was used as much for protection as for show. In his inaugural address, Lincoln assured the Southerners: "The Government will not assail you. You have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors." Within 5 weeks, he had expertly manipulated the situation of South Carolina's Fort Sumter so as to trap the Confederacy into firing the 1st shots of the Civil War. Northern public opinion, which had been bitterly divided before the attack on Sumter, was immediately crystallized behind Lincoln's "War for the Union."

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