President Abraham Lincoln: Nomination and American History

About the history of the United States and how Lincoln received the Republican nomination for President of the United States.


Nomination: May 16, 1860 . . .

As the Republican national convention assembled in Chicago, the likely presidential nominee was William H. Seward, the senator from New York. For more than a quarter of a century Seward had been the universally acknowledged leader of national Free-Soil forces, but his opposition to slavery was considered too radical for him to carry the key "doubtful" States of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Indiana, and Illinois. During the opening days of the convention, worried party leaders searched desperately for a more moderate alternative to head off the Seward bandwagon. Lincoln, who had won solid favorite-son support from Illinois, was one of several possibilities. His cause was helped enormously by the fact that the convention was held in his home State. His managers were able to pack the galleries with leather-lunged Lincoln supporters, using forged convention passes and other dubious means, while nearly a thousand Seward supporters were shut out of the hall. On the 1st ballot, Seward polled 173 delegate votes (far short of the 233 needed to nominate) with Lincoln making a surprisingly strong showing with 102 votes. On the 2nd ballot, with most of the anti-Seward forces rallying to his banner, Lincoln drew even with the New Yorker, and on the 3rd ballot, amid hysterical cheering from the galleries, "Honest Old Abe" was nominated. One of the key factors in his success was the willingness of his managers to negotiate deals with rival leaders in the moderate wing of the party. Lincoln had sent a telegram to his head-quarters, ordering "Make no contracts that will bind me," but his campaign manager swept it aside with a curt "Lincoln ain't here and don't know what we have to meet!"

Along with receiving the Republican nomination, Lincoln entered the general election battle with one of the most successful publicity devices in the history of American politics--the image of being the hardfisted rail-splitter. At a Republican meeting in Illinois, Lincoln's cousin John Hanks had appeared with 2 fence rails labeled "Two Rails from a lot made by Abraham Lincoln and John Hanks in the Sangamon Bottom in the year 1830." With his usual candor, Lincoln confessed that he had no idea whether he'd split these particular rails, but he was sure he had actually split rails every bit as good. The time soon came when Lincoln's son Tad would say: "Everybody in this world knows Pa used to split rails."

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