President Abraham Lincoln: Reelection and Second Term

About the reelection and second term of President Abraham Lincoln in the United States, his defeat of General McClellan.


Reelection: As the election of 1864 approached, Lincoln, like most other political experts, considered his chances for reelection to be slim indeed. The North was weary of the bloodiest war in American history, and Radicals in Lincoln's own party were impatient with the President's moderate approach to the abolition of slavery. For several months, Radical leaders talked of dumping Lincoln from the ticket and replacing him with Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, but using his control of Federal patronage, Lincoln moved swiftly and ruthlessly to crush the threatened revolt. Nevertheless, a number of antislavery activists left the Republican ranks to nominate Gen. John C. Fremont as a 3rd party candidate. As the election approached, Lincoln's agents met with Fremont and his supporters and an agreement was reached: The President would support a constitutional amendment ending slavery in all States forever (a position that Lincoln seemed willing to take anyway), if Fremont would withdraw from the race.

This still left the Democrats to deal with in the final elections in the fall. In nominating Gen. George B. McClellan (a former commander of the Union armies who had been removed by Lincoln) the Democrats achieved the best of both worlds: a war hero as presidential candidate along with a peace-at-any-price platform. The key factor in the contest was the shifting tide of war. By November, 1864, the Confederacy was already in its death throes and the Union forces scored impressive victories. Nevertheless, Lincoln wasn't going to take any chances. He personally coined that redoubtable political slogan "Don't swap horses while crossing a stream" and issued orders to his generals to send major detachments of troops home to vote, thereby protecting slim Republican margins in several key States.

Lincoln swamped McClellan in the Electoral College 212 to 21, but the popular vote was much closer with 2,206,938 for Lincoln and 1,803,787 for McClellan.

Second Term: March 4, 1865 . . .

Lincoln was sworn in by the newly appointed Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase--the same man who had briefly opposed Lincoln's renomination. Despite wartime security measures, the atmosphere was optimistic, almost festive, with the long sectional struggle drawing to a close. At the inaugural ball Mrs. Lincoln horrified observers with her white silk-and-lace dress complete with headdress, an ensemble that cost the then unheard-of sum of $2,000. In his inaugural address Lincoln invited the Southerners to rejoin the Union and pledged a policy of "malice toward none, and charity for all." Six weeks later the war was over and Lincoln was dead.

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