George Oberkirsh Seilhamer.

History of the Republican party (Volume 1) online

. (page 8 of 61)
Online LibraryGeorge Oberkirsh SeilhamerHistory of the Republican party (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 61)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

meeting of the Chicago Convention. In a book of biographies of
Presidential possibilities, published early in 1860, he was not men-
tioned in conjunction with Seward, Chase, Bates, Hale, Banks, Mc-
Lean, Fremont, and Henry Wilson. It was the original purpose of
Seward's opponents to concentrate upon Bates. If the Convention
had been held in St. Louis, instead of Chicago, it is barely possible
the scheme would have succeeded. If it had failed it would have
been because Bates's popularity was not so potent in the one city as
was Lincoln's in the other. To unite on any of the other candidates
against Seward was impossible. Chase was a man of great and recog-
nized ability, but he was without magnetism, and he had no personal
following- not even the united support of his own State. Dayton
had no strength outside of New Jersey, and Cameron had none out-
side of Pennsylvania. Collamer could command no support outside
of New England. Lincoln's strength was not considered in its per-
sonal aspects, nor were his immediate friends instrumental in secur-
ing his nomination. The whole question was one of availability, un-
der conditions in which Mr. Seward Avas not considered available.
In determining this question it was Indiana, not Illinois, that was the
more potent; it was the friends of Lane in Lincoln's behalf, not Lin-
coln's Illinois friends, active, able, enthusiastic, and skillful as they
were, who molded the plastic material in the Convention to their
will. The friends of Curtin were willing to follow the friends of Lane
wherever the latter chose to lead. When Pennsylvania united with
Illinois and Indiana on the second ballot Seward's sun was about to
set Lincoln's star was seen to rise as the harbinger of the coming
victory. It was no great question of principle that dictated Lincoln's
success and Seward's failure, but the whole matter resolved itself into
an adjustment of party needs in localities where party success was im-
perative. Their failure was not without the bitterness of disappoint-
ment to Seward and his friends, but they could take no offense at the
triumph of Lincoln. Happily they cherished no ill-will, nourished
no hatreds, but accepted the discipline of defeat with the heroism of
men to whom devotion to their cause was paramount to every other
consideration. Seward, like Clay and Webster, had failed in the
ambition of a lifetime, but his fame is all the brighter because he
manfullv subordinated his own claims upon the party he had done


so much to create to the decree of its great tribunal, which could
make and unmake leaders.

At the time of his nomination Abraham Lincoln was 51 years old.
He had many of the elements of a popular candidate for the Presi-
dency in the peculiar crisis when he was made the standard-bearer
of the Republican party. He was one of the plain people, to begin
with, with all their virtues and some of their shortcomings. He was
self-educated, self-made. By birth he belonged to the pioneer class,
and he was a typical product of that Western civilization that pro-
duced men strong of limb, sound of brain, and bold of heart. Born
in Kentucky, he had been reared in Indiana, and had attained his
young manhood in that " land of full-grown men," Illinois. As an
ungainly, long-legged, strong-limbed, and cheery young fellow he
worked as a farm-hand in the Sangamon country, and with his own
hands split the rails that fenced his father's first farm in Illinois.
Striking out for himself, after reaching his majority., young Lincoln

made one of the crew of a flatboat in
a winter voyage down the Sangamon
and the Mississippi to New Orleans.
Then he found employment managing
a country store at New Salem, and
spent his leisure time in reading such
books as he was able to procure. In a
year or two he was accounted a prod-
igy of learning by his less studious

LINCOLN'S BIRTHPLACE. neighbors, and as early as 1832 he was

successful in becoming a candidate

for the Legislature. Before the election came on, the famous Indian
chief, Black Hawk, was on the warpath, and Lincoln was one of the
first to volunteer. He was made captain of his company, but so far
as it concerned Lincoln's command the campaign was a bloodless
one. After his return from Black Hawk's war Lincoln failed of his
election to the Legislature, and his employer failed in business. He
then tried a country store on his own account, but the speculation
proved disastrous. Thus he was again without employment and in
debt. He then turned his attention to surveying, and became an
amateur lawyer. In 1834 he was again a candidate for the Legisla-
ture, and was elected. He was three times re-elected. Becoming a
full-fledged lawyer, Lincoln, in 1837, settled in Springfield, which had
just become the capital of Illinois. There he practiced until his elec-
tion to the Presidency, his law partners being John T. Stuart, 1837-
41; Stephen T. Logan, 1841-3, and William H. Herndon, 1843-
65. Lincoln gained distinction at the bar, and in a few years was


recognized as one of the leading lawyers of the State. In 1846 he was
elected to Congress, his Democratic competitor being Peter Cart-
wright, the famous backwoods preacher. In his speeches in Congress
there were some characteristic touches. " He invaded Canada with-
out resistance," he said of General Lewis Cass, " and he outvaded
without pursuit." " First he takes up one," he remarked of Presi-
dent Polk's positions on the Mexican war, " and in attempting to
argue us into it, he argues himself out of it." " His manner of speech,
as well as thought, Avas original," Alexander H. Stephens said of him
many years afterward. " He had no model. He was a man of strong
convictions and, what Carlyle would have called, an earnest man. He
abounded in anecdote. He illustrated everything he was talking
about with an anecdote, always exceedingly apt and pointed; and
socially he always kept his company in a roar of laughter." Although
his service in the House was restricted
to the 30th Congress, he evinced his
strong anti-slavery convictions by in-
troducing a bill for the abolition of
slavery in the District of Columbia.
In those days a man in Illinois who
wanted a second term in Congress was
considered greedy, and Lincoln was
compelled to stand aside for Edward
D. Baker, who had returned from Mex-
ico renowned for distinguished service
at Cerro Gordo. Lincoln then sought
to be Commissioner of the General
Land Office under President Taylor, HANNIBAL HAMLIN.

but was offered the Governorship of Oregon instead, which he de-
clined because of the reluctance of his wife to go to the Pacific coast.
It is a noteworthy coincidence that Baker, his successor in the House
of Representatives, was a Senator in Congress from Oregon when
Lincoln became President of the United States. After leaving Con-
gress Mr. Lincoln devoted himself to his law practice, and was losing
his interest in politics when the Repeal of the Missouri Compromise
again aroused him to activity. He met Mr. Douglas in joint discus-
sion in 1854, and in 1858 occurred the famous joint debate between
Douglas and Lincoln. It was these contests with the " Little Giant "


that made him a Presidential possibility against Douglas in 1860.

Hannibal Hamlin, Mr. Lincoln's associate on the ticket, was ori-
ginally a Democrat of the school of Silas Wright. He was a lawyer
by profession, and had served in the Maine Legislature from 1836 to
1840; he was a Representative in the 28th and 28th Congresses, and


again a member of the Maine Legislature in 1847, and was elected to
the United States Senate in 1848, and re-elected for six years in 1851.
In January, 1857, he resigned his seat in the Senate to become Gov-
ernor of Maine, but, being again elected United States
Senator for six years, he resigned the Governorship after
holding it only six weeks. His opposition to the Eepeal
of the Missouri Compromise had separated him from his old politi-
cal associates. His candidature for Governor of Maine, in 1856, was
undertaken in opposition to the Democratic party in that State, and
his success gave a great impulse to Republican organization through-
out the country. Mr. Hamlin was a man of strong common sense,
great sagacity, sound judgment, and rugged integrity. His nomina-
tion imparted strength to the ticket, and helped to inspire the party
with confidence and courage throughout the campaign.

The ticket was one that aroused the Free States to enthusiasm, and
the weary delegates, speeding homeward from Chicago, saw evidences
of the approbation of the country in every village. Blazing bonfires,
clanging bells, and thundering cannon, and processions bearing-
rails in honor of the rail-splitter of Illinois, attested the satisfaction
with which the work of the Chicago Convention was received by the
people, and opened a campaign that was to become unique in history.



Shades of Opinion in the Canvass Mr. Lincoln During the Campaign
Republican Enthusiasm and Oratory Seward and His Friends
-Hostility of the Commercial Class to Republican Success-
Campaign Medals The Wide-A wakes The Illinois Rail-Split-
ter the State Elections Analysis of the Presidential Vote.

ITH four Presidential tickets in the field, the campaign of
1860 could not fail to be an animated one. The four can-
didates for President represented every shade of political
opinion on the slavery question. Mr. Lincoln was in favor
of prohibiting slavery extension by law. Mr. Breckinridge demanded
legal protection for its extension. Mr. Douglas occupied a position
between these two extremes, and advocated his doctrine of non-in-
tervention with the fiery impetuosity and tireless energy for which he
was remarkable. Mr. Bell desired to avoid the only real question
that was at issue, and to concentrate the interest of the country on
what he considered the paramount duty of saving the Union. It was
apparent from the outset that the supporters of Breckinridge con-
templated the destruction of the Government if they failed in the
elections. This was not only the belief of the Republicans and of the
supporters of Douglas and Bell, but it was openly avowed and pub-
licly proclaimed by the Southern Democracy. In pursuance of this
policy the supporters of Breckinridge proceeded to render the election
of Douglas impossible, and the election of Lincoln a certainty, by
organizing a party and nominating Breckinridge electors in many of
the Free States, notably in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut,
California, and Oregon. Their manifest purpose was to create alarm
in the North, but the time had gone by when the Northern people
would yield to their fears for the Union; and the Republicans, instead
of being weakened by the threat that a President constitutionally
elected could not be inaugurated, were strengthened by the domineer-
ing and offensive declarations of the South. It soon became apparent
that Mr. Lincoln's election was a certainty, and not even the " fusion "
tickets in the States of New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island
could prevent it. Every coalition in the Free States meant combined
opposition to Republican success, but in the Slave States the Breck-
inridge men would consent to no compromise, partnership, or ar-


rangement with the partisans of Douglas, although aware that the
effect would be to give Virginia, Kentucky, and Maryland to Bell and
Everett. All of these considerations entered into the discussions
throughout the campaign, and rendered it more animated than any
that had gone before it.

During the campaign Mr. Lincoln remained quietly at his home at
Springfield, making no public addresses, writing no political letters,
and holding no conferences with politicians. As a matter of course,
letters came to him b} r the hundred from every part of the country,
and a constant stream of visitors sought the Republican candidate,
some from idle curiosity, some with an honest purpose of encouraging
him and serving him, and many to put in a good word for themselves
in case of his election. The one change made in Mr. Lincoln's daily
life during the campaign was his occupancy of the Governor's room
in the State House at Springfield, which was not needed for official
business during the absence of the Legislature. It was a plain room
of modest proportions, and scantily furnished. Free access was
given to all who chose to enter. Mr. Lincoln watched the campaign
carefully, but took no active part in its direction, and acted in all
respects as if he were only an indifferent observer. Mr. Douglas, on
the contrary, for the first time in the case of a Presidential candidate,
took the stump on his own behalf. A ready and able debater, he at-
tracted large crowds to his meetings, speaking in nearty all the Free
and in some of the Slave States; but he soon found that the odds
against him were too heavy to leave any well-grounded hope for his
election. His speeches were designed to prove that he was the only
safe candidate that Breckinridge represented the sectionalism of
slavery, and Lincoln the sectionalism of anti-slavery. It was the old
appeal to the fears of the people, that had been the basis of all the
compromises and concessions since 1820. It was ineffective, because
the Free States w r ere no longer in a temper for evasion or surrender.
His doctrine of " squatter sovereignty " had become as hateful to the
South as the restrictions of the Wilmot Proviso, and there was never
a doubt from the beginning to the close of the campaign that the
Southern Democracy was as bitterly hostile to Douglas as to Lincoln.
Bell's prospects were equally hopeless, and neither the Constitutional
Union party nor its candidate had any real share in the campaign,
except to stultify the memories of Clay and Webster, by diverting
from Lincoln and the North part of the support of which he was en-
titled, and giving to Breckinridge and the South a part of the elec-
toral strength that ought to have gone to Douglas.

In the campaign of 1860 the Republicans had the advantage of
presenting a united front to the enemy, while the Democracy was



arraying itself in two hostile camps at Charleston and Baltimore.
In nearly all of the great cities of the North enthusiastic ratification
meetings were held before the nominations of Douglas and Breckin-
ridge were made by the contending Democratic factions. At these
meetings speeches were made by the young orators of the Republican
party from all over the Free States. Among the earliest of these
meetings was one held in Independence Square, in Philadelphia, on
the 26th of May, at which addresses were made by Lyman Trumbull,
of Illinois; William Dunn, of Indiana; John Sherman, of Ohio, and
Galusha A. Grow, of Pennsylvania. The bitter assaults upon Sher-
man and Grow during the contest for the Speakership at the opening
of Congress made them popular favorites, and they were serenaded
after the meeting with an outburst
of enthusiasm that showed how
thoroughly the people were aroused
to the importance of the issues
involved in the campaign. In New
York, in Boston, in Cincinnati, in
Chicago, in all the smaller cities
from Portland, Maine, to Portland,
Oregon in the towns and vil-
lages and country schoolhouses, the
orators of the party met respon-
sive gatherings of the people, some-
times in great processions wearing
badges and carrying torches, and
sometimes in quiet neighborhood
meetings, but with the badges
and torches everywhere. Every
conspicuous Republican orator in
the North and West was pressed into the service, but the young men
were especially active and eloquent. Among the most distinguished
then or afterward were Governor Chase, of Ohio; Judge Wilmot, of
Pennsylvania; William M. Evarts, of New York, and John A. An-
drew, of Massachusetts. Curtin and Lane canvassed their States with
a thoroughness that had never before been attempted in these old
Democratic strongholds, feeling that the responsibility for success
or failure rested largely upon their shoulders. Horace Greeley left
the editorial rooms of the Tribune to address ward meetings and rural
gatherings, and George William Curtis gave his party the benefit of
his polished periods and brilliant oratory. But the most conspicuous
of the Republican orators during the canvass was, of course, William
H. Seward. He made a political tour through the Northwest during


the autumn, making speeches of a remarkably high order. His clos-
ing address was made to his own townsmen at Auburn the night be-
fore the election. A few sentences from that closing speech summed
up the situation, as it had been developed by months of campaign-
ing. " You may go \vith me into the streets to-night," he said, " and

follow the ' Little Giants,' who go with their
torchlights and their flaunting banners of
1 Popular Sovereignty '; or you may go with the
smaller and more select and modest band, who
go for Breckinridge and Slavery; or you may
follow the music of the clanging bells; and,
strange to say, they will bring you into one
chamber. When you get there, you will hear
only this emotion of the human heart appealed
to, Fear fear that if you elect a President of
the United States according to the constitution
and the law r s to-morrow, you will wake up next
day and find that you have no country for him
to preside over! Is that not a strange motive

for an American patriot to appeal to? And, in that same hall, amid
the jargon of three discordant members of the ' Fusion ' party, you
will hear one argument; and that argument is, that so sure as you
are so perverse as to cast your vote singly, lawfully, honestly, as you
ought to do, for one candidate for the Presidency, instead of scatter-
ing it among three candidates, so that no President may be elected,
this Union shall come down over your heads, involving you and us in
a common ruin! "

These sentiments were the dominating note of the canvass. Wher-
ever a Republican speaker was heard the people were urged not to
yield to the fears that it was hoped would paralyze Republican ac-
tivity and prevent the election of Lincoln. But while Sew r ard adopted
the manly course in upholding the party and supporting its candidate,
he made no attempt either then or afterward to conceal how keenly
he felt his disappointment. Curtin and Lane he treated with a frigid-
ity that showed that he held them responsible for his defeat, and
that kept them aloof from him ever afterward. His friends were even
more unforgiving. Although Governor Edwin D. Morgan, of New
York, consented to remain at the head of the National Committee, he
exhibited no cordiality toward either of these men, and was indiffer-
ent to the success of the Republicans in Pennsylvania and Indiana.
Weed was brusque even to rudeness. " I called on Morgan the night
after the nomination was made," Curtin wrote in August. " He
treated me civilly, but with marked coolness; and I then called on


Weed, who was very rude indeed." Thurlow Weed was not a man
who sought to cloak his resentments. " You have defeated the man
who, of all others, was most revered by the people and wanted as
President," he said to Curtin. " You and Lane want to be elected,
and to elect Lincoln you must elect yourselves." Neither Weed nor
Morgan responded to appeals in behalf of the State ticket in Penn-
sylvania, although the results of the Presidential contest hinged upon
Republican success in that State, in the October elections; but the
party was so well satisfied with Lincoln's nomination that the indif-
ference of the New York magnates produced no evil consequences.

A marked feature of the campaign was the hostility of the com-
mercial classes to Republican success. This was especially the case
with the " merchant princes " of New York and Philadelphia. Their
dissatisfaction was partly due to a fear of secession and civil war
should Lincoln be elected, and partly to the large Southern indebted-
ness to the mercantile classes in these two great commercial cities.
" I can not recall five commercial houses of prominence in the city of
Philadelphia," wrote the chairman of the Republican State Commit-
tee of Pennsylvania afterward, " where I could have gone to solicit a
subscription to the Lincoln campaign with reasonable expectation
that it would not be resented, and of all our financial men I can recall
only Anthony J. Drexel who actually sympathized with the Republi-
can cause." In New Y^ork city the fears of the merchants of a result
fatal to their business, their prosperity, and their affluence, were so
vivid and earnest, that while there was abundance of money for " Fu-
sion," there was little or none to promote Republican success. But
even the potency of wealth availed nothing against the tide of popu-
lar conviction and enthusiasm.

Any account of the campaign would be incomplete without some
mention of the badges and symbols and marching clubs that were its
most picturesque features. The Republicans had their " Wide-
Awakes," " Lincoln Defenders," " Republican Invincibles," and
" Rail-Splitters "; and even the Constitutional Union party marched
as " Bell-Ringers " and " Minute Men of '56." Campaign medals were
worn throughout the canvass by the partisans of all the candidates.
There was a beautiful portrait medal of Stephen A. Douglas, one of
the same size, but inferior workmanship, of John C. Breckinridge, and
a smaller one than either of these of John Bell. The Lincoln portrait
medals in many cases combined the portraits of both Lincoln and
Hamlin, and one of them had a characteristic inscription, " Abra-
Ham Lin-Coin." Altogether the number of Lincoln medals of 1860
was about 200, which is second only in American political medals to
the extensive series of Washington medallions covering a period of



many years. The most interesting pieces of the Lincoln series were
those worn by the Hartford " Wide-A wakes," the first uniformed
body of voters to take part in political processions. This medal shows
on its obverse a " Wide-Awake " in full uniform, carrying a lantern,
and on the reverse another bearing a torch. The obverse of one of
these medals shows a " Wide- Awake," wearing a characteristic
" Wide-Awake " hat, and bears the inscription, " I am ready." Med-
als relating to Lincoln's struggles in early life were very popular,
and there was a number of them bearing such inscriptions as " Great
Kail-Splitter of the West," and " The Kail-Splitter of 1830." The rail-



splitter of 1830 was, of course, the party splitter of 1860. Other in-
scriptions in the Lincoln series were " Honest Abe of the West,"
" Honest Old Abe," " No More Slave Territory," and " Free Homes
for Free Men." In originality of design and beauty of execution they
were not inferior to the Clay pieces of 1844, representing " The Same
Old Coon, O. K." and " The Mill Boy of the Slashes." With this Lin-
coln series political medals in Presidential campaigns ceased to be
noteworthy, although a few characteristic ones remain to be noticed

The origin of the " Wide- A wakes " is a cqrious bit of political his-


tory. The organization grew out of an incident of the first campaign
meeting at Hartford, February 25, 1800 the State election. Cas-
sius M. Clay, of Kentucky, was the principal speaker, and it was ar-
ranged that after the meeting he should be escorted to the Allyn
House by a torchlight procession. Two of the young men who were
to carry torches, D. G. Francis and H. P. Blair, in order to protect
their clothing from the oil likely to fall from their lamps, prepared
for themselves capes of black cambric, which they wore in connection
with their glazed caps. Colonel G. P. Bissell, w r ho
was marshal of the parade, noticing the uniform
worn by the two young men, put them in front of
the procession, where the novelty of the rig, and
its double advantage in utility and in show, at-
tracted much attention. The incident suggested
a campaign club of fifty torch-bearers, with glazed
caps and oilcloth capes, instead of cambric, the
torch-bearing club to be auxiliary to the Young Men's Republican
Union. It was intended formally to organize the torch-bearers on the
Gth of March, but on the evening of the 5th Abraham Lincoln addressed

Online LibraryGeorge Oberkirsh SeilhamerHistory of the Republican party (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 61)